This was going to be a post about how listening to music affects writing, but then it occurred to me that it had an effect on reading too, and also on fencing, playing music, and just about everything else. It's amazing just how much music can fit into the background when you're doing other things, and some people claim that the type you listen to can have a distinct impression on what you're doing. The urban fantasy author Rachel Caine obviously believes it, because she has the habit of listing everything she listened to while writing.
Personally, I tend only to listen to the first half of things while writing. I get to an interesting bit, and I turn off to concentrate. I don't find that what I'm listening to has a particular influence on the tone of the writing, either. Some of my silliest stuff has been written while listening to the sort of stuff where you can't really make out the lyrics except to say that someone is very upset about something.
When I'm reading, it makes more of a difference. The tone of what I'm listening to has to match the tone of the book, or the jarring nature of what follows can end up putting me off both. When I'm fencing... well, I only included this bit because of a brief discussion suggesting that listening to music on i-pods was a vital part of most fencers' preparation, which led to the conclusion that the high speed world of techno was the best way of getting the brain up to speed. I have tried the same thing with various forms of shred, but I'm not sure it really applies that much. The aim in this, as in a lot of other uses of background music, is to switch off from the rest of the world, and maybe from whatever you were doing five minutes ago, not to force yourself to think about it.
So what about you? What do you listen to when you're writing/reading/about to hit complete strangers with swords?