What Music Do You Listen to When You Write?

Oh man, playlists—when I do blog tours, inevitably one of the bloggers will ask me to share my playlist for the book we’re promoting. Apparently I’m supposed to have hip, cutting-edge lists plucked off pop charts and indie radio to narrate the stories I write, to prove how in tune I am with today’s music scene.

Confession: I am not in tune with today’s music scene.

Unless we’re talking about today’s MOVIE music scene. Then I’m queen of the castle, baby.

I don’t typically listen to pop music. When I drive, it’s either silent so I can think, or I listen to a CD (yes, my car is old enough to have a CD player), but the majority of time I spend listening to music is when I’m writing, and when I’m writing, I can’t have the distraction of a singer crooning at me. Otherwise I sing along and it stirs the bats from the attic and scares Rosie Cotton.

It’s accurate to say that one hundred percent of my writing music is from movies, and nearly all of that is the instrumental score. But for music that involves artists singing? I’ve discovered tons of bands through movie or TV soundtracks. I love Imogen Heap, Birdy, Muse, Woodkid, Ingrid Michaelson, Florence + The Machine, Sigrid, Rae Morris, Iron & Wine, Ellie Goulding, and Sia. (OH, I love Sia.) Pretty much all the music I “discover” wiggles its way into my iTunes library because it was played as accompaniment to a story unfolding on the screen. Because if you haven’t figured it out—I LOVE MOVIES.

Of course there’s going to be an image of Superman on my blog. <3

Of course there’s going to be an image of Superman on my blog. <3

So, in the spirit of introducing you to some Really Fantastic Movie Scores, here are my top ten favorites, as of today:

1.     MAN OF STEEL, Hans Zimmer


3.     GAME OF THRONES, all seasons (but 7 & 8 have some killer themes), Ramin Djawadi

4.     TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON, Alexandre Desplat

5.     KING ARTHUR, Daniel Pemberton

6.     WONDER WOMAN, Rupert Gregson-Williams

7.     WELCOME TO THE PUNCH, Harry Escott

8.     MORTAL ENGINES, Tom Holkenborg

9.     THE IMITATION GAME, Alexandre Desplat

10.  THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, Rupert Gregson-Williams

11.  THE HUNGER GAMES, James Newton Howard


Oops. That was 12. And I forced myself to stop. Sometimes a movie will actually suck, but the MUSIC is glorious. Don’t judge a movie score by the pictures on the screen, kids.

I get super nerded out when we start talking about movie composers. From my list, you can see my favorites include Hans Zimmer, Lorne Balfe, Rupert Gregson-Williams (and his brother Harry!), Alexandre Desplat, Ramin Djawadi, Tom Holkenborg/Junkie XL—but here are a few others you should DEFINITELY check out if you’re a cinematic music freak like I am:

  • John Williams, of course (JAWS, STAR WARS, HARRY POTTER, JURASSIC PARK, INDIANA JONES—Mr. Williams is the preeminent composer of our age)

  • Alan Silvestri (a legend)

  • Pinar Toprak

  • Benjamin Wallfisch

  • Brian Tyler

  • Alexandra Harwood

  • John Paesano

  • Patrick Doyle

  • Olafur Arnalds

  • Bear McCreary (Not just OUTLANDER, folks!)

  • Andrew Lockington

  • Henry Jackman

  • Danny Elfman

  • Trent Reznor

  • Rachel Portman

  • Carter Burwell

  • Michael Giacchino

  • Howard Shore

  • Clint Mansell

  • John Debney

  • Craig Armstrong

  • Marco Beltrami

  • Steven Price

  • Mark Isham

  • Twelve Titans Music

I’ll admit how hard it is picking my favorites because seriously, I love multiple scores from all these composers. When friends need good writing music, they email and ask for recommendations because they know I’m cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs when it comes to movie music. I’m always on the lookout for inspiring, powerful instrumentals that can serve as the framework for whatever book I’m working on.

And HEY — IF YOU’RE INTO DOCUMENTARIES, check out Score: A Film Music Documentary (2016) for a look at how these magicians transport us into new worlds via our ears. Click on the image below to watch the trailer.

Next time you’re at the movies, close your eyes for a second and listen to the magic going on behind the pictures. Music is powerful, no matter what shape the playlist takes.

Got any to add to the list? Anything I HAVE to listen to? My headphones and I are standing by.