I am no musician. The only instrument I ever learned to play was the recorder (in elementary school) and that was terrible. I can’t sing worth a damn — as Jacqui once reported, I failed even to belt out “Old Man River” with Boba Fett when we were both guests at a convention. Music is not something I do… but it sure is something I use. A lot.
When Jacqui was writing A Daughter’s Gift, she always drafted listening to music. I took my cue from her. Writing prose for me is rhythmical — every sentence has a cadence and a flow, and while I’ve trained myself over the years to provide a sort of internal metronome, it’s usually better when someone else is playing the beat for me (as long as it’s the right beat). Drafting is therefore always accompanied by customized playlists, and the songs involved are put through rigorous testing. I hear them over and over, associating them with the plight of certain characters. If there’s anything about them I don’t like, they burn out fast.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this high-demand environment leads to a lot of variation. My playlists have been all over the map; the Equations were drafted with a mix of the Corrs and Celtic show music; Defense Command started — believe it or not — with the hits of the 1970s, and ended up with Daft Punk (so really, maybe nothing changed); His Majesty’s New World relied on folk sounds, rock, and a genre called ‘roots’; and now Champions is being backed mostly by pop, rock, and alternative tunes from the UK. Interspersed in there has been everything from Frank Sinatra to (pre-telephone) Carly Rae Jepsen — whatever seems to suit the tone of what I need to write.
It’s very rare for me to find tracks that can hop from series to series. It’s not that I get tired of the music (though sometimes, inevitably, I do), but that some songs, bands, and even genres become subconsciously linked to whatever I was writing when they were in high rotation. For instance, this track from Lord of the Dance will always drop me into the midst of the assault landing in The Earther Equation:
By the same token, Canadian indie band HUDDLE‘s track Traded was in every playlist associated with His Majesty’s New World, and sends me back to the trail with Smith:
Because of these lasting subconscious associations, I’m constantly looking for new music… and the good news is that new music is easier to find now than ever before. When I was looking for something different for Champions, I luckily I stumbled across the UK version of the reality singing competition, The Voice. Whatever you might think of such shows, I was delighted by the UK version because it offered a smorgasboard of different music, much of which hadn’t crossed the pond:
While I gather British audiences aren’t as blown away as I am by their version of The Voice (much hand-wringing about ratings), it’s been a fantastic resource. The BBC posts every performance on YouTube, and whether or not I like the contestants, their song choices lead in all sorts of interesting directions. More importantly, bands like the Kaiser Chiefs (whose front man is one of the current coaches) have no profile in Canada… but their albums are available on iTunes, and I find them damned good for writing:
The Voice UK introduced me to a whole new world (well, technically kingdom) of music, so I was open-minded when I saw a tweet from my favorite (now-defunct) late night television host, Craig Ferguson, about a band from his hometown. I gave them a listen… and now I’m an enthusiastic supporter of a Scottish indie band called Dead Man Fall. Indeed, the last three Champions novellas (and the whole cross-country move) were backed by playlists featuring DMF songs, and unlike some of my discoveries, these guys are still cutting new tracks on a regular basis. More fuel for the fire:
Dead Man Fall has lately received some well-deserved international attention — Craig Ferguson covered one of their singles on his final show, and the US market is beginning to take notice. If you missed that occasion, here it is (celebrities are lip-syncing for the first half, Ferguson taking over in the second half):
There’s something brilliant about a world in which a non-musical guy from Canada can become a fan of an indie band playing gigs in Glasgow. Music now is accessible worldwide, just the way books are… and I think it’s telling that I’ve almost started to take this international accessibility for granted. Indeed, we’re relying on it here at Iceberg — we’re a small Canadian company with our largest readership in the US, and the cover for our last release was shot by fantastic people who we’ve never actually met, in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. None of that would have been possible a decade ago… and back then, I wouldn’t have been able to be a DMF fan.
So in conclusion, let me just tell you that the world is getting smaller, and… what? Yes, I know that’s a cliche, and that you’ve heard it all before, but… wait… where have I heard it all before…
Aha, see what I did there? The SONG is called HEARD IT ALL. Clever me.
So if you want to be cool like me, you should go buy some DMF tracks. They’re excellent. Go on. You wouldn’t want to not be cool like me, would you? You know, ending an author note with a sarcastic rhetorical question?