mental health

Soundtrack the Day

Playlist on phone
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

How do you find yourself working through the day? Do you keep a television on in the background, maybe tuned to the local news so you’re aware of what’s happening in the world? Are you one of those who prefer silence? (If you are, please tell me how you cope with only your thoughts for company) Or do you pop in a musical selection on your streaming service of choice? (If you use CDs, tapes, or records, I’m not one to judge)

Most people opt for the latter – complete with preferred playlists.

Music provides variety, speaks to memory, and taps into emotion. (Not to mention avoiding dangerous triggers the news is famous for) Courtesy of the internet, you can find any genre you want – as I proved to my father in one experiment. Feel like sitting down with jazz? You’re only problem is deciding what era to choose. Want to curl up with folk yodeling? You’ve got it. Ready to dive back into the music of your childhood? Pop the year into a search bar and let nostalgia enter. Maybe you won’t get anything accomplished, but you’ll enjoy the trip down Memory Lane.

Researchers invest years and years into the science of music. What tempos encourage shoppers to purchase more? (What? You thought those songs were random?) Are there pitches or tones that irritate? Do certain voices attract people? It’s science and marketing we don’t think about when we hit play. At least, not until it affects us personally. For instance, on my internship at the Zoo, the summer started with an instrumental clip that lasted 10 minutes. It wasn’t unpleasant, but when you hear the SAME BARS repeated over NINE hours? You lose your grip on sanity. Visitors didn’t notice because it took them an average of 10 minutes to move through the exhibit. We finally protested, and the team added two additional pieces for a total of 30 minutes. It made the difference on our nerves.

My point? Music’s powerful stuff!

This is why the playlist you choose for yourself plays such a dramatic part of your day. The key, tempo, pitch, and lyrics work their way into your brain and influence your mood, perception, and even the narrative you set for yourself. Yes, it’s subliminal. No, you don’t usually realize it’s working. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

Think about it: When you listen to something powerful or dramatic, how do you feel? Do you get a sense of strength and that ability to take on the world? Of course you do! Your brain sucks up the confidence within the melody and translates it into your mood. The opposite happens when you listen to sad songs. Gradually, you find yourself sinking into quiet and despair. It’s mood osmosis, and you don’t realize WHY it’s happening.

I maintain an insane number of playlists. Every novel I write gets its own “soundtrack.” And short stories usually have at least one song assigned to them. The music sets the tone for scenes, allowing me to get in touch with the characters and the presiding emotions. (Plus every writer out there – whether they admit it or not – develops a movie script for their work. This is simply part of the process) But I also keep music running when I do my freelance writing work. And that doesn’t fit nicely into a pre-programmed playlist. I still need SOMETHING to keep my mind “distracted” while I work, though.

I can’t work in silence.

And – over time – I’ve learned to recognize my mood shifting depending on what’s playing. As keys drop, lyrics swoop low, or voices slow down, so does my outlook. My fingers stutter on the keyboard, and I start losing faith in my work – or myself. If I punch up the beat, assignments churn out in record time, and I can take on the world. I find myself confident in everything I face. And it’s all a result of what’s churning out of my speakers. My playlist impacts which way my brain decides to jump.

It’s forced me to get picky on what I set each day. Yes, I LOVE my showtunes. The number of musicals I know by heart is – well, not surprising for a theatre nerd. But too many heartbreaking songs come up on the playlist. Perfect when I need to write a miserable scene, but terrible when I’m trying to work through copy, network, or cobble together a pitch. I’ve set them aside in favor of 80s pop, upbeat tunes, and even dance favorites. And I’ve seen my productivity and mood swing up.

What about you? Look at your playlist (or note the songs you hear throughout the day). Where do you place the music you hear on the emotional scale? And how are you feeling in response? Can you make changes to improve things? (I get it if you’re stuck somewhere without control of the sound system. But if you’re feeling this way, odds are other people are, too) Try it and see how the way you view the world changes.

What’s the worst that could happen? You might start chair dancing? (Or, you know, actually dancing) Not to worry – there’s ALWAYS a worse dancer out there in the world.

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