Many of us, I am sure, had a moment where we thought we could be songwriters. In my case, Taylor Swift, Paramore, and teen angst were the culprits. I wrote horrible and cliché lines that I would later print out to show my friends. Singer-songwriters were just as important to me as my literary heroes. This goal of becoming a songwriter then dissipated with the sad realization of my lack of musical talent. But I continued writing.
I spent my college years writing almost every day, which is not a surprise since I chose to study Spanish Literature and Language. I graduated this past December and continued to write but now as a copy and content writer. Most of my days consist of watching either a blank Word document, a calendar in Excel, or my horrible handwritten notes. Followed by hours of research, short bursts of inspiration, and then hours of struggling to write. Most of the time, I am listening to something while I work. I am one of those people that can write while listening to songs with lyrics or a podcast. Multitasking is my default setting.
Some studies have shown that music impairs our ability to focus. Others have said that it is only instrumental and classical music that is beneficial for our creative process. Some people point out that music can be distracting and can reduce the quality of work when the task is complex or demanding. It is also quite controversial for some to listen to music with lyrics while writing. For me, music is a driving force. It is the only thing that sets the tone, whether for client work or a blog post. Sometimes I listen while I write or during a short break.
When I want some inspiration or when I am trying to find alternatives to a sentence, I listen to some of my favorite albums by fantastic singer-songwriters. Most often than not, something comes out of that. So here is my list of artists that can help you during the writing process:
Sufjan Stevens is my go-to. His music is the best mix of genius instrumental and heart-wrenching lyrics. Carrie and Lowell is probably my first pick, followed by Michigan and Illinois. Sometimes Age of Adz if I am feeling a bit edgy. His writing has always been personal and autobiographical, while also exploring grand narratives. Sufjan grapples with strong subjects and transforms them into tear-inducing lines such as:
“Tuesday night at the Bible study / we lift our hands and pray over your body / but nothing ever happens.“
“Spirit of my silence, I can hear you, but I’m afraid to be near you and I don’t know where to begin”.
Something about his honesty and vivid imagery helps me put into words whatever I am trying to talk about. Especially when writing copy for a brand, we must set the right tone and guide your potential client through a story. Sufjan’s lyrics point out the importance of narrating compelling stories while exploring the power of emotion and speech. Sometimes crying can also help with the writing process. You should play Sufjan if you are in that mood.
Of course, after Sufjan, the natural progression of things leads me to Phoebe Bridgers. What I love about listening to Phoebe is how she says things so bluntly. Sometimes that is what I need when writing my stuff, even when doing client work. I want people to understand my voice and message. I want the brand’s voice to be crystal clear. Other times, Phoebe’s vocabulary also comes in handy:
“From the window, it’s not a bad show, If your favorite thing is dianetics or stucco.”
I had to google dianetics and stucco. Phoebe has a style of writing that is literal and straightforward but in a way that sounds poetic. This is a key takeaway for me when it comes to writing for clients. Of course, not everyone wants a poem on their sales page. Yet, it is essential to remember that we can say simple things in a way that is unexpected and beautiful.
Adrianne Lenker can heal and destroy my soul at the same time. Pitchfork said it: “Big Thief’s folk-rock songs act like memory capsules.” I love the abstract imagery and the way they make everything sound like literature, for example:
“See my death become a trail, and the trail leads to a flower, I will blossom in your sail, every dream and waking hour”.
Lenker talks about powerful emotions, trauma, aliens, life, death, everything:
“The wound has no direction, everybody needs a home and deserves protection.”
Big Thief is great for adding emotion and drama to any writing.
Lenker’s lyricism is a lesson in momentum that is perfectly matched with the music. “Not” is a perfect example. Repetition is a foolproof formula in copywriting, just like building expectations from the first line. Music often reminds me of that. Here is an example of a simple repetition that helps add rhythm to copy:
“Our 100% pure fruit smoothies. No added sugar. No concentrates. No funny business.” (Innocent)
While it may seem simple, it is easy to forget. That is when music comes in handy.
Simon & Garfunkel
It is obvious by now that I like folk. So, of course, I had to include Simon & Garfunkel. Paul Simon’s lyrics work best when writing uplifting and happy content but, it also works for introspection. Many of their songs remind me that simple language can be deep and effective:
“I’d rather be a forest than a street. Yes I would, if I could, I surely would. I’d rather feel the Earth beneath my feet. Yes I would, if I only could, I surely would.”
Simon’s lyrics also remind me of the importance of rhythm in any type of writing. People like words that sound pretty, simple as that.
Apple is an expert at this with simple copy such as:
“The music you love, on the go.”
Listening to Simon & Garfunkel reminds me how as writers we can shorten stories to a few, effective words. Rhythm is also a key component to take into consideration.
The important thing when writing is being able to follow through. Listening to these artists is sometimes that small push that I need to finish an article, or an email campaign, or to find better ideas during a brainstorming session. Finding places and mediums of inspiration is what allows me to write. In the end, music and writing are two sides of the same coin. It even applies to copywriting. We follow a structure, define a rhythm and a beat, change tones, and so on.
Being a bilingual copywriter, sometimes I feel like my brain is split in half. I have another list of artists that help me when writing in Spanish, stay tuned for that one.
Meanwhile, here is what I am currently listening to: https://open.spotify.com/track/79zOjwivNbq4XVaWufOyvu?si=d0a7e18cb1b44c0c