Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

How to make a book soundtrack

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I’ve always thought that if I ever make a movie, choosing the soundtrack would be one of the things I would be most excited to do.

So I figured why not do the same for a book?

Even though I’m not big on listening to music while I write (I tend to get too focused on the lyrics, and I don’t feel I need any other background noise besides the sounds that are already around me), I do think that creating a book soundtrack can add an additional element to a book.

When you give readers something to listen to along with your book – and this can work with fiction, poetry, or non-fiction – it can tell them something more about the story. It can create different moods and give them a whole other dimension to your work.

A soundtrack can be a complement to your writing, and it’s also a fun bonus for your readers. Here are my tips on how to put one together.

1. Stealing = bad karma, so ask for permission.

Make your soundtrack official. Don’t steal anyone’s files without their permission. Invite artists to participate.

(If you don’t want to go this route, you could instead make a “recommended playlist.”)

2. Consider making it an open invitation

When I made a soundtrack for my novel, PostApoc, I wanted to have as much fun with is as possible so I put out an open call for submissions. I figured a post-apocalyptic novel would get some interesting artists, and I was right.

If you do an open call, you want to make sure you’re really describing your book clearly and accurately, as well as the parameters within which you’re working. You should have an idea for the type of sounds and styles you want to include on your soundtrack as well.

I also reached out to a few artists who I specifically wanted to invite. It’s up to you on what works best, but I ended up connecting with some amazing people who I might not have met without that open call, so sometimes it’s fun to just put yourself out there and see what you get back.

(One note about open calls is that you might want to include a disclaimer about whether you’ll reply to all submissions or not. If you get inundated, you may find it difficult to respond to all submissions so manage expectations from the start, the way editors do with writers.)

3. Be clear about what you need

When you’re reaching out for submissions – even if it’s by invitation – be clear and concise about your deadline and the file format you want (.wav or mp3 are good ways to go), and what kind of info you need from the artists, including their photos and bios.

Also ask them for any links to their Bandcamp pages, websites, YouTube channels or anything else that might be important. You might need those details later when you’re crediting them, and it also helps to give you a better sense of who you’re working with.

And don’t get hung up on how many followers someone has online. If their music is what you’re looking, then that should be the basis of your decision.

4. Be clear about the benefits

Be up front about budget: if you can’t offer payment, be honest about that. But also mention what someone will get from submitting a track: exposure to a new audience, promotion on your website, maybe even a chance to play at your book launch if they’re local, or perhaps the promise that the soundtrack will be played at your launch.

Get creative about it and make it collaborative when you can. Things are more fun when we help each other out.

5. Contracts or agreements

Create a simple, one-page agreement that clearly states how you intend to use the song, what the compensation is (monetary or otherwise), where the soundtrack will appear and how it will be promoted, and that the artist retains copyright to their work.

This keeps everything clear from the beginning between all parties involved and gives you a record of what’s been agreed upon. It also reassures the artist that everything is on the up-and-up.

6. Decide your platform

When it’s time to actually upload your files and make your soundtrack, choose a platform for something that’s easy to use and that everyone can access. (Personally, I like Bandcamp.)

Whatever you decide, make sure to get comfortable with how the platform works well ahead of your soundtrack launch date. Something like Bandcamp allows you to include an image with each track, so that’s where you might want to include a photo of the band.

If you are putting something directly onto your website, include a short bio for each band and a link to their main URL. Encourage each band to share the soundtrack, too, as it’s a great way to cross-promote each other’s work.

7. Say thank you

How will you acknowledge contributions to your soundtrack? It’s a nice touch to send each contributor a copy of your book with a thank you note included.

You could also trade a service for them, like offering to write their bio in the future, or to help them in another way.

8. Remember to have fun!

You’re creating a soundtrack to give your readers an enhanced experience when they read your book. It’s something special, something that helps them experience your work through music as well as through text.

So remember to have fun with this along the way. Appreciate the connections you make and the music you discover.

And hey, you never know – you just might find your new favourite band along the way.

What would be your ultimate book soundtrack?

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Liz Worth

Liz Worth is a Toronto-based author. Her first book, Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond, was the first to give an in-depth account of Toronto’s early punk scene. She has also released a poetry collection called Amphetamine Heart and a novel called PostApoc. You can reach her at http://www.lizworth.com, on Facebook or Twitter.

You can contact Liz throughout the month of October at writer@openbooktoronto.com

Go to Liz Worth’s Author Page