Have you ever noticed the profound impact music has on us? The right music can make a bad movie seem good. The right song can help you sleep or amp you up for a workout. The wrong music at the wrong time can make you anxious or angry. We have music to wake by, music for the ringtones on our phones, and music for significant events - national anthems, songs for couples or weddings, and songs for holidays and birthdays.
People often remember lullabies that were sung to them in youth so well that they can recall them when they become parents. And if something traumatic happens during a certain song the traumatized person may never be comfortable hearing it again. Music can induce panic attacks or sooth them. And when a favorite artist passes away, it can feel like losing a friend.
I’ve had a lesson in how impactful music can be recently. Personally, I think Netflix is one of the most fantastic things around these days. I can watch contemporary shows like Sofia the First with my kids even though we don’t have cable and then turn around and introduce them to long-cancelled favorites like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Plus, I can enjoy the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (I was always into them, but didn’t have cable growing up) more than a decade after the fact. Not to mention the quality of the Netflix productions (Daredevil, Sense8, and others) blows me away.
If I have one complaint about Netflix it is the music issue. And this isn’t even a complaint so much as a sadness since there is little Netflix can do about it. Occasionally, Netflix buys the right to stream a show but is unable to buy the rights to the music for that show. Sometimes it’s because the cost for the song would be exorbitant. Sometimes, it’s because the song won’t be sold for any price.
I’m certainly not the first person to blog about this. Which means that I’m not the first person who was floored when I discovered it. A while back you could stream Dawson’s Creek on Netflix. Oh, to have a YouTube compilation video showing the faces of fans when Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait” was NOT the song that played through the opening credits.
But that meant less to me than what happened a couple weeks back. I am a huge Alias fan. So huge, that I have the special Rambaldi box collection of the entire series on DVD. But, let’s face it, Netflix is easier. No switching disks and it keeps track of which episode you were on. So, I’ve been re-watching the series by streaming.
All good until I came to Season 3 Episode 19. There is a scene that sticks out in my memory. Sydney learns that the man who may have answers about lost time she experienced is scheduled to be executed. In typical Bristow style, she charges ahead, proceeding with a dangerous mission she has just been ordered to abort, taking out nearly two dozen armed guards and stealing the needed artifact. This action scene cuts repeatedly back to the man being executed (his last words, being hooked up to the lethal injection, etc.) and the whole thing was originally set to the Deftones song “Change.” If you don’t know it, do yourself a favor and look it up. When you hear it, tell me if you think that song could be replaced by ANY OTHER, with the same effect being achieved. The answer is, "No."
Here I was on the edge of my seat just waiting for that feeling when a scene is just – perfect. And I kept waiting. Again, what I would give to see my own look of horror and disappointment as the wrong song played. I’m sure it would’ve been amusing. I actually fired up the DVD and watched the scene again with the original music to heal my damaged memory.
This has happened to me with a couple other shows as well. I fell in love with “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons (which is now one of my favorite groups) when it played on Arrow. And that song was changed for Netflix, also.
But it has got me to thinking about music as it relates to fiction. Clearly, certain songs are strongly linked with our favorite shows and movies. Artists inspire musicians and musicians inspire artists. It’s not uncommon for authors to list the names of bands who inspired their work somewhere in the credits of their novels.
For me, certain songs are strongly linked with scenes that I’ve imagined. Songs can invoke a mood or feeling that a writer wishes to capture somehow with their words. I have playlists for my various WIP’s, and although I usually work best with quiet or instrumental music, I’ll often make an effort to play through the playlist as I go through my day to get my mind ready for the writing. I’ll even play a specific song once or twice as I’m preparing to write or edit its scene.
My decision to reignite my creativity and start writing, and the bigger decision to make a career of it, are both very much linked to bringing music back into my life. So, my advice to any creative folk who may be reading this is to see what music can do for your art. Use those songs that make you feel or bring on the visuals. Let music bring life to your writing the same way it brings meaning to life.