Can Music Improve Your Drawing Sessions?


So what kind of artist are you when it comes to background music? Do you like to just have some of your favourite tunes on the go? Perhaps you prefer focused silence instead. That’s what we’re discussing this week in today’s Artist Talk. Is this an important topic that you should consider learning more about? For sure! It’s all part of your own creative process.

Many of you can relate to what I’m saying here I’m sure. There are at least three groups of artists. The first enjoy silence to focus on what they are producing. Second are those who just like background noise, either music or even white noise to add some sort of ambiance to their work space. Lastly, there are those who create entire soundtracks or at least seek out themed music to accompany the current emotional state of their drawings.

I’m personally one of the latter ones. Sometimes I just can’t get inspired if I don’t have the right tunes to set the mood. Since there is such a broad spectrum to the themes I draw, I’ve come to rely on online services like Songza, Xbox Music, and Rara to fulfil my need for lots of variety. If you’re like me, don’t worry, we’re not alone. Even Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley enjoys music that helps set the mood of his comic. The name of the comic itself comes from a song by Canadian indie-rock band Plumtree.

While this is a great concept in general, it all depends what you’re drawing. Naturally you’ll get worn out a lot faster if you’re drawing away to angry metal tunes all day while doing up some action scenes. It’s usually best to find music with a decent pace that tells the story you’re trying to convey as well. I find it helps give you that mindset you need and potentially inspire you further into realizing more concepts that would improve the emotion of your scene.

Meanwhile on a related stand point, animator Richard Williams who worked on films such as Roger Rabbit and Toy Story encourages the suggestion that animators should work in silence. In Williams book “The Animator’s Survival Kit” he recalls an answer he received from Milt Kahl when asking if Kahl listened to classical music while drawing. Williams himself seemed to enjoy both classical and jazz. Milt Kahl however encouraged no music to keep his mind focused on one thing. While this does focus specifically on animators, I’m sure the concept could be applied to many artistic fields. I do see the merit to this, and especially with animation you do want to be more focused. For myself, I’ve just learned to be inspired by music for the emotional aspect it tends to lend to my characters. That doesn’t mean I’ll never try working in silence again, it’s just my preferred method.

White noise is a comfortable balance for those who just want some sort of audio in the background. Of course, this could literally be as simple as opening your apartment window and listening to the sounds of the city street below. I prefer sounds of the beach myself. It probably helps that most of my summers I spent at cottages, sketching away while enjoying a break away from the city. It can give you a calm sort of focus, which of course helps for a longer and more productive work day than cranking up those high emotion tunes. But you have to be in the right mindset for that as well.

So what works best for you? I’d recommend trying all of the above. See if anything specific adds a bit more flair or excitement to your work day. After all, inspiration is a big deal when working on web comics. If you don’t get encouraged during the week, that looming deadline can look like a nightmare. Of course, some of us work best under tight deadlines but for the rest of us it’s better to get going earlier on in the week.

As a last bit of advice, I find intro videos to various cartoons and music videos can help psyche you up too! After all, that’s what they’re there for in the first place. To get you excited about the show that’s coming on, or the hit song from that new album. Use that to get your boost for the day to get started. Even sitting down and watching one (yes just one, not a full seasons!) of an animated show can help inspire you too.


  1. FrozenBox January 11, 2014 9:18 pm 

    I listen to Jpop most often. Occasionally, I also listen to 6/18bit tunes. I do believe it’s very important in my process because it helps me focus as well as Inspire me to draw the poses the scene calls for. Not simple, flat panels. Also, depending on the song, I feel motivated. Without that, I don’t think I could really meet the deadline I have set for myself.

    • Les Major January 11, 2014 9:32 pm 

      Good stuff! That’s very much how I look at it too. Silence is supposed to help your concentration but I find the emotional and motivational influences of background music to outweigh that issue.

  2. Rockasockee January 14, 2014 6:12 pm 

    Since I’m already using my macbook in conjunction with my cintiq, I will usually pull up youtube and and hit play on any of a number of new artists I’ve never listened to. And, if I want something different or a reference it’s easy to switch to tutorials for something I need information on. A ton of awesome new artists out there both in the art community as well as the music community- I especially like the fact that a big handful of you tubers are doing it on their own!

  3. Geneseepaws January 16, 2014 2:56 pm 

    Well, yeah, Silence you fools!! I must have silence! Because I make fewer mistakes that way. The concentration thing while drawing…
    But if I did listen to tunes it would be an action scene listening to King Crimson, or Los Orishas, maybe some Bowie after that. ZZ-Top is for driving the car or gaming. Not drawing.

    • Geneseepaws January 16, 2014 2:59 pm 

      Also, Avsaroke of Shades of Gray, (currently trending up from 120 on the list, has a huge play list of what pages she drew to what music, listed on her bonus tab.

    • Les Major January 16, 2014 9:28 pm 

      Good stuff, and interesting on the list too. It is something that I do personally need to try out, especially animating in silence, to see what really works better for me. Thanks Geneseepaws! It’s good to hear from someone on the quiet side of the topic. :)

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