Inspiration and Music

Still more for RPG Blog Carnival. What can I say? I’m inspired.

When the blog was still young, I wrote about using music to create soundtracks for an RPG campaign. It’s a popular technique, one that people ask or talk about a lot, but it’s not the only thing a GM can do with a computer full of music, and neither is it necessary. There’s another trick to using music, and that’s as an inspiration aid.

How do you do it? Well…. you listen to music and keep your mind open. It’s hard to really give a specific how, since I don’t think any two people use the same method. Heck, I’ve done it several ways on my own.

One way is to actively listen to the music for inspiration. Clear your mind of all distractions, close your eyes, turn on the music and listen. For some people, this works really well; scenes just pop into their heads along with the notes. I have a conceptualist friend who swears by this method; I’ve done decently with it, though he and I don’t get quite the same results. On the other hand, it can be a good method for assigning music to scenes you already have, so even if it doesn’t inspire you it won’t necessarily be a full loss.

Another is for the music to be in the background while you’re doing something else. The disadvantage to this is that you might get sufficiently caught up in what you’re doing to miss the music, but the advantage is that you’re letting your subconscious go to work rather than your conscious mind; if you’re the kind of person who tends to come up with solutions to problems in the middle of doing something else entirely, this might be the way to go.

Music doesn’t necessarily do the same things for the same people. One of my friends seems to get entire plot points from listening to music; he once enlisted me for help with a surprise plot twist he’d gotten from I forget which currently popular song. Another, the conceptualist I mentioned earlier, seems to get his more in terms of scenes; he’ll take one intense instrumental song, get one really vivid image, and chase it through the scene to its expected conclusion. And meanwhile I can tell you what kind of scene I’d put a song on, or what character I’d fit it to, but I need to have a whole lot of framework to get anywhere near a scene. (On the other hand, give me two or more songs that use the same thematic elements, and I’ll give you either a character or a plotline. Possibly both.)

Whether the music is actually used for whatever it inspired is optional; after all, people might get entirely different images from the same piece. What matters is whether, and how, it inspires you.

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