This post – and the next few – are a slight change from my usual writing, in that I’m talking about my other big hobby of worldbuilding, and how worldbuilders can engage with music.
Though I spoke quite strongly about why I don’t worldbuild music on the most recent episode of the Artifexian Podcast, that discussion and the ensuing feedback on our subreddit did get me thinking. Music is my job, and it’s something I care a lot about, so as a worldbuilder I thought maybe I’m in a bit of a position to write a guide on how to worldbuild convincing and in-depth music in your fictional settings.
I am not an expert in all of these topics, and in worldbuilding there are no right answers. It’s very hard to make declarative statements about what is good or bad worldbuilding, especially when talking in the abstract and not referring to specific works. However, though I’m not an expert in all these fields, I have a pretty broad knowledge of a variety of music and music-related topics, so what I can do is provide some rough guidelines and differing perspectives from which worldbuilders can consider their setting’s music.
I’m going to split this into a series of maybe three blog posts, and this is the first, where I will discuss the cultural aspects of music and how worldbuilders can begin to think about creating believable musical cultures in their fictional settings.
There are a number of questions to ask when designing a musical tradition. These are by no means a definitive checklist, but thinking about these questions will help you to sort out your thoughts and situate your music in the wider context of the culture you are building. This framework can be applied, with some changes, to many other art forms outside of music.