One of the most common recommendations for spicing up your tabletop sessions is a good soundtrack. Most is mood music, atmospheric instrumentals, but lyrics are also a perfectly viable option, especially if you’re looking to include a performance in a tavern or at a festival. Or if you’re playing a bard!
You can use just about any musician to represent that in-world music. For Dungeons and Dragons, folk music fits the atmosphere the best, but the lyrical topics can sometimes be hard to match. Bardic music would traditionally be storytelling songs, with epics and riddles rather than modern love songs which express a concept or dance around the topic rather than straight out telling a story. Luckily, there are still plenty of artists there that are perfect to use for any bard, performer, or skald in your campaign.
Of course, its always best to support your local arts. You don’t have to be a millionaire and contribute to the local opera to do that – just head down to your local farmers market or craft show. There are plenty of acoustic musicians there, and they often sell CDs.
For the fantasy, or medieval feel to the music, try paying attention to the acts at your Renaissance Fair. They’re almost guaranteed to fit into a Middle Ages setting! If your local Ren Fair isn’t happening for a while, you can always check their website to see if they’ve listed their acts. Here’s the list of entertainers at our local fair to get your started: AZ Renaissance Festival Entertainers
If you don’t have time to go searching, more established artists are a good place to start. The following artists can be found on most major streaming platforms (like Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon), but they also have plenty of music on YouTube, or even for free (or paid, if you’d like to support them) directly from their websites!
SJ Tucker is a pagan-folk singer whose music relies heavily on fairy tales, gods, and myths. Several of her albums started out as soundtracks for fantasy novels, too. Her style is fairly whimsical, with a couple of sharp turns into the darker aspect of folklore, making her perfect for elven or fey bards, or any campaign that might have to do with them (like Wild Beyond the Witchlight!).
One of my favorites: Cheshire Kitten (We’re All Mad Here)
Heather Dale, like SJ Tucker, is also on the more whimsical end of fantasy musicians. While she feels a little more grounded than Tucker, they’ve collaborated a number of times, and blend excellently together.
Much of her repertoire is inspired by Arthurian legend, speaking of knights and ladies, and even telling some of those stories wholesale. But she does expand beyond them, frequently, with a beautiful, delicate sort of style.
One of my favorites: The Joyful Knight
Damh the Bard
If you’re looking for a masculine voice, or just a stronger sound, Damh the Bard is, as the name suggests, is very much a bardic performer who might appeal to you.
His music tends to have a much, fuller, louder sound than many of the artists listed here. He has plenty of story songs as well, along with more general songs about magic and Celtic mythology. There are also quite a few folk and traditional songs in there as well!
Here’s one of my favorites: Antlered Crown and Standing Stone
Alexander James Adams
Previously known as Heather Alexander (and with much of his music still to be found under this name), Alexander James Adams is a popular folk and filk (fictional folk, which presents folk music for pop culture) musician. He's got a more delicate sound than others on this list, and also has the added aspect of being an excellent fiddler! If you’re looking for something with strong instrumentals behind the lovely lyrics, he's a perfect choice for your bard.
His sound is excellent, with plenty of releases and variety in theme, lyrics, and tone.
Another balladeer, Ken Theriot has relatively few albums, but great storytelling appeal. They’re well-written, but simple enough to be easily understood, and call on some traditional stories and tales for their inspiration. Plus, there’s a good bit of humor in there as well. There's less of the magical influence that sparks in the previous artists listed here, so Theriot is excellent for a low-magic or even historical campaign!
Not every campaign, I know, is full of fairies and magic. Sometimes you want something a little more serious and dourer in tone. While the previous artists have some songs that are suitable, Unwoman, who I first heard during the steampunk craze, is a good fit. As both a cellist and singer-songwriter, her music tends toward slower, minor tones, which sound incredible for a Curse of Strahd or Ravenloft campaign.
Here’s one of my favorites (a cover of the Firefly theme): Ballad of Serenity
Here’s one for a full bardic troupe. As featured on the Buffy: The Vampire Slayer soundtrack, Rasputina!
These girls are also a fairly instrumental-heavy group, with heavy gothic themes. If you ever need a group to be playing in Ravenloft, you can’t find much better. Their songs are mostly minor, mostly creepy, and mostly amazing. They are a group, so they won’t work as well for a player as Unwoman would, but I listen to their music anytime I need Halloween inspiration, and they’ll be useful for a DM’s NPCs.
Here’s one of my favorites: Transylvanian Concubine
Do you have a favorite bard-style musician? We'd love to hear about them, and give them a listen ourselves!