by Kathryn, TFR
Keeping in a similar theme with last week’s post about unique sources of writing inspiration, this week, I’m going to talk about finding sources of PRODUCTIVE background noise.
No, that does not mean pulling up your favorite show on Netflix or Hulu to listen to while you work (In the interest of complete transparency, I’m writing this after starting the fourteenth season of CSI. Do as I say, not as I do, people).
I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert on a lot of things (real talk, my degree is in poetry studies and I spent the better part of the last decade working in sports), but I do know that background noise, specifically music, was pretty much the only way that I could get my work done (whether that work was writing a soccer recap about a 7-0 loss to the number one team in the country, a five-page paper on The Canterbury Tales, or a poem about trash).
On a novel-writing side, I once wrote the bulk of a story to the tune of a playlist of about twenty-five Florence + The Machine songs (featuring: a seer who writes and runs 10ks on the daily, Lucifer’s rightfully pissed-off right-hand woman, an angel living in Nashville, the CEO of a major publishing company who has a direct line to the man upstairs, a little girl who appeared from out of nowhere with nothing but a knife and some weird wounds on her back, and an ex-army ranger who has no idea what’s going on but is along for the ride anyway).
If that’s not proof that background noise works, I don’t know what is.
1. Noise Generator Websites
Let’s start off with the obvious: online background noise generators.
Now, while I can’t speak for other search engines (sorry Dad, but you’re never going to sell me on Bing!), if you head on over to the Google and type in ‘background noise generator’, you’ll find yourself with about 1,930,000 results/options in roughly 0.57 seconds.
The first link is for a website called Noisli*, which I found a few weeks ago when I realized that it was EXTREMELY counterproductive to edit the #WhoIsTalyaNightingale manuscript by way of reading aloud (more on how much I love that method in another blog post) to the tune of the 15 seasons of CSI.
More power to those of you who don’t get absorbed in television shows when you’re working, even the reruns. (That’s also why I can’t watch Flashpoint while I work, even though I’ve seen all five seasons about seven times. And no, I’m not talking about that alternate timeline of The Flash, I’m talking about the Canadian SWAT show featuring Amy Jo Johnson (aka the OG Pink Power Ranger), and Enrico Colantoni (Veronica Mars’ dad and Mathesar from Galaxy Quest). There are 75 episodes, so take a couple weekends and binge it.)
But back to the point, what I think is pretty cool about Noisli is that you can mix and match from SIXTEEN different options ranging from rain to train tracks to the traditional white/pink/brown noises.
My current preference is the rain/thunder/wind combo, but Noisli gives you starter options called ‘Productivity’, ‘Relax’, and ‘Random’, and you can even create an account and save your preferences.
Now, I’m the type to find one thing and stick with it until the end of time (see: my lunch for the last year featuring a combination of hummus, peas, and rice), so I don’t go looking for other options when I find something that works. And since Noisli has so many choices, if I get bored with this current combo, I’ll just find another one that works. Maybe train and fire?
But remember how I said that there were nearly two MILLION results for ‘background noise generator’? If Noisli doesn’t work for you, try one of the many other links on the first page, like My Noise, A Soft Murmur, Defonic, or Ambient-Mixer.com.
*Just wanted to throw it out there that I was not asked to write such nice things about Noisli. I just like it and want to share.
2. Classical Music
Another gimme, I know, but classical music is hands down an awesome source of stuff to put on while you’re working.
You can never go wrong with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, especially since the first result when you search that on the YouTube is a 42-minute-long compilation of…all four seasons. If you prefer one of the season over the other, then YouTube can also help you out.
I’m also a big fan of Pachelbel’s Canon in D, or Debussy’s Clair De Lune(if you can get past all the Twilight connotations), Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23.
There’s an album on Amazon called The Most Relaxing Classical Music In The Universe, which I am also a big fan of, even if some of the songs are TOO relaxing (but hey, you can use some for productivity, and some for sleep help. Multitasking!). One of the awesome things about that album is that there’s a lot of songs that are primarily string music, which is one of my personal preferences.
Go to the YouTube and type something along the lines of ‘classical music playlists’, and you’ll probably strike gold within the first few links.
(Wow. I feel so cultured after writing that segment.)
3. Video Game/Movie/Television Scores
Are you a big fan of video games?
While I may have spent my last two years of college living with guys who were all about that life (including a couple memorable nights where I nearly developed frostbite in my room because they had to crank the AC for the entire house to compensate for the eleven or twelve or thirteen desktop computers they crammed into our living room for their LAN parties), I never really got into it.
But I AM a fan of the scores.
And note here that I’m taking about scores, not soundtracks. Scores are the musical ones that don’t have words.
According to a 2012 article on Forbes.com (which means it has to be legit, right?), some of the top video games scores of all time (at the time), come from NieR, Chrono Trigger, any of the Legend of Zelda games, any of the Final Fantasy games, World of Warcraft, Dragon Age, and many others.
On the movie side, I’m a huge fan of both the Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean movie scores. If you have a favorite movie of all time, it probably has a score you can dig up on the depths of the internet. There’s even a page on Ranker that lists the movie score GOATS. The top-5 include Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Forrest Gump, and The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.
You can also search by your favorite movie composer. Fan of John Williams? (And who isn’t?) Well JohnWilliams.org has a listing of his compositions, all neatly organized by his work in film, television, and concert. Hans Zimmer even has his entire discography on his website (Kung Fu Panda 3, anyone?). Are you more inclined toward Danny Elfman and his bromance with Tim Burton? There’s that too.
All you have to do is Google ‘top movie score composers’, and they’re even nice enough to list them all (with pictures!) at the top of the page.
Now, for TV, I have one example and one example only: Bear McCreary’s Battlestar Galactica scores. Have you heard his composition of All Along The Watchtower? That sequence at the end of the season-three finale, Crossroads: Part 2, was one of the greatest sequences on television and even thinking about it now, coming up on ten years (OMG!) after the episode aired, I have just as many feelings about it as I did when it first aired.
Listen. Just do it.
Yes, I know this one has words in it, but oh my god the composition (also available in piano-only), I can’t convey how much I love this.
Here, take another six minutes and watch this video of a live performance of All Along The Watchtower, featuring McCreary and Starbuck herself, Katee Sackhoff, playing the intro on piano.
While the moment from Crossroads: Part 2 didn’t make me fall out of my chair like a certain moment during Unfinished Business did (yes, that is an actual thing that happened to me), it still hit pretty hard.
So basically, listen to the entire BSG score.
Oh, and I lied, I have a second example of a TV score: Firefly.
4. Music In A Language You DON’T Know
Are you not a fan of music that doesn’t have words, but are also the type who gets easily distracted by the compulsion to belt out the lyrics of your favorite song whenever it plays? (Me: Evanescence’s Call Me When You’re Sober)?
Are you really into perky pop music?
Try listening to songs in a foreign language that you don’t know (emphasis don’t), and therefore can’t sing along with. Think within the realms of French Techno, K-Pop, of J-Pop.
Or just listen to Gangnam Style on repeat a couple times.
Okay, so that might not be the best path to productivity, but there are plenty of songs out there that aren’t in English if you’re looking for background noise that you can’t necessarily sing along with.
5. OLD Podcast Episodes
I say OLD, because I can’t be the only one out there who gets drawn in whenever my favorite creepy, esoteric podcast releases a new episode. In Welcome To Night Vale terms, I can’t do anything else when listening to the new ones.
But conversely, I can start over from the first episode and work away to the dulcet tones of Cecil Baldwin reporting the news about his weird little town and rhapsodizing over his gorgeous scientist boyfriend, Carlos. Also, their segment called The Weather, has a lot of great indie musical options. AND background score by Disparition is beyond awesome.
It’s not going to help if I recommend new podcasts, but if you have some old standbys that you’ve listened to already, then why not take a shot at putting it on in the background while you work?
(But if you ARE looking for new podcasts, then my personal recommendations are the entire archive of The Thrilling Adventure Hour [Paget Brewster of Criminal Minds fame plays Sadie Doyle in their Beyond Belief segment, and she is my absolute favorite], anything from Night Vale Presents, including WTNV, Within The Wires, Alice Isn’t Dead, and The Orbiting Human Circus. If you’re looking for a dose of evil, go with Kakos Industries (but note the explicit rating and explicit topics). For more of a sci-fi angle, try the short EOS 10 radio play, or the series Wolf 359, which will tear you to pieces by the end of each episode, and you’ll thank them for it.
6. The Background Noise Of Being In A Coffee Shop
Are you not entirely sold on Noisli’s coffee shop option, but looking for something with that same vibe? Then go to a real, live coffee shop that contains other humans!
Now, while most people would be easily distracted by, well, other people, for some, having the background noise of actual conversations is a good way to help narrow down that focus.
Plus, you never know what inspiration you might get by listening to that couple at the table to your left that’s arguing about whether kale is actually good, or if we’re just told to believe that by the nefarious vegetable companies.
Also, being in a coffee shop (or similarly populated locale) is a good idea because you know that the purpose of going there is getting your work done. You know that you don’t want to waste the time you took waking up, getting ready to face other people, and leaving your residence to just sit in the corner, mainlining Starbucks’ newest seasonal frappuccino while surfing through Tumblr.
Try enjoying the cacophony of construction noise.
Oh, is that just me and what I get for working from home and discovering what goes on in my building during business hours? Okay!
Everyone, cross your fingers and hope that the renovations in the unit upstairs are completed ahead of schedule.
The moral of the story is that you should find what works for you and stick with it so you can write the next great American novel. Or whatever it is you’re working on.
A life-long college sports fan and forever bitter about the country’s east coast biases, Kathryn, The Fake Redhead, graduated from the University of Arizona with a BA in Creative Writing, emphasis in poetry because she felt the fiction studies emphasis was too pretentious. She is currently helping other writers hone their craft while she pursues her dreams of becoming a published novelist.