Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Voice, in music

Do you look for influences on your own writing voice? I wrote a previous post on this, so here's something new.

When I hear the word, voice, I think audio first.

Music, especially. I listen to all kinds of music, but my favourites always have two things in common: an awesome baseline and a distinctive voice.

Main reason is, I love driving (stick, not automatic) and something about a thumping baseline and a car with enough guts under the hood really gets me all hyped up. I love the Dropkick Murphys, Deadmau5, Rihanna, Emma Shapplin (oh my goodness, NOT her English songs...) and I even swing over to country music or slow stuff (with little base) like Esthero, Shivaree, or Ceu.

...though if the cat is in the car, he fiercely protests if I'm listening to any male singer... no idea why, but I can't get the little guy to shut up, and his yowls are pretty ear-splitting. He prefers lower female voices (possibly 'cause I have a lower female voice), and he is the quietest when I listen to:

Bif Naked*. (if you don't want to listen to the whole song, skip to the 0.45 mark and listen until the 1.24 mark. I've been listening to her since I was in high-school, from her very first (self-titled) album. I have a lot of memories tired to her music, especially the song, 'I Died' from her album, 'Another 5 Songs and a Poem' which I used as the music for one of my animation demo tapes. The linked song isn't my favourite of hers (I usually go for the faster rock stuff), but it's a good showcase of her voice which is rough, raw, strong and has a very distinctive nasal-sound to it.

Pink has a similar voice... Like she goes through three packs of smokes a day...

That rough, raw voice is something I love, like the singer for Dropkick Murphys 'Echoes on "A" Street' or 'Flannigan's Ball'. And apparently Emma Shapplin (before the French singer turned to Italian opera) actually sang with a French heavy metal band and DID smoke a ton of cigarettes to purposefully rough-up her voice...

Another singer whose voice I like is Bob Schneider. 'C'mon Baby' is one of my all time favourite songs... though you can't really get the full baseline on laptop speakers... in fact it's pretty dismal compared to the full quality song...

But then I grew up with Nirvana, Counting Crows, Aerosmith, Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, Live, Metallica, Megadeath, The Offspring, Bad Religion, Pearl Jam, The Wallflowers, Snuff and all the old-school rap/r&b... Can't even tell you how many times I've listened to The Fugees album... oh, and Wyclef Jean and DMX were totally my first voice-crushes.

Some artists have interesting voice quirks, like Avril Lavigne** had the awesomest lisp (0.19 -> 0.26) which has since been nearly trained out of her voice.

Since I really don't care much about the lyrics or style of music (hey, I've got J-pop, Italian opera and Bollywood music on my laptop!) and, 'cause I'm dyslexic, I have the absolute worst time remembering names (unless I see them written down), but I can usually recognize a lead singer's voice if nothing else. Like, there are two male country singers I really like whose voices break when they sing... but for the life of me, I can't remember their names or ever the name of their songs.

But if I look back on all the artists I love to listen to, I find a striking similarity... their sound is usually often dark or gritty, which tends to be the writing voice I naturally fall into when crafting characters and stories. Could that possibly be a product of going through my formative years listening to depressed and disillusioned musicians***? Perhaps it's an influence, but then again I also read a lot of dark books when I was little, way before getting into that kind of music.

I always write in silence, but I know many writers have a different playlist for every story they work on. Despite that, I can clearly feel certain songs when I re-read certain scenes or short stories, or a character in particular always gives me the same feel as a singer's voice does, or even a certain rift, solo or transition (who doesn't love the guitar solo in 'November Rain' by Guns 'n Roses?).

What do you listen to (if anything) while you write? Do you make playlists or have theme songs for your characters? Do you put on different music to change your mood before writing sad/fast-paced/love-filled/melancholic scenes? Are there similarities in the other entertainment media you enjoy, whether it be video games, cartoons, movies, comics, tv, etc?

*Oh come on, I grew up in Vancouver... of course I love Bif Naked!!
**One of her songs was on the soundtrack of a video game I worked on, that's where I first heard of her.
*** The 'Grunge-era', baby! ...don't make me scare you with old pictures of me in flannel shirts and torn jeans...


  1. Your cat has some very picky taste, though I must admit it's cute he puts his "alpha tom" mojo out there by yowling when male vocals are blasting :-)

    I'm not big on playing music while I'm writing, but I found myself really jazzing and writing away when I recently checked out Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon's soundtrack. It even had my chipmunk in a karate chopping mood, only in slow-mo.

  2. Ha, yes he does :) He's the strangest cat I've ever had... and, over the years since I was a little kid, I've had more than a dozen cats, so I don't say that lightly... but he's also a rescue cat, so he's got major trust issues. He's had panic attacks before and only really trusts me and the husband.

    Ooooh! That is an awesome soundtrack! The only music I can (occasionally write to is instrumental or in a language other than English 'cause I keep getting distracted if I can understand the words. Oddly enough, I LOVE music, loud music, if I'm painting, drawing or doing other kinds of visual art... I just can't have it on when I write :)

    ...and I think 'chipmunk' is one of the cutest nicknames I've ever heard :) Has your daughter settled on her Halloween costume yet? Last weekend, I made a paper-mache Tyrannosaurus head/mask for my nephew's costume ;) I'm thinking I might post a picture after my sister paints it (since I went home before it was dry).

  3. Macho Man Daddy-too-tall was all too eager to encourage chipmunk towards her Cinderella costume, so unless she changes her mind - which for a 7 year old is highly possible - she will be Cinderella.

    I have to agree regarding the instrumentals. When I know the words to the song or I can easily understand them, I want to try and sing along, the end result being No Writing Done. Not good. There are two Japanese songs that I am drawn to and have to focus all my energy on them: Still Doll and Suna no Oshiro, both by Wakeshima Kanon. I LOVE those songs and will try my darnedest to sing the romaji lol!!!

  4. (unfortunately) my four-year-old little nephew is extremely set in his ways once making a decision (one of the many reasons he's referred to as my little clone) so, despite my sister and my mom trying to talk him into a different (read: easier to make) costume, he would have none of it.

    My sis just sent me a picture of the head painted. Well, not the teeth, inside of the mouth or eyes painted, but the skin is now a lovely mossy green colour. Though I didn't intentionally have it in mind while making the mask, my husband pointed out that it looks a lot like the dinosaur from Toy Story, but I guess that makes sense as I was going for *cute-scary*.

    Hmmm, I'm not familiar with those songs in particular... I've got a number of soundtracks from some of the *darker* animes... like, 'Requiem for the Phantom', 'Noir', 'Shigofumi', 'Witch Hunter Robin'... stuff like that :)

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