What do you listen to when you design?
Music can give you a motivational jump-start before you’ve even opened Photoshop, or put pen to paper; in particular, tunes with an up-beat tempo can help improve your mood. However, songs with lyrics can be distracting as it introduces a multitasking situation which can interfere with reading comprehension and information processing.
But what music should you choose? Something new? Or something familiar which stirs past emotions? Listening to something new can be distracting, as you’re paying too much attention to the lyrics and rhythm. When you put something familiar on you almost zone-out as the song is such a big part of you, and any lyrics are less distracting as the words are already so intimate. With that zoning out, your mind begins to race as past memories surface and ideas begin to form.
Nonetheless, new music should not be disregarded. A powerful song can immediately inspire and conjure images. Write these spontaneous emotions and ideas down as soon as you feel them, as they might flit away in a few moments. If the song you’re listening to has no lyrics, think about what sort of story would use it as a soundtrack; alternatively if it has lyrics, listen to them and let them paint out a scene for you.
For example, if we take a look at “The Last Crusade ‘A New Age Dawns’ – Part 1” by Epica, the chorus is:
Don’t be afraid, participate and
Just give us all your trust
Your soul will be saved
Just honour me, I’ll set you free so
Get ready to join the
Very last crusade
What do these lyrics say to you?
I see a woman, standing before a crazed crowd, flaunting some form of holy light and being fanatical in her recruitment of warriors. Granted this example does not leave much room for interpretation, but what about “Letters from the Sky” by Civil Twilight:
One of these days the sky’s gonna break
And everything will escape and I’ll know
One of these days the mountains
Are gonna fall into the sea and they’ll know
From this, I can see a split in the sky, either from lightning, or a literal tear in the fabric of space; and perhaps the lightning is crashing onto the mountain and causing it to splinter.
If you’re looking for some non-lyrical music, try Two Steps from Hell, Globus, or Thomas Bergersen. Their music is powerful, and definitely inspirational.
Reaching out to real artists, I asked a simple question: “Do you listen to music whilst you design?”. 21 participants responded, and of those 85% said that they listen to music, with 15% preferring silence. Two thirds of those who listen to music agreed that when they need to concentrate, or write, they switch to non-lyrical music, so that they are not distracted. The other third stated that it didn’t matter what music they listened to, as when they began to get absorbed by their work, the music faded out. To quote a few of those who took part:
GrimFace242 – For me it all depends. When I’m writing, I try to stick with instrumental only (so, mainly soundtracks) because words tend to make me want to sing and then I don’t focus on the writing. If I’m working graphics, I try to stick with anything upbeat (lots of Irish rock).
Celvas – It doesn’t matter. When I design, I don’t hear anything anyway.
Ginkgografix – Doesn’t matter to me as long as it doesn’t distract me. Just when it comes to coding or something which I really have to think about, then I prefer to go for Instrumental or New Age.
So what can we conclude from this? Whilst music can be the spark we need to start, it can become distracting and possibly even detrimental to the outcome of our piece. If you find the music becoming too prevalent, and taking over your concentration, turn it off or switch to something non-lyrical, or calmer.
Written by Natalie Rowlands