Music That Helps You Write: A Free Spotify Playlist of Your Selections


What music puts you in the mood to write? At the moment, I have on Alice Coltrane’s “Bat­tle at Armaged­don” from her 1971 Uni­ver­sal Con­scious­ness, a work of psy­che­del­ic free jazz that makes my fin­gers skit­ter over the key­board and sends thoughts rac­ing through my mind. Should Coltrane’s mys­tic jazz counter the mood I want to sum­mon, I might find some­thing less syn­co­pat­ed, more lugubri­ous, omi­nous, melan­choly, serene, etc. (Per­haps Grouper’s atmos­pher­ic suite of reverb-drenched tone-poems The Man Who Died in His Boat.)

This inter­ac­tion between the ears, the fin­gers, and the writ­ing mind struck our inter­est back in 2012, and we put out a call to read­ers to sug­gest the best pieces of music to write by. Some read­ers found that silence made for the best—or only—accompaniment. Many more made rec­om­men­da­tions rang­ing from Miles Davis, to min­i­mal­ist com­pos­er Steve Reich, sitar mae­stro Ravi Shankar, the clas­sic Krautrock sound of Neu!, the dub reg­gae of King Tub­by, the vio­lin Sonatas of Bach, and the ambi­ent sound­scapes of Bri­an Eno. We took it upon our­selves to com­pile a sam­pling of your sug­ges­tions with Youtube videos at the time. Now we offer above a more portable Spo­ti­fy ver­sion of our “music to write by” playlist—over 13 hours of music. (Stream it above. Or find it online here. If you need to down­load Spo­ti­fy, grab the soft­ware here.) I’ve added Alice Coltrane, Grouper, and the beau­ti­ful …Until We Felt Red (2006) from one of my favorite gui­tarists, Kaki King.

I hope this playlist inspires you, or at least inspires you to make your own. While it could go on indef­i­nite­ly, the key to a good mix­tape is the art of judi­cious selec­tion. Please tell us in the com­ments, what would you absolute­ly have to add? What artists, com­posers, and musi­cians get you in the mood to write, help you shift tem­pos, or move you from major to minor keys while you com­pose, whether you write non­fic­tion, poet­ry, tech­ni­cal man­u­als, or the Great Amer­i­can What­ev­er? We’ll add many of your sug­ges­tions to the playlist over the next few days.

Relat­ed Con­tents:

The Best Music to Write By: Give Us Your Rec­om­men­da­tions

The Best Music to Write By, Part II: Your Favorites Brought Togeth­er in a Spe­cial Playlist

Lis­ten to Philip K. Dick’s Favorite Clas­si­cal Music: A Free, 11-Hour Playlist

62 Psy­che­del­ic Clas­sics: A Free Playlist Cre­at­ed by Sean Lennon

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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Comments (7)
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  • Jon Rawski says:

    I def­i­nite­ly would rec­om­mend Zoe Keat­ing for the playlist. Amaz­ing cel­lo play­ing and use of loops. I’ve nev­er been more focused while lis­ten­ing to music.

  • Roz Morris @Roz_Morris says:

    What do I write to? Every­thing. usic is aur­al voodoo. It freezes the hur­ri­cane of ideas so that I can exam­ine a moment, replay it to under­stand what I should make it, or what a char­ac­ter feels.
    Every week I host a writer on my blog who describes how music has helped them cre­ate their nov­els. If you’re inter­est­ed, step this way for The Under­cov­er Sound­track…

  • AC says:

    Boo on the Spo­ti­fy links, boo.

  • Francois says:

    Hiss!!! Booo!!!!!! to the sign up for Spo­ti­fy rub­bish!!! ENOUGH with col­lect­ing our data!! It is OFFENSIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • JP says:

    WHO con­jures this stuff?

    First, get out of my way with this Spo­ti­fy col­lect my data and track me non­sense.

    Sec­ond, any of this can be found on Utube and down­loaded con­vert­ed to mp3 eas­i­ly — WITHOUT being bait for Spo­ti­fy.

    But “music that helps you write”? Write of what?!

    Kaki King? Are you kid­ding?! Alice Coltrane — Uni­ver­sal Con­scious­ness?!! Are you insane?! What? It’s like a hot wire through me head. Is Open Cul­ture a P/R shill for King et. al.? Pulease! This stuff has got to vio­late the rules of the Gene­va Con­ven­tion. I’d rather be water-board­ed!

    Take a sug­ges­tion from a REAL writer (James Bald­win) and lis­ten Bessie Smith. OMG WHERE does Open Cul­ture find these pre­pos­ter­ous pun­dits of the pen? Dump junk like this in my email box again and I am out­ta here!

  • Bucky Wunderlick says:

    You DO know that none of the Spo­ti­fy links work, right? Not sure what hap­pened, the Sean Lennon playlist worked fine, but this one… meh.

  • Xander says:

    I high­ly rec­om­mend the music of Bohren & Der Club of Gore. Dark, doomy and slow jazz and tracks that are around 8 or 9 min­utes long. Just per­fect.

    And Bri­an Eno’s Music For Air­ports of course. But that’s too obvi­ous.

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