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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