What music makes you most productive?
September 13, 2012 10:15 AM   Subscribe

What music makes you most productive?

I work in a somewhat noisy office, and I have my headphones on 5-6 hours of the day. I'm looking for music that will blot out background noise and provide a steady beat without distracting me.More specifically, music with a steady, uptempo beat, either instrumental or with quiet vocals, that provides ambience without trying to grab my attention.

For example:
- Steve Reich
- Bach
- Ravi Shankar
- My Bloody Valentine (or other shoegaze)
- Hip-hop beats without rapping/vocals (e.g., Donuts- J Dilla)
- Binaural Beats and white noise (Not technically music, but it gets the job done.)

Feel free to post anything that you listen to when you're trying to get shit done.
posted by jeisme to Media & Arts (49 answers total) 89 users marked this as a favorite
Schoenberg. Something about that 12 tone scale, it's like it realigns my brain for productivity.
posted by lesli212 at 10:19 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Any Italian opera
posted by Fig at 10:23 AM on September 13, 2012

The Underworld album Pearl's Girl always put me into a reliable dissertation-writing trance. (Listen past the first 50 seconds for beat, 3 minutes for vocals.) Also good for driving fast yet attentively.
posted by feral_goldfish at 10:25 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

You might be interested by the discussion in this Hacker News post about the programmer Notch live coding for his game 0x10c, which recommends various electronic dance music.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 10:25 AM on September 13, 2012

When need to be doing stuff fast I listen to Pendulum, e.g. this is what I was listening to earlier today, or drum and bass podcasts. My favourite DnB podcasts are DnB Arena mixes from about 2008, before they added talking and stuff, but there are several around that do longish mixes of music cut together without talking etc.

When I need to do something more laid back and concentrationey I listen to Secret garden. And I've just discovered they're a past Eurovision winner. I have a couple of their albums and there aren't that many lyrics, it's all pretty mellow and ignorable while still blocking out background noise.
posted by shelleycat at 10:27 AM on September 13, 2012

Best answer: Great question! Ohhh, opera ... not sure I agree Fig, the vocals and the volume range can be force you to focus on the music.

I don't program but, might I suggest musicForProgramming.

Also, I very much love listening to Clubberry Chill if your streaming on the internet, it's on IceCast.

posted by pytar gucchy at 10:30 AM on September 13, 2012

Depending on my mood and my ADHD meds, I either listen to Philip Glass or Miles Davis when I'm at work and need to concentrate.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:30 AM on September 13, 2012

I've been listening to Cliff Martinez's soundtracks for Contagion and Solaris (additional sample), as well as Clint Mansell's soundtrack for Moon.

Unobtrusive, modern and beautiful. I do science, so it's all quite appropriate.
posted by Mercaptan at 10:31 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

SO WEIRD. I was literally (literally!) just about to post this very question! Although with a slight twist: I need something a bit more downtempo when I'm writing, and that's what I'm struggling to find now.

So, for what it's worth, I'm currently listening to Carla Bruni. A friend gave me a bunch of music and I stumbled on it randomly in my iTunes. It seems to be working well since a.) in French, which I do speak semi-fluently but not well enough that I can't tune it out, and b.) her voice is soft/ethereal and the music, although not always super great or always to my taste, is inoffensive enough that it doesn't distract me.

More to your question, I do have Pandora station seeded with Nightmares from Wax. That works pretty well when I'm cranking through emails, etc. and don't need to focus in quite the same way.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 10:31 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Man, I love Schoenberg, but I cannot work to serial music. It requires my full attention.

I get a lot of work done these days listening to Explosions in the Sky. It's beautiful music, no singing, rocks hard but not distracting.

In the Reich vein, I like to work to minimalist stuff too - Bang on A Can, David Lang, John Luther Adams, Morton Feldman, Terry Riley, Arvo Part, Michael Gordon, Aphex Twin, Brian Eno.

I work a lot to Christopher O'Riley's Radiohead covers. Also Brad Mehldau, especially Live in Tokyo. I listen to a good deal of more cannon type classical piano music too - lots of Chopin and Bach and Rzewski. But I can get bored of that.

I listen to a lot of string quartet music too - more intimate and less distracting then full orchestra type stuff. I recommend middle and late Beethoven, Britten, Glass, Gorecki, John Adams, Peter Schulthorpe, Kevin Volans. In that vein, the Britten Cello Suites are great for working.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:35 AM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Stuff on Spotify that I keep in heavy rotation at work:

Rhys Chatham
Instrumental guitar stuff like John Fahey, Leo Kottke
Robbie Basho
Henry Flynt's avant-garde repetitive hillbilly music
Dustin Wong (self link)
There's a guy Zomes I've been listening to a lot lately
posted by theodolite at 10:36 AM on September 13, 2012

I know it shouldn't be good for this, but something about the unintelligible vocals makes opera good background music for me. I pay too much attention to instrumental classical, but can tune opera out. Worth a shot, anyhow.
posted by Fig at 10:36 AM on September 13, 2012

I listen to the Pandora movie scores station. Nothing motivates me to do some quality office work like thinking I could look up at see a dinosaur roaming through my office when the Jurassic Park music comes on.... In all seriousness, the classical drowns out the noises I don't want to hear without any speaking to distract me and the familiarity of the tunes tends to make me happy.
posted by adorap0621 at 10:39 AM on September 13, 2012

Sometimes I will put on music that I really violently loathe (Fall Out Boy, &c) in order to complete tasks in a timely manner; once I am finished with my task, I get to turn it off. This can occasionally backfire and just make me really angry for the rest of the day, though.
posted by elizardbits at 10:40 AM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Try the Podrunner mixes. They're meant for runners, but they could work for what you want and come at various BPM, from 130-170.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:40 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've recently discovered that MeFite loquacious' music (as chaosbit, I think?) is excellently flow-inspiring.
posted by carsonb at 10:45 AM on September 13, 2012

I have found myself the most productive under the same circumstances with either: Biber, Bach (mostly the violin sonatas/partitas), or RJD2.
posted by General Malaise at 10:46 AM on September 13, 2012

n'thing opera
French pop music

actually anything in a foreign language so the lyrics don't distract me
posted by Confess, Fletch at 10:47 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, I somehow forgot my recent favorite Joe Henderson.
posted by General Malaise at 10:48 AM on September 13, 2012

Any and all trance, especially Underworld (tips hat to feral_goldfish), Orb, etc.
posted by Lynsey at 10:50 AM on September 13, 2012

ok here are a few you might like
oh no
holy fuck
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 10:52 AM on September 13, 2012

I like listening to Scarlatti sonatas when I want to feel productive.
posted by dfan at 10:54 AM on September 13, 2012

Response by poster: Wow, lots of great responses. I'm skeptical about opera, Fig, but willing to give it a try..
Specific operas/performances you would recommend?
posted by jeisme at 11:00 AM on September 13, 2012

Nah, just the 'opera' pandora station.
posted by Fig at 11:12 AM on September 13, 2012

Opera makes me itch. I find it seriously irritating and have to turn it off. Same with any modern atonal music. Celtic/Irish music is good for me, as well as some Mozart, baroque, early music and 60s-80s rock of various sorts.
posted by mermayd at 11:15 AM on September 13, 2012

I listen to punk all day at work. It's high energy, and I can't understand what they're saying anyway, so it doesn't distract me.

I like to intersperse some hip hop in there too. Some 50 Cent and such.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:19 AM on September 13, 2012

Check out DI.fm, they have a lot of trance/electronica streams. I'm fond of the vocal trance for stuff like this.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:28 AM on September 13, 2012

The Brandenburg Concertos, or the Beastie Boys' "The Mix Up." It is so chill.
posted by theredpen at 11:34 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like the mixes by MeFi's own Theta States and my current on-repeat coding productivity jumpstarter is this one, but they're all good and I've used almost every single one of them at some point or another. A lot of them do have lyrics but I tend to tune them out, maybe because they're just rhythmic enough, or maybe just because I've listened to them so often that I can tune them out.
posted by sa3z at 11:39 AM on September 13, 2012

I'm really into plain old earplugs, actually. I work best when I am free 100% of all distractions. Have you tried that? After I went to my first monster truck rally a few weeks ago, I really started getting into them.
posted by oceanjesse at 11:56 AM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

And there's also a couple stations I like on Somafm.com, particularly Lush and Groove Salad.

If I need something totally beatless, I put on one of the stations at BlueMars.org.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:08 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

MF Doom's Special Herbs.
posted by Chenko at 12:39 PM on September 13, 2012

I used to listen to gregorian chants when I wrote papers in college, and they were wonderfully relaxing.
posted by onlyconnect at 12:52 PM on September 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I write for a living, so I can't do much in the way of lyrics (in English anyway)

Sigur Ros
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:04 PM on September 13, 2012

I know this is resolved, but I will recommend Orbital, particularly Chime; Trans Europe Express; and Wim Mertens's albums A man of no fortune and with a name to come and Maximizing the Audience. Here is A Tiels Leis from A man of no fortune, but sadly the best track on Maximizing the Audience (called "Maximizing the Audience!") is too long for the YouTube limit and you have to listen to it on Grooveshark.
posted by Frowner at 1:17 PM on September 13, 2012

I cultivate instrumental playlists on Pandora and Spotify for this very reason. These include:

Explosions in the Sky
The Album Leaf
RJD2 (roughly half of his stuff is instrumental)
Olafur Arnalds

At times when I'm really under deadline and I find myself tapping my foot a bit too much, I'll also a noise machine app on my smartphone. Does the trick.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 1:45 PM on September 13, 2012

English music, early 20th century. Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Walton, Delius, Holst, among others. The music is soft and pastoral and melancholy and cheerful all at once and makes me think of a sunny warm day in spring in the country, even when the mood is elegiac. Not too intrusive; lifts my spirits and puts me in an optimistic mood and makes me believe I'm equal to the task at hand.

OTOH, my husband finds Devo's "Whip It" motivating. YMMV.
posted by tully_monster at 2:10 PM on September 13, 2012

I have similar requirements when deciding what music to listen to as I write software code in my noisy office. Here are some of the highlights from my "coding music" playlist:
  • E.S. Posthumus - Kind of an epic-sounding techno choir. Some lyrics, but they sound like pseudo-Latin or something. Not distracting because I can't understand it.
  • Rodrigo Y Gabriella - Energetic Spanish-style guitar. No lyrics.
  • Bond - All-female string quartet plays remixed classical music to a fast beat. "Shine" is their best song.
  • Sound track from the most recent Star Trek movie - The J.J. Abrams one.
  • Fluke - Dance/Techno type stuff. No lyrics that I can recall.
You might also want to check out MusicForProgramming.net, mentioned in the blue previously.
posted by Vorteks at 2:20 PM on September 13, 2012

The single album I have done more work to than any other, by a long way, is Brian Eno's Apollo: Atospheres and Soundtracks.

Recently I've got into DroneZone radio, from Soma FM. I also have a bunch of Indian Raga recordings.
posted by iotic at 2:25 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I should also add: Philip Glass is great for concentrating because of the calming, repetitive nature of much of his music. (Except for Music with Changing Parts, for some reason--something about the bass resonance is distracting and disturbing.) I like Metamorphosis I-V and Aguas de Amazonia (a series of meditations on the rivers of South America, performed by the Brazilian group Uakti).

My husband finds Glass's Symphony no. 5 (settings of sacred texts from the world's major religions) inspiring when he's actually doing science, oddly enough.
posted by tully_monster at 2:28 PM on September 13, 2012

Some of my favorite office productivity selections below. Some may fall outside your listed preferences, but might still be conducive to your needs.

Low Light mixes - blog | Mixcloud collection - beautifully curated, themed ambient mixes
Funky Jeff - Ambient Mixes

albums, mostly ambient/chillout:
anything and everything by The Echelon Effect (see sidebar for more)
Blue Room - The Orb
Space - Space (ambient house concept album by Jimmy Cauty of KLF/Orb)
KLF - Chill Out
The Orb( feat. David Gilmour) - Metallic side | Spheres side
Thursday Afternoon - Brian Eno
Michael Brook with Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois - Hybrid
Art of Noise - The Ambient Collection
Keith Jarrett - The Köln Concert

Bill Frisell: live in Cambridge, MA - 11/19/09 | 11/20/09
posted by prinado at 3:23 PM on September 13, 2012

Dots and Loops by Stereolab has helped me through many a late night grading marathon.
posted by umbú at 4:20 PM on September 13, 2012

Give Reich Remixed a try.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:21 PM on September 13, 2012

About the only thing that works for me is instrumental melodic trance, stuff by performers like Mango, Mossy, Arthur Deep, Paul Keeley, Shingo Nakamura, and their associated acts, most of which can be sampled on youtube, last.fm, and the like. Pretty much the way my dissertation final got written.
posted by 5Q7 at 8:25 PM on September 13, 2012

Ryoji Ikeda.
posted by idiopath at 8:28 PM on September 13, 2012

Sometimes I put on a realllly long audiobook read by a British voice actor -- say, one of the (British edition) Harry Potter books read by S. Fry -- and turn down the volume to where I can hear a nice, burbling voice but I don't bother listening.

Also, I have a playlist made up of MP3s of the World Livestock Auctioneering Championships that I listen to on rare occasions when I need to wrench my mind into a new place. The files don't appear to be on the WLA web site anymore, though. :7(
posted by wenestvedt at 6:17 AM on September 14, 2012

If you're on Spotify, I have a playlist for this exact purpose.
posted by greenish at 6:33 AM on September 14, 2012

The ultimate for me used to be Miles Davis, but now it is this:
Bohren & Der Club of Gore - Destroying Angels (Jazz noir), combined with
Rainymood, and
You are Listening to Los Angeles.
I haven't found anything better for background music.
posted by pickingoutathermos at 12:02 PM on September 14, 2012

Paul van Dyk - Out There and Back.
Pendulum - In Silico.

Trance and/or drum 'n bass. Both are upbeat with minimal vocals.
posted by talldean at 2:53 PM on September 15, 2012

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