Music to not concentrate to
July 13, 2014 1:25 PM   Subscribe

I need music to fill up the background while I write. I'm currently working on a novel and I'm looking for recommendations of artists, albums, or online radio I could have going in my headphones to help me focus on the work.

At the moment, my heavy rotation Playlist includes Owen Pallet, Nicolas Jaar, K.Flay, Morcheeba, and a bunch of late 90s trip hop that's more or less unsuccessful at the goal here.

I like most everything, really: my main criteria are that it has to be interesting enough for me to put up with it, but not interesting enough for me to pay attention to it instead of what I'm writing. Like, I guess if you were designing the playlist for a Panera except more eclectic.
posted by billybunny to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
Explosions in the Sky does it for me. Also Living Room Songs by Olafur Arnalds (not all of his albums fit the criteria). It's a really narrow category, for sure.
posted by radicalawyer at 1:29 PM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I write to Pandora. The variety and "coverage" of genres has gotten better in the past 5 years or so (I dip in and out every few months). I have a jazz vocals station I write to, since I've heard ye olde standards so many times they are just background to me. If I'm tired and need to pump things up I have a Prince/Zapp and Roger station as well.

The key for me here is that I've spent some time honing the station while at my day job and doing household chores, banning things that will distract me and upvoting things I like, and I've eliminated ads from the service so there's no announcer interruption. One cool thing I've found is that if I'm really consistent with a station through a draft then it gets Pavlovian. "Ding! It's 5 a.m. and there's Mel Torme again, time to write."
posted by Lardmitten at 1:40 PM on July 13, 2014

Blockhead. Also Ratatat.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 1:42 PM on July 13, 2014

Are you on Spotify? I have a playlist for this exact thing - help yourself to whatever on it works for you :)
posted by greenish at 1:42 PM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Xploding Plastix.
posted by snorkmaiden at 1:43 PM on July 13, 2014

Music to write to seems to be a surprisingly common question here. These are threads I've seen in the last two weeks (1 2), and there must be a bunch more in the archives. I find myself unable to resist music recommendation questions for some reason.
posted by the big lizard at 1:51 PM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel like this kind of depends on what you personally enjoy and find distracting, but a few artists I really like doing work to are the xx, Cut Copy, and Zola Jesus.
posted by litera scripta manet at 2:05 PM on July 13, 2014

I've found Music For Programming to be excellent for getting into a very focused writing mode.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:30 PM on July 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

I like the Katamari Damacy soundtrack for this purpose. It's cool cause it's energetic and fun but the vocals are in Japanese so it's not distracting.
posted by bleep at 2:38 PM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Video game soundtracks. Specifically music from first person shooters (Halo, Call of Duty, etc.) the very intention behind the music is to allow gamers to focus while building ambiance.
posted by AnneShirley at 2:42 PM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here are some playlists on Songza that I like for writing:
Purely Instrumental Trip Hop
Downtempo Instrumentals
Electronic Study: Ambient
posted by tomboko at 2:44 PM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

everything visit venus ever released falls into this category for me perfectly.

i don't know if we're thinking of the same kind of thing, but it needs to not only be mildly interesting/cleverly produced, but also laid back and in the background enough that you could fall asleep to it.
posted by emptythought at 2:55 PM on July 13, 2014

I'm not a jazz person per say but Pat Martino's album Cream really works for me. No vocals, interesting audio, but not so interesting that I get distracted.
posted by sockermom at 3:00 PM on July 13, 2014

how about coffee house noise?
posted by youchirren at 3:21 PM on July 13, 2014

Create a Spotify radio playlist from Ludovico Einaudi

It will sound like you're watching one of those "I Took A Picture Of Myself Every Day" YouTube videos that lasts until the heat death of the universe
posted by dontjumplarry at 3:27 PM on July 13, 2014

For me, this is what exotica is made for... listening while working, and also listening while kicking back with a nice drink in my home tiki bar.

It's an instrumental genre most popular in the 50s and 60s, and strongly associated with tiki culture (meaning it's faux-Polynesian, faux-Oceanic music, and 100% American). This is the music that was being created while Hawaii was becoming the Hawaii we think of today, for better or for worse.

Standout artists include Martin Denny (whose band throws in a lot of fun bird calls), Arthur Lyman, and Les Baxter.

For Martin Denny, standout tunes include Exotica, Quiet Village, Hypnotique (versions on Spotify are better than any on Youtube), Forbidden Island, and The Enchanted Sea. He also had a fun bossa nova phase where his band played some great tunes like Amy's Theme.

For Lyman, it's all about Yellow Bird, Hilawe, and Misirlou.

For Les Baxter, Spotify has a great compilation album up called "The Exotic Moods of Les Baxter."

These guys all covered each others' songs and played lounge standards in the exotica style, so there are tons of songs that pop up in each artist's playlists. That can be fun as they'll each have their own take on old standards like Misirlou or Caravan.
posted by Old Man McKay at 3:36 PM on July 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I need this exact thing and lately I have been writing my dissertation to the following:
Aphex Twin
The Aqua Velvets
Beastie Boys - The In Sound From the Way Out
Blue States
Buckethead - Electric Tears
Cornelius - Sensuous
Do Make Say Think
Eat Static
Explosions in the Sky
Hotline Miami Soundtrack (this is my current favorite - it's really great!)
John Talabot
Jon Hopkins
Jori Hulkkonen
Out Hud
Shark Quest
posted by iamkimiam at 3:56 PM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like to use SomaFM for just this purpose. While your preferences may vary, my favorites are Space Station Soma and The Trip.
posted by Gneisskate at 3:58 PM on July 13, 2014

Anything by Hammock, Lanterna or Balmorhea. william Tyler's 'Impossible Truth' album. Bill Frisell's 'Intercontinentals' album. The soundtrack to the video game 'Bastion'.
posted by mattholomew at 4:01 PM on July 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ditto to Explosions in the Sky and Ratatat. I'd add to that list Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai, Sigur Ros, This Will Destroy You, God Is an Astronaut, A Silver Mt. Zion, and Caspian. In short, post-rock.
posted by xenization at 4:20 PM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I use Stars of the Lid's And Their Refinement of the Decline and Gonzales' Solo Piano while I'm studying. I've heard the first album mentioned on an NPR podcast as good background music as well.
posted by lunch at 4:41 PM on July 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Many great leads here. Exotica, yes.
One thing I like is non-English vocals (I'm an English speaker).
posted by LonnieK at 4:53 PM on July 13, 2014

I've occasionally found pieces by James Blackshaw, the fingerstyle guitarist, useful for this purpose. The notes come so quickly they meld into a continuous stream of sound, without undue variation in tempo or dynamics to insist upon your attention.
posted by Iridic at 5:05 PM on July 13, 2014

Tim Hecker
Oneohtrix Point Never
Ryuichi Sakamoto
Arvo Part
Philip Glass
Steve Reich
Stars of the Lid
Christina Vantzou
Ben Frost
posted by naju at 5:43 PM on July 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Google 'ambient mix' on soundcloud or youtube. Viz: Dawn.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:10 PM on July 13, 2014

I've found that I can't listen to words while reading/writing words, so I stick to instrumental music. I've also found that I stay more alert and focused with a repetitive beat, so I generally choose trance over classical.

Here is a Pandora station I created to listen to while copyediting:
Instrumental Trance Music for Work
posted by Jacqueline at 7:01 PM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

brian eno - music for airports
posted by mizrachi at 8:10 PM on July 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Disco! When I want to block-out the outside world and get down to fine-tooth-combing some copy or code, I have iTunes Radio generate a disco channel. Almost everything it plays turns out to be mildly familiar—but not terribly engaging—and the relentless disco beat is sufficiently wall-of-sound that it leaves little room for co-worker chatter to creep in.

You might also try the sound of rain, particularly on gray days.
posted by mumkin at 10:32 PM on July 13, 2014

Following up on iamkimiam's suggestion above, Ochre has a few live DJ sets up on his website that I find fantastic for this kind of thing.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:40 AM on July 14, 2014

Daft Punk's Homework was what I did a lot of my actual homework to. No tricky lyrics to get in the way of thinking!
posted by jillithd at 8:26 AM on July 14, 2014

I asked a similar question, maybe the responses will help.
posted by _cave at 1:42 PM on July 14, 2014

It's not free, but I find focus@will, which is designed for exactly this, and also has an iPhone app version, to be worth its price. I put it on while I work on my dissertation.
posted by Edna Million at 3:34 PM on July 14, 2014

I like a couple of internet radio stations for this stuff - M2-Chillout (France). It can stray into too much Disco/Hip Hop occasionally, but they play some fairly weird things which I like.

Similarly, Groovera's Low Mercury channel has a good mixture of interesting yet not too strident grooviness. I find it a bit bland or MOR sometimes, but it still drowns out the petty infighting at work.
posted by sneebler at 8:53 PM on July 16, 2014

The entire album of Infected Mushroom's "The Gathering" (youtube version of full album here) is one continuous blur without clear breaks, and isn't really catchy enough to concentrate on. Whenever I'm in the writing mode for endurance, this is deffo in the background..
posted by Quarter Pincher at 4:54 PM on July 17, 2014

Anything Tim Hecker.

William Basinski's The Disintegration Loops.

Don't know how you are w/ jazz, but In A Silent Way by Miles Davis is well-loved for similar purposes.
posted by mermaidcafe at 11:46 AM on December 23, 2014

If you like Explosions in the Sky, other post-rock is awesome. I like Staefron Hakon, an Icelandic post-rock band, esp. their Gummi album.

On the subject of Iceland, Sigur Ros and then the album by Jonsi and Alex, assuming you can stay awake.
posted by mermaidcafe at 11:48 AM on December 23, 2014

I commented earlier with Songza playlists. I've just found something new I love to write to. Electro swing! There is a LOT of it out there! It's relaxing and energizing at the same time.
posted by tomboko at 5:36 AM on December 29, 2014

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