How it Works for Me
When listening to music, certain chords, riffs or lyrics will bring on a group of scenes or actions based on one of the many stories that are sitting in my head, about forty-one distinct stories, at last count, which are in the form of comics, novels and animation. For me its like seeing a movie trailer, a montage of scenes featuring the character of the story my mind is living in at that point. Sometimes it is fleshing out a scene that I have already written and workout or it can be something completely new brought upon by the music itself. It also has an amazing benefit. Whenever I hear a specific musical piece, the images and scenes come flooding back into my mind's eye, which is a great way to remember story elements and ideas. With that said I will move on and present some ideas, on the music I listen to, where the idea for this technique comes from and how it can be applied with a few example of story concepts brought about by listening specific songs.
I have always watched movies and tv shows and love the theme music or situational musical pieces used in the shows. Some of my favorites include Knight Rider, Air Wolf, Robotech and Cowboy Bebop themes. The Highlander movie theme introduced me to Queen's "A Kind of Magic" LP and the tv show had me vibing on Kansas' "Dust in the Wind". Music pieces from Beethoven's 9th symphony to Judas Priest's Painkiller have help launch creative insight that I would never have had without having heard these pieces.
Tabletop Role Playing Games (RPG)
DC,a contributor to this site, introduced my older brother(RJE) and myself to world of tabletop RPGs. The thing that made his Game Master(GM)/Dungeon Master(DM) sessions so anticipated among our group of friends was his use of music to draw you into his game scenarios (you can find out where he learned this technique in his post A Spotlight On Inspiration). These sessions introduced me to artists like Enya, which he used the song "Ebudae" to set the scene for an Eilistraeen Drow(good aligned dark elves for those of you who never played old school Ad&D's Forgotten Realms setting)moon ceremony. He used songs from the Braveheart soundtrack to put emphasis on battles during a campaign(series of role playing sessions in the same story arc). Or the Metallica track "All Through the Never" to dramatise the intensity of racing high speed space planes on a harrowing course through an asteroid field. The thing is these game sessions are some of the most memorable events because of their connection to music. Whenever a one of the songs used in a campaign or one of DC's impromptu storytelling sessions these are the ideas and images that are most strongly related to those pieces. He's very good storyteller, if we ever go back to the days of no electricity or TVs he'll be a wealthy and famous man, believe it. These musical role playing games sessions not only helped to expand my imagination they also helped create the bases for many of the worlds that I am now writing stories and comics on. The exposure to all of these different genres also expanded my taste in music. So there you have it birth of the technique.
The concept of MP3s boomed while I was in college. Folks in the lab I worked at back in those days each downloaded a song or two on the office computer. This introduced me to a wide range of music and genres. It also was surprising to find that people who you might of thought you had nothing in common with shared many of the same musical tastes and favorite songs. One of the songs that I found in that collection was Stabbing Westward's "What do I have to do?", another was The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony". The amazing thing about these songs is that they helped me imagined situations and scenarios that characters are experiencing as vivid scenes in my mind. Like with Bittersweet Symphony, this is a piece that I see my elven mage/thief character reliving some of his greatest feats and greatest losses. As he moves from memory to memory he is aging and changing based on the experiences he has just been through.
There are many albums that have become part of the soundtrack in my mind for the stories that I am putting together. Like Judas Priest's "A Touch of Evil" for a story where dimensional counterparts of heroes are darker and the world is controlled by an enemy force. Or on Seal's second album, which featured "Kiss from a Rose" for me formed a world where world peace was achieved! But behind the seen of world wide peace covert operations and espionage became rampant. Soon the special operatives, individuals with superhuman abilities, were scapegoated as the one's behind all of societies problems. These songs help guide the ebb and flow of my stories. The lyrics help spark new ideas or directions that may not have even existed for me to relate to, if not for that grouping or phrasing of the words I heard in those songs.
Creative Through Genres
From Classical to Hip Hop and over to Heavy Metal. All of these different musical genres can be used for specific types of stories for me. Hip Hop is great for urban/city settings and believe it or not, for samurais in feudal Japan as seen in the animated show "Samurai Champloo"(check out the opening theme). Heavy Metal lends itself well when dealing with Mecha( Japanese term for giant robots/armors), or battles dealing with knights, sword and sorcery,any story that has intense energetic scenes. Classical music or orchestral pieces work well with any time period or setting. The greatest thing about classical /orchestral music is the feeling of grandeur the music can add to situations or the ability to be subtle and quiet while retaining its power. What is even more amazing is this can all happen it the same musical piece. The major point being that music can help set the mood and help guide the mind's eye through the creative process.
In closing I'll leave you with some of the tracks that are currently on constant loop on my music playlist. Gotye's Somebody I Used To Know, Terminal March and Ending Theme from the Bastion video game soundtrack.