Soundtracks for Books

The advent of e-readers (whether dedicated devices like Kindle, or reading apps on other devices) seems to have had a negative impact on overall sales of physical books, but a new format variant is emerging which seeks to bring reading further into the digital fold…

Half Measures

Hugh Howey

Booktrack is a site that provides access to ‘books with soundtracks’, and even allows you to create your own book soundtracks using their ‘Booktrack Studio’. They are currently running a competition to create a booktrack/fan fiction piece based on Hugh Howey’s novel, ‘Half Way Home‘.

There are $5k first prizes in both the soundtrack and fan fiction categories, and the winner of the soundtrack competition will have the chance to co-produce the booktrack to Howey’s novel ‘The Hurricane’.

For those interested in getting involved on the producer side, it looks like this is more of an exercise in using ‘Booktrack Studio’ to create a soundtrack from a selection of pre-created tracks and sound effects, rather than an original scoring project. However, the platform itself must have a requirement for producers to create these tracks in the first place, so if the concept takes off this could be another outlet for musicians to distribute their creations through.

Sounds Like Imagination?

Quite apart from the competition above, the concept of a ‘booktrack’ is at least an interesting one. Personally, my initial reaction on hearing about it was quite negative; for me, part of the joy of reading is the extent to which words can unleash the imagination, and adding a customised soundtrack would seem to add an unnecessary layer of restriction to the process.

Having said that, perhaps what is restriction or distraction for one reader might be an enhancement for another.

Head in the Sand

To test it out, I read the first few chapters of Hugh Howey’s novella ‘Sand’ in this new format. Although there might be some marginal benefit to having an ambient soundtrack that doesn’t overtly jar with the reading experience (as opposed to, for example, listening to your entire mp3 library on shuffle – which could play a Loudon Wainwright III track followed by Skrillex) I found it made the overall experience more like reading through a script for a 1990s role-playing computer game.

As such, I felt the need to turn the audio down to such a level as I might as well be reading in silence anyway. The loops of banter, sound effects and bits of music are theoretically appropriate, but obviously ‘fake’… though perhaps they could, if given a chance, perform the same role that obviously fake sets and props do in a theatrical production. A certain amount of suspension of disbelief needs to be applied, and perhaps the audience needs to ‘learn’ how to engage with and absorb this new construct.

The Shocking Truth

Although booktracks might not be for everyone, if they can encourage more people to start reading, then that might be justification enough; although I wouldn’t be naturally keen to add an audio layer to my books, it might be a compelling prospect for others.

As a recently released study from Harvard and Virginia Universities has revealed, some people prefer to give themselves electric shocks rather than be alone with their thoughts, so it stands to reason that there would also be people who prefer to read a book with a soundtrack…


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