Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Music and Writing: a Harmonious Match, or an Off-Pitch Proposition?

by A.M. Khalifa, thriller writer, Google+

Christof Unterberger, Austrian Cellist and Film Music Composer
You may not immediately associate music with fiction, but in my world, music plays an integral role. Often when I write particularly visual or emotional scenes I hear music in my mind. I also write better when I have music playing in the background. For instance, the soundtrack of the film Rush, as scored by Eric Clapton, is the perfect mood-setter when I am writing about fallen heroes, conflicted protagonists, or psychologically charged scenes. Music touches me on many levels and unclogs my creative pores. Other writers may find this process distracting, but listening to music while I write invites an additional dimension to what I create and amplifies the state of hypnosis that is creativity.

But it doesn't stop there. I have gone a step further to involve music in my writing.

I work in the film industry. My friend Christof Unterberger is a talented and successful film composer and cellist. He is also my musical partner in crime. Almost every project I have produced in the last six years has been touched and elevated by his music. As with any creative partnership, Christof is also interested in my writing.

When I started working on my debut novel Terminal Rage, Christof was only the second person after my wife to know about it and to read the synopsis. He started composing small vignettes, spontaneously and inspired only by the little he knew of the story. And he nailed it. The musical pieces he composed back then were so reflective of the essence of my thriller, and so sublime and cinematic, that I started listening to them as I was writing. As a result, my writing and writing regimen improved. My story inspired his music, and his music inspired my writing - cyclical and symbiotic creativity at its very best.

Now that Terminal Rage has been published and Christof has read it, we are doing something even more daring. We are composing a soundtrack for the book. One piece for every chapter. You can listen to the entire sequence here.

I believe we are breaking new ground with this derivative work, which we plan to sell as a companion product once all thirty-two chapters have been scored.

Here is the opening sequence of the Soundtrack, which sets the tone for the entire work:

And this piece is from an action-packed chapter in the book at the halfway mark. Notice how the music is layered and develops subtly:

Finally, here is a sample of a more emotional,  melancholic chapter towards the end:

What intrigues me about this process, is that people who've read the book connect emotionally with the music almost immediately. They appreciate it as a bonus and unexpected layer of the story that expands and enhances their experience with my work.

Mind you, Christof is a highly sought-after film composer, and time is his most precious commodity. Working on the "book" soundtrack of Terminal Rage is a labor of love for him that comes with no material benefit in the short run. He just fell in love with the story and decided to score some amazing music to it while we wait for the film version. Talking of which, can you guess who will score the music to the film adaptation of Terminal Rage, one day? I joke with Christof and say: Alexander Despalt of course!

As a new and independent writer, thinking out of the box and innovating ideas is an essential component of setting myself apart and building my brand. It's not enough to follow the script dictated by the archaic traditional publishing universe we have all inherited.

Readers: Do you hear music in your minds when you connect with a good story? And are you able to read with music in the background? Writers, what do you think of my literary musical experience: does it add value to a book?

As a special promotion for thriller and music aficionados, if you buy the paperback edition of Terminal Rage before January 1, 2014 and let me know about it on my site www.amkhalifa.com, you will find a copy of the Terminal Rage CD in your mailbox sometime early next year!

A.M. Khalifa, author of international thrillers, writes exhilarating, contemporary stories pulsating with life and unforgettable characters. His debut novel, Terminal Rage, is a layered thrill ride that moves seamlessly from inside a nerve-wracking hostage situation to far-flung locations across the world, challenging readers to stay ahead of its unpredictable plot.

The ebook version of Terminal Rage is now on sale for $2.99 on AmazonBarnes and Noble, and Kobo


  1. Fascinating! I'm producing an audiobook of The Trigger, and one producer offered to add a musical score to the narration. I was very tempted, but as with everything else, I'm sure readers are split on the idea. But offering a separate version (ebook or audio) with music seems like a winning idea.

  2. Wow! I haven't even listened to the musical scores yet, but this idea is fascinating and ground-breaking. This will add another enriching dimension to the experience of reading your riveting and clever thriller. Kudos to you, A.M.!

    And yes, I have music in the background all the time - it gives me energy while I'm editing, cleaning the house, etc. An absolutely essential part of my day.

  3. Awesome idea, friend! :) I love it! I adore music, as well. My iPod probably hates me, lol...but certain scores of music and certain lyrics call you out. They speak to you like they were meant only for you. I am one of those writers that need silence when I'm writing or editing. I've tried with "white noise," but it takes me twice as long to compose my thoughts. But as a reader, I hear music in my head for sure.

    1. You would sooo laugh at my iPod! I have from Beethoven's 5th to the Eagles to Sugarland to KORN to Beyonce to The Civil Wars to Jimmy Buffett...and everything in between! Lol! My musical taste is so eclectic. But, songs really speak to me. I can hear one phrase in a song, and be like, "Oh, wow...brilliance!" :)

  4. What a fabulous, creative, symbiotic friendship!

    As far as the question of adding value to a book, I'm not quite sure. A story that stands on its own, or a score that does the same... will they enhance or distract? Sometimes listening to a Jerry Goldsmith composition will recall a part of the movie, but would it, without the visual component, recall a scene in the book? I'm not sure.

    I write in quiet. Or with a soundtrack. Or with Norah Jones. Or with the television on. Or with Seal. It all depends.

    Regardless, I'm a bit envious of this venture you're on, and wish you all the best!

  5. +A.M. Khalifa : I admit, I'm of the "quiet" reader variety. I have already stopped watching many of my previously-favorite shows (like "Inspector Lews") because the Barrington Pheloung soundtrack is so offensively loud and overwhelming, I can't bear to watch. In order to hear the dialogue, I have to turn the receiver up so high that the "background music" blasts me out of my own living room, which isn't a tiny room. I don't play music at the office when I'm working; unlike many people, it doesn't help me concentrate, it annoys me. Obviously, sad to say, I'm not your target audience!

    It's clear to me, though, that many authors are attracted to music and using it as an emotional springboard, or companion, to their writing. Many of the "writing programs" out there, like Liquid Story Binder, Scrivener, etc., feature as part of the enticements to buy, a way to listen to music while writing, or save various musical pieces as companions to given scenes, chapters, et al. This aspect seems to be a major selling point, so this affiliation and association and affinity must be quite real for many people.

    As ebook-makers, we are often asked to embed audio in ebooks, which we happily do. It's a multi-media world, in which younger people are certainly seemingly accustomed to more inputs at a given time. However, I'm not sure having multiple inputs necessarily enhances the *depth* of the experience. I think having the choice of whether to play the music or not is the best option. I'll be very interested to see how your venture does! Best of luck with it.

  6. I listen to music whenever able - writing, working out, driving, etc.
    Like you I do not listen when reading.
    Brilliant idea to work with your gifted friend.

    Regards your questions:
    I prefer silence when reading as noted.
    I don't 'hear' music when I connect with a story.
    I'm not sure that it will add value to your writing directly BUT it may add to your brand, attract attention and work synergistically (promotion) to get you and your writing noticed . So indirectly a big yes!

    BTW - Alan Parsons Project is still on my playlist. "I, Robot" was my psyche up tune as I headed out for critical exams in my distant "Cognitus-academic gladiator" stage. Like good writing, good music never goes bad.
    Neat idea, Aymen!

  7. I can only repeat what others have said so well above. This is a truly fascinating and inspiring idea :D

    I'm one of the 'write-with-music' authors and I have a specific playlist compiled on my iPhone before starting any new project. Significant plot points and scenes have come about because of particular songs in the past. In the second book in my paranormal action-adventure series, an entire fight and chase scene in Rome was inspired by Sirenia's Path to Decay. In the third book due for release in May 2014, the final battle scene was inspired by Going Under by Trapt.

    I also upload one song every week on my website, with a You Tube video and details of how it relates to a scene in a book, and have the playlists available on Spotify for people to listen to.

    I'm actually pondering audiobooks for my novels next year, more than likely I'll go with Amazon's ACX (unless someone can suggest a great alternative!).

    You have a truly great friendship there and I hope you keep us updated which how things go with this venture! :)

    1. Thanks A.M.! :)

      This is the Soul Meaning Playlist on Spotify (hope the link comes up ok)


      And this is the King's Crusade one


      You can login with your Facebook account to listen. They're a bit loud, so apologies ;)

      I upload a You Tube video for everyone song I feature on the News Section of the website, instead of having a specific You Tube list. Here are two of my favorites!



      Both for the Rome scene in King's Crusade (Seventeen Book 2). The second song was the one that inspired the fight and scene.

      Hope it's okay to put up these links :D


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