How do you create an atmosphere perfect for reading?
I soundtrack my life depending on the activity at hand. Video game soundtracks and future funk mixes while I work. Musical theater hits and Bo Burnham’s Inside while I drive. Lizzo while I cook. Chill electronic tunes while I bike.
When I’m reading, I can’t handle anything too complex. My brain can’t tune out lyrics, so anything with more than a few words is immediately out of the question. Reading takes immense focus; I can’t nestle into the flow while sonic distractions run amok around me.
To some, the answer might be silence. I can’t handle it. Without atmospheric noises of some sort in the background, every little sound bugs me: the turning of the pages, a car rushing by outside, the neighbor’s dog barking at thin air. My brain needs an aural pattern to glom onto, one that says, “You are now in reading mode.”
Fortunately, I’ve discovered playlists and albums that work like a charm. I fire up my Chromecast, let these tracks play through the speakers, and settle in for a reading session sans pesky annoyances. I share them below knowing that your mileage may vary, and that’s okay! I hope you’ll share your own favorite reading soundtracks in the comments so I can try them out for myself.
When I’m reading a wildly popular franchise, my first choice for background music is Ambient Worlds. The channel has hundreds of two- and three-hour-long mixes pulled from popular fandoms, including Lord of the Rings, Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Witcher, and more.
I like to line up my current read with one of Ambient Worlds’ curated soundtracks. I’m reading F.C. Yee’s The Dawn of Yangchen right now, so the Water Tribe Ambience video (in collaboration with Samuel Kim Music) provides the perfect backdrop.
My favorite Ambient Worlds choice for any cozy read is The Shire, a mix combining lilting and lighthearted Lord of the Rings music.
Ambient Worlds offers videos that craft entire soundscapes. You’ll get chirping birds, flowing water, and even humming wizards to complement the music.
GameChops takes upbeat or hectic video game tunes and flips them into chill work and study playlists. The channel brims with offerings from various artists—GameChops is a label that collects remixes and publishes them on streaming platforms and physical media—but a few stick out to me.
I recommend a playlist combining the following videos:
You can’t go wrong with any GameChops artist, but those are my favorites. I prefer using them to accompany epic fantasy books; the chill tracks ease me into the flow and let me sink my metaphorical teeth into the story.
Honesty is the best policy, or so I’ve been told, so here goes: one time, I took an edible (they’re legal in my state) and thought, “I want to listen to some tavern music.” The rest is history… and also much of my present.
“Tavern music” is more a category than a specific video or channel. Anything that feels bardic or old-timey works. Or anything that makes you feel like you’re in a medieval tavern, sipping a pint of mead and reading the latest texts from the local magic school. I’ve found a few videos along these lines that strike my fancy.
Turns out video game composers know how to foster a vibe, because my favorite tavern music compilation comes from Skyrim, a game I’ve never played and never plan to. You might hear meat roasting on a spit as gentle guitar melodies fill the air around you. Every tune seems fit for a waystation, a place between worlds, which is exactly how I like to feel when I’m reading SFF.
I also enjoy Celestial Draconis’ Fantasy Bard/Tavern music mixes. (Listener beware: some of the tracks have lyrics.) Many of the tunes featured have a Celtic feel; flutes carry much of the melodic weight, so the songs aren’t too overpowering. Other selections come from video games (a common thread, it appears).
Tavern Music remains an ephemeral label you can feel free to interpret to your heart’s content. Sift through the hundreds of options that pop up in a search to find one that works for you.
This Very Specific Zelda Breath Of The Wild Remix
If I could choose a single lo-fi mix to listen to for the rest of my life, I’d choose this one. The one-hour video collects tracks from different artists remixing Breath of the Wild’s beautiful, atmospheric music.
Every track is the perfect amount of unique without ever being too peppy or distracting. It blends somber tunes with uplifting ones, creating a mood to fit almost any reading experience.
I encourage you to give it a listen for yourself to see whether this particular mix will work its way to the top of your list. It’s often my first choice for reading music, and it might be yours, too.
Cafe Music BGM Channel
Scroll through this channel and find hundreds of hours-long piano-driven cafe soundtracks to accompany your next reading session.
For me, Cafe Music BGM has a few clear standouts. First is its Ghibli collection, full of piano interpretations of Joe Hisaishi’s compositions and other works from Studio Ghibli films. If you prefer a jazzy feel, this video (and its accompanying playlist) is a great choice.
Cafe Music BGM also has an exquisite Zelda mix. I won’t harp on it (because *gestures to all the Zelda music already on this list*) but it’s always in my rotation.
Disney tunes make their way into Cafe Music BGM as well. I steer clear for the most part, only because I know the vast majority of Disney music by heart. I find it’s easy to get distracted when you hear, say, “Something There” from Beauty and the Beast, and it leads right into “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?”
That’s the glory of this channel, though. With so many videos to choose from, you can calibrate your choices based on your mood and your reading habits.
Happy Listening (and Bonus Picks!)
I hope you find a new reading mix (or two, or three…) from this list. Before I hand off the baton to eager commenters, here are a few stray picks that didn’t make my list but are well worth your time.
- “Just Chilling…” rivals the Breath of The Wild mix on the list above as an easy, mellow selection for almost any read.
- Super Guitar Bros. rearranges video game tunes for dueling guitars. My favorite is the Ocarina of Time medley.
- Finally, Critical Role’s Mighty Vibes playlist features six 40-60 minute fantasy mixes.
So, what’d I miss? What albums, videos, film soundtracks, or mixes you use to get into reading mode? Tell me in the comments!
Cole Rush writes words. A lot of them. For the most part, you can find those words at The Quill To Live or on Twitter @ColeRush1. He voraciously reads epic fantasy and science-fiction, seeking out stories of gargantuan proportions and devouring them with a bookwormish fervor. His favorite books are: The Divine Cities Series by Robert Jackson Bennett, The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, and The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.