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How my art soundtrack and quiet time soundtracks are similar

What's my art soundtrack? When do I listen to ambient music vs. podcasts? Audio books vs. video game music?


Nicole Hanson

1/1/20243 min read

I don't have one system for what to listen to while I create, one permanent art soundtrack nor even one quiet time soundtrack. I listen to a range of things depending on what I'm working on.

This is probably true for all of us. What we want to listen to is largely impacted by what we’re doing at the same time.

And you might be curious where I draw the line, as an artist. What can I handle listening to while I paint? Sketch? And as a Christian, what I can handle listening to while practicing “quiet time” or devotions.

For both, it boils down to this: The more focus needed, and the less autopilot needed, the fewer words I can handle.

How my quiet time and art soundtracks are alike

The two soundtracks overlap over wordless music.

Quiet Time

I’ve come to learn that I cannot listen to something with words while I’m practicing silence and solitude, or otherwise reading the Bible or praying. I am too distractible. I no longer even put on instrumental hymns or worship music, because as soon as I recognize it I start thinking the words. I’m no longer in the moment. I’m fully distracted.

I listen to “soaking” music, a kind of ambient music, that is enough to keep my mind from wandering, and not too much that I’m distracted.


The same is true when I’m writing, which is an important part of my art.

Right now I’m listening to a song from the original soundtrack from the video game “Enter the Gungeon” which is a game I’ve never played and still it was the soundtrack to 2019 because my husband played it so much. It’s great background music for me, egging me on to write.

It works well for background music when I’m painting, too. I’d get lost if I was listening to an audio book or a podcast because I’d accidentally tune it out while problem solving something (whether it’s a sketch that isn’t proportional, a color that’s hard to mix, or a texture I’m trying to achieve).

If I was listening to an audio book while working out what went wrong in a sketch, I’d for sure get lost in the story and need to rewind and figure out where I was, which would upset the project flow!

No, audio books and podcasts are not great fits for painting in the tricky parts. They are great when I’m working on autopilot, though.

How my quiet time and art soundtracks are different

The two soundtracks quickly diverge because not all parts of my painting process require full, undivided problem-solving skills.

Many times when I’m working on a project, I’m chugging along in some kind of flow. I’m engaged with what I’m listening to, and the project is just within my current skills that I can rely on auto pilot.

When I can sketch, ink, or paint a part of a project on autopilot, I have more soundtracks options. Now I can listen to audio books, podcasts, music with lyrics (like Switchfoot and Josh Garrels), and even TV (usually reruns of Stargate SG-1 and Doctor Who…).

If I were trying to problem solve something, trying to work something out, these would be too distracting. Either I would give up on the challenge in art and just engage with the story/podcast/show, or I’d get so focused trying to solve the challenge that I’d miss important sections from the story/podcast/show.

When to Switch

Parts of a project that allow for autopilot or deep focus are not always easy to determine ahead of time.

Usually I start with something with words, and when I realize I’m feeling stressed by all the input I realize it’s time to scale back and either completely turn off the music, or turn on video game or ambient music.

Until then, I get a lot of enjoyment out of listening to books, podcasts, TV, and music with words while I work!


I am not the kind of person who listens to just one thing. I imagine that most people aren’t.

When I can work on auto-pilot, it’s easy for me to listen to audio books, podcasts, music with lyrics, and sometimes even watch TV reruns. When I want to be more present to what I’m doing, I choose things with fewer words, things like video game soundtracks, ambient music, or even silence.

What about you? What do you like to listen to, and does it differ between tasks?