Editing Project Soundtrack: “Credit Crunched”

I’ve always loved having music playing while I’m working, finding the right music to be an aid to concentration and focus. Unfortunately, I’m picky about music selection and sound quality, and I end up fiddling with the volume and selecting the proper tracks. Some albums are helpful when working, others can be distracting, and babysitting the stereo system is generally more trouble than it’s worth.

Also, where do I listen? The wonderful-sounding speakers in my office? Laptop speakers in the dining room? Headphones aren’t an option; cabling running down my neck constantly distracts me.

I recently got AirTunes up and running, eliminating two obstacles. Listening to music while working is now amazingly straightforward—the data is streamed to the “satellite” router next to the stereo, which is plugged into the amplifier. I can listen to my music library over the Celestion speakers I bought in the early eighties.

I also have the laptop set up so I can use keystrokes to pause music, skip ahead to the next track, or change the volume. This lets me keep working, eliminating having to get up and fiddle with the stereo.

From a sonic point of view, the stereo is sort of an intermediate in between using laptop speakers and the studio monitors in my office—the former has lousy sound, the latter has sound that’s wonderfully clear and full, but ties me to my desk. My office is not my favorite place to work. (The light is terrible in there, and that’s part of the problem.)

Here are the songs that best fit the mood my last project, keeping me going while I was making notes to the author, redlining text, and fixing typos.

Project: Credit Crunched, by Allison Harris
Duties: Line editing, proofreading, comments on structure

  • Devo’s 2010 album Something for Everybody surprised me by being good a good soundtrack. I thought it would distract me much more than it did. The simple structures and lyrics are overlaid with complex production, so the music engaged the parts of my brain not engaged in work.
  • Robert Fripp, “The Cathedral Of Tears”, from the Radiophonics album A Blessing Of Tears. There are several of these “Frippertronics” albums, and they’re all excellent background music as they have little in the way of melody, structure, or rhythm.
  • Genesis, Live over Europe 2007—if I didn’t know these songs like the back of my mouse hand, this would have been an amazingly distracting disc. Genesis’s music is complex and challenging, except for the later stuff (which I mostly skip past anyway).
  • Holst’s, The Planets, London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Andre Previn.
  • Miles Davis, ’58 Miles Featuring Stella by Starlight
  • Mozart’s Requiem, London Symphony Orchestra (Colin Davis conducting)—This is an old favorite, and Mozart’s Coronation Mass in C, The English Concert and Choir, conducted by Trevor Pinnock. A friend’s choir performed this, so I was in the mood to hear it again while working later in the day. The Requiem works with a surprising number of situations. (It’s not just for funerals anymore!)
  • My Chemical Romance, Danger Days—This is one I might let run or not, depending on the material at hand. It’s fairly similar to the Devo album I mentioned above, although with more energy and less structure.
  • Rush, Snakes & Arrows
  • Paul Simon’s recent album So Beautiful or So What. This is growing on me a little bit more with each listen, as did his 2000 disc You’re The One. It serves well as editing music if I ignore the lyrics.
  • Simon and Garfunkel’s albums Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme, and Bookends—this is also music I know so well I can let it run in the background without paying attention. Both are beautiful collections of songs, although I still skip through “Voces of Old People” on Bookends.
  • Frank Sinatra, “It Was a Very Good Year” —The owner of a cafe that I frequent likes this song; it keeps popping up on his playlists.
  • They Might Be Giants, Mink Car, Lincoln and bits of They Got Lost, a disc of out-takes.
  • Yes, Yessongs—a classic live album I had as a child. The CD sounds better than the vinyl did, although the beautiful artwork on the jacket is now significantly less impressive.
  • The venerable Frank Zappa’s Francesco Zappa—Baroque electronica)—and Guitar—an album of excerpted guitar work from various Zappa tours.

(There was a moment when the guy next door practicing drums actually fit the mood of a particular scene. I also heard some Motown, some rap, some Tom Waits, and some more Sinatra in a cafe—these were quite nice and fit the parts of the book I was on at the times.)

Those of you who write and edit, do you listen to music while working? If so, how?

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5 thoughts on “Editing Project Soundtrack: “Credit Crunched”

  1. Usually, I need absolute quiet to write, a rare commodity in a house with two children, so I try to work around it. I use music at work when doing repetitive, half-brain kinds of tasks. But for work for which I must really concentrate, I usually need silence.

    However, after reading your post and thinking about it, tonight I created a Pandora station of classical guitar music, and guess what? It is BETTER than silence!

  2. It’s all about finding the right music. Not included here is the names of the music I skipped over when I started listening and stopped working.

    Fun pop and jazz are great for baking and cooking. Why is it that weekend brunch is somehow associated with instrumental jazz?

  3. Great post! 🙂
    I like to listen to music too when I write/edit. I have playlists on my trusty iPod – lot’s of them. One for every major story that I’m working on. A few have several (e.g. one with music that my main character listens to, one for the general mood of the story, one for dramatic scenes …).

  4. There’s a coffeehouse channel on satellite that is largely unobtrusive, but I do like silence. I have heard that some writers like to pair the plot or theme of their book with a “soundtrack”, if you will. However, I almost always find music distracting. (It’s nice to know that there IS a way to drown out the voices in my head, though!)

  5. Working without music is like fishing without a bicycle. Or some other trite saying.
    I write for computers, but the task is IMO broadly comparable. I use headphones because I work in a box full of rats… “valued co-contributors”. But decent headphones, a USB soundcard/DAC and a hard drive full of FLAC makes the office so much more bearable. I have my playlist of plainsong, a playlist of modern chant (Gregorian-the-band, Era, etc), the romantic list then the “everything I’ve liked since 1990” one. But I freely admit to putting a single album on repeat until it wears off (this week: Marriner’s Pastorale).
    FWIW I’ve decided that unless I can have a proper audiophile setup speakers don’t really work for me. Headphones are so much cheaper and more portable (my phone makes adequate noise into decent headphones, for instance ).

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