Category: Music

“If music be the food of love…”

With all due respect to the bard, I think music serves as the food of memories, not love. But by all means, play on.

Music is my ultimate emotional recall tool. What do I mean by that? I can listen to a song now that I listened to in junior high and have total recall about people, places, and certain events. I can picture scenes in my mind as they happened (or at least as my brain remembers them), including whatever emotions I was feeling at the time.

Some writers will listen to songs from their youth to get back in touch with their inner teenagers. That’s a little tougher for me because while my characters are an extension of me to some extent, they aren’t me. I like to think they are their own people. And I can’t imagine how some of my characters might be thinking about the guys they like if I’m listening to  “One” by U2 or “Black” by Pearl Jam. And perhaps it’s because I’m older now, but “Institutionalized” by Suicidal Tendencies makes me laugh more than remind me of what it was like to be at my parents’ mercy.

I’m not belittling my playlist from back then. Not at all. My “ideal guy” song back then (circa 1984) was “Somebody” by Depeche Mode, and it still holds up:

I mean, who can argue that Martin Gore isn’t singing about the perfect life partner? But it’s old, and from a completely different generation. I’m not saying that kids these days wouldn’t appreciate it, but I’m acknowledging my age, and that’s why I have a whole other Pandora station, strictly devoted to what I think my characters would be listening to right now. It’s more current stuff, though I’ve realized (much to my dismay) that some of these songs are from the ‘00s and are considered “old school.” (If planning my 20-year high school reunion last year wasn’t enough to make me feel old, this certainly did.)

This may be old school, but this is what I’d envision my characters calling the “ideal guy” song now (circa 2007): “I Could Get Used to This” by Everlife.

Same general concept, but with a different delivery. And even I, in my old and jaded adult stage, can appreciate it.

As I go through revisions for WTRPCPSU – and also as I inch my way through The WIP, I’m relying on my Pandora station more than ever. I don’t feel like it’s enough for me to tell a story or paint a picture. When I was younger, my favorite books made me feel. They drew me in and made me cry and laugh and get angry with characters. That’s why it’s so important for me to get these emotions right. It’s not enough for me to remember what it’s like to be a teen. I want to capture what it’s like to be a teen today.

I may not be able to walk in their shoes (I wouldn’t pass for a high schooler anymore), but I can listen to their music (or, at least, something more current than my high school soundtrack) and let it speak to me. And while themes haven’t changed over the past 25 years or so, it’s still nice to feel like I’m getting a fresh perspective.

What I’m listening to now…

I mentioned in a previous post that I use music to get into my characters’ heads. And, as I’m writing/plotting from the perspective of high school students, it behooves me to listen to what (I think) they’re listening to.

After all, when in Rome and all that.

Anyway, I thought it might be fun to list what my Pandora Teeny-Bopper station has been playing for the last hour or so, if for no other reason than to laugh about it in a few years. So here it is, in reverse order (the artist is in parentheses):

  • The Anthem (Good Charlotte)
  • Kissin U (Miranda Cosgrove)
  • Ignorance (Paramore)
  • Breathe (Michelle Branch)
  • Float On (Modest Mouse)
  • Bite My Tongue (Reliant K)
  • Stay Awake (All Time Low)
  • His Girl Friday (The Academy Is…)
  • High School Never Ends (Bowling for Soup)
  • Nobody’s Home (Avril Lavigne)
  • Human (The Killers)
  • Such Great Heights (The Postal Service)
  • Kids (MGMT)

It’s an eclectic list. But looking at it, I can kind of understand why I feel a bit schizophrenic when I’m writing/plotting. A playlist like this makes me want to ask myself. “How old are you, again?”

Maybe it’s just keeping me young. That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway.

What authors can learn from musicians

I was reading a rather intriguing article today on the Huffington Post site. In it, Steve Gottlieb, a fairly well known player in the music industry, talks about the need for publishers to embrace the digital platform when reaching consumers.

And as I read it, it occurred to me that there is another message within this article, but one meant more for authors.

What do I mean? Well, allow me to explain.

Bands don’t write songs and seek out agents and labels right away. Well, maybe some artists wait for their chance to be on X Factor or American Idol or something, but even factoring in those shows, musicians don’t just put something together and say, “Ooh! I know! Why don’t I find a label to audition for!”

And yet that’s what so many authors do. We write these fantastic books and try to get them out in front of people who can make or break our dreams, often without letting anyone besides friends and family read our work.

Struggling musicians try to find places to perform, seek out that feedback, work hard to build a fan base and interact with anyone and everyone who comes to their early shows because – hey! If that guy liked our show, maybe he’ll tell two of his friends, and they’ll tell two more, and they’ll tell two more, and the next thing you know, you’re filling tiny clubs to capacity and have A&R guys tripping over themselves to see why there’s so much buzz about you.

So, shouldn’t authors do the same?

(Allow me to make a shameless plug now for my own recently completed NaNoWriMo project tentatively called Will the Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up?, the second chapter of which is now up on Wattpad for your reading pleasure and feedback.)

I’ve currently sent out four copies of my first draft to friends with another going out this weekend, and I fully expect two of those copies to come back covered with red marks as I’ve sent them to teachers. (It’s feedback – I welcome it.) Two other copies are being read by my target audience and their mothers; I fully expect feedback there, as well. And the fifth is being read by my bestest friend from high school, mostly because she’s awesome like that but also because she’s the mom of middle school boys and can provide some feedback, as well, but from a slightly different perspective. (Note: No family has read this. Yet.)

What’s my point? Well, I’ve written something I think is pretty good, even if it is just a first draft. Yes, it needs some polish. But it’s kind of like a musician writing a new song. Is it going to sound exactly right when you play it for the first time? No. Is the crowd going to love it as soon as they hear it? Maybe, but quite possibly no. But that’s when you welcome criticisms and take them to heart and transform what is pretty good into something amazing.

And those people helping you along the way with criticisms? Maybe they’ll tell two friends that they like your work. And those people will each tell two of their friends. And the next thing you know, you’ve got a book that’s clawing its way up the Barnes & Noble and Amazon charts, and agents and publishers are now tripping over themselves to see what the buzz is about you.

So it’s not just publishers that can learn from the music industry. It’s authors, too. And while I can’t very well stand up and read the entirety of my 195-page novel (still can’t believe I wrote a novel) at an open-mic night, when I’m satisfied that my novel is ready, I can at least share copies in hopes that someone thinks it’s good enough to share with their friends or (gasp!) even post on Facebook about what an awesome book they just read.

Hey – a girl’s gotta dream, right?