What music are you working to?


The pandemic is, quite sensibly, consuming a lot of our energy and most of us are stretched quite thin. I thought it would be nice to bring up something of a distraction, but also relevant to our lives right now. What music are you working to? (When you are able to work, that is.)

Now that I’m working from home, I’ve been using headphones frequently while I’m writing or doing other work.

There are a few kinds of music that work best for me, that might keep me in some kind of flow state. One thing I’ve discovered is that it has to be music that’s already very familiar to me. If I listen to something that’s new to me, then it keeps me from focusing on work. Non-instrumental stuff works great for me, but also if lyrics aren’t in English, then that seems to be fine with me too. But it seems any genre I’d normally listen to.

Lately, I’ve been writing well to: Rodrigo y Gabriela, Budos Band, the Beastie Boys instrumental album (The Mix Up), a variety of Bossa Nova including Celso Fonseca, Kamasi Washington, some Bhangra playlists I’ve come upon, and classic stuff including Dvorak and Copland.

What works for you? What doesn’t work for you? Any good working music you’d recommend?

22 thoughts on “What music are you working to?

  1. I’ve been listening to music I am familiar with as well. It ranges from instrumental music like Silk Road Ensemble and Beethoven to non-instrumental like Marian Hill, I Prevail and Jorja Smith. Really anything that makes me feel good and puts me in a positive motivated mood (and gives me something to focus on while I wait for my poor internet connection to catch up with what I am working on, haha!).

  2. I suggest asking students for one recommendation a day and sending them back one in return. It helps you to feel connected… and broadens everyone’s musical horizons. Plus, is there a better way to get to know a person (including a student) than by learning to appreciate the music that they like. I would argue that that is the highest form of acquaintance.

  3. My guilty pleasure is a genre called Yacht Rock, which is essentially the soft rock played on Top 40 AM radio in the 1970s. It’s perfectly innocuous, so I can work with it in my headphones, and every once in a while I get a pang of nostalgia. I get my current fix from Pandora: https://www.pandora.com/station/play/4041602765174661736

  4. I listen to classic rock from the 60’s and 70’s but i also enjoy Rodrigo y Gabriela because I work with so much enthusiasm.

  5. I work best to ambient instrumental or electronic music such as Steve Roach, Brian Eno, Jonn Serrie, Harold Budd, etc. Two good online radio feeds for this are Hearts of Space (syndicated radio program with a website at hos.com) and Soma FM’s Drone Zone station. Classical also works well: Beethoven string quartets or piano sonatas, Chopin, Bach choral works, Handel, Mozart, etc.

  6. Air has been a big help, together with the focus playlists of Spotify ;) Yann Tiersen also gets me in a good focus mood, but that’s mostly instrumental!

  7. I can’t work with music that has lyrics, my brain spends too much time listening to them. So ambient music is my go-to, especially Brian Eno. This is also good – very evocative, takes your brain on a bit of a journey:

    Another of my favourites is the Blade Runner “Esper Edition” soundtrack – there are various versions of it on YouTube.

  8. My go to music artists when I’m working:
    (writing): Sigur Ros; Air; New Order; and for my shame U2…
    (coding): My Morning Jacket, Dandy Warhols

  9. I can hardly work with music at all, so this question always makes me wonder a lot about how our brains work!

    During certain tasks like coding, doing math, or working on a figure, I occasionally can enjoy a bit of instrumental music.

    But when writing, editing, reading, responding to emails, and the like, I can’t listen to music at all. My brain just wants to focus on the music. I am a musician, and I wonder if there’s just something about brain pathways that doesn’t allow me to do both of these types of work/thinking/processing at the same time?

  10. My go-to is ambient music or instrumental piano music. I have a mix of George Winston/classical piano in a playlist for the latter. For the former, I listen to SomaFM’s Groove Salad. Sometimes I’ll also listen to a background noise mix through Noisili.

  11. My work playlists alternate between soundtracks (right now Westworld/Game of Thrones) and hard rock/metal – my “work” playlist. I find that I work fairly efficiently to music with lyrics if either I know them really well (something I could sing along to without thinking about it), or if I can’t understand them (foreign language, or growly distorted voices… or both!). Then following the singing is no different than humming along to a familiar musical phrase in something without lyrics…

  12. Same as always: electronic, house/trance (especially Tiësto), film soundtracks (LOTR, Hobbit etc), rock. Worst music for working is something where they sing in Finnish because then I listen the words too closely and start to sing along. :D

  13. Lots of hard bop. Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, Sonny Rollins. Also a good smattering of Spotify “chillout” playlists. Erik Satie if I really need to slow things down.
    Once I’m done with work, I can play stuff with lyrics. Been on a big Talking Heads kick lately, there’s an incredible 1980 live show from Rome on YouTube that I’ve become obsessed with. It’s one of the best things ever: https://youtu.be/GwWW742T0Wc

  14. I can concentrate best listening to instrumental music. My favorite artists are Two steps from hell. Those are two guys , Nick Phoenix and Thomas Bergersen, essentially making film music, but without a movie attached to it. They have albums in a lot of different styles, so I listen to whatever I feel like at the moment. This is one of the more soft ones https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhXsAgzcLrk

  15. Lots of Jazz (Lisa Mezzacappa, Tomeka Reid, Eric Dolphy, Kris Davis, and Keith Jarrett’s Koln Concert when I really need to focus) some Soul and Tuareg Rock …and always, always Bossa Nova, John Prine has accompanied my first glass of wine this week (like right now) RIP.

  16. Elliott Smith albums. Subdued and familiar enough (to me) to not distract, but interesting enough to not put me to sleep.

  17. I love listening to Christmas music year round when I work, it keeps my mood up!

  18. I prefer instrumental music when working. Loved your suggestions. My go tos have been Bela Fleck, Medeski Martin and Wood, and Snarky Puppy

  19. I’ve been listening to jazz, classical music or Kenny G. I also like the live work music on YouTube that has coffee or tea steaming in the background. Makes me smile. :-)

  20. I’ve been listening to jazz, classical music or Kenny G. I also like the live work music on YouTube that has coffee or tea steaming in the background. Makes me smile. :-)

  21. I love the Beastie Boys but it’s hard to focus on work listening to those guys LOL Lately, I’ve been listening to Frank Sinatra or any 50’s type of music. Although I’m 48 I have a deep appreciation for the older stuff.

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