Eine Kleine Hack Musik: music to code by?
March 26, 2007 1:33 PM   Subscribe

What's good music to program by?

Like many codemonkeys', my workplace is noisy, busy, and sub-optimal for little things like concentration, thought, and coding. This is not likely to change. I've never been in the habit of listening to music while I work, but I'm going to try headphones.

Can anyone recommend music that might facilitate concentration, thought and coding? I think lyrics would tend to be a force for distraction for me, and I don't know much about instrumental music.
posted by Zed_Lopez to Computers & Internet (43 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
It's just a matter of what you know and like.

Personally, I like to listen to records that rank at about an 8.5. If I break out the favorites then I just sit there with goosebumps all day. If I listen to new stuff, I get distracted.

The real key is good headphones. If you have that, they'll block out the noise, and you don't have to crank them to deafening levels.
posted by jon_kill at 1:45 PM on March 26, 2007

Dance/techno/trance stuff works really well for me; there are usually no lyrics and it has a good beat to work to. SomaFM has some great streaming feeds of said music.
posted by AaronRaphael at 1:46 PM on March 26, 2007

I had a minor coding/debugging crunch on Friday morning, and here's some of the stuff I was listening to at that time. None of it is instrumental, but it's good coding music nonetheless.

The new Slayer.
D.R.I. - Thrash Zone
The new TOOL.
Suicidal Tendencies - Suicidal for Life
A smattering of tracks from Laika - Lost in Space
posted by majick at 1:51 PM on March 26, 2007

I second electronica, in fact I'm listening to drum and bass right now and writing code. Drum and bass is a little harder than many people like so it may not be for you, but there are a ton of different styles (see Ishkur's guide to Electronic Music to totally geek out on the permutations). Shoutcast has a ton of stations you can check out.
posted by TungstenChef at 1:55 PM on March 26, 2007

KRAFTWERK! Particularly Tour De France.

I second SomaFM. Drone zone is wonderful, I can't work during the others because I want to write down track titles so badly.
posted by phrontist at 1:55 PM on March 26, 2007

My two faithful friends for this are Reich's 'Music for 18 Musicians' or Glass's 'Music With Changing Parts'. They're long minimalist pieces with strong rhythms; repetitive, but gradually changing.

The repetitiveness means I can have the music loud enough to drown out the outside, but still have the music in the background in my head. (Normally I listen to music quite actively and end up focusing on it.) But the gradual-change means that they don't trigger my "I'm bored of this, find new music" instinct.

Oh and for some reason I have a soft spot for 'Sleepy Elvis' by Mystermen. I can leave that tune on for hours.
posted by chrismear at 1:55 PM on March 26, 2007

I like music with words, but which I know well (so the words don't hold any distraction for me), and which is interesting enough to go on repeat. It's got to be reasonably fast, and reasonably new, and reasonably captivating, but not too much of any of these. The first few listens of any album are too distracting, and old favourites which I know too well are not involving enough to work. So my coding music goes through phases.

Right now, nothing beats The Arcade Fire.
posted by handee at 1:55 PM on March 26, 2007

I'm with jon_kill on this. For me it's all about pulling out steady favorites, but nothing too good that you'll actually want to 'listen' to. For me this tends to be upbeat, good, consistent, but unremarkable things like Placebo, Cake (especially), Lambchop, and similar middle of the road rock groups. Heavy music or techno doesn't seem to work. Classical can, if I'm in the right mood.
posted by wackybrit at 1:56 PM on March 26, 2007

Any sort of Dub (if you're not familiar with the genre, King Tubby is great)

Orbital, particularly "Halycon + On + On"
posted by phrontist at 1:58 PM on March 26, 2007

I find lyrics very distracting, although something in a foreign language is usually OK the first few times (until I start singing along).
Classical or Windham Hill- type stuff work for me. Find something with the energy level you need.

And over-the-ear headphones. I have these wireless ones- they allow me to move around without getting yanked back to my desk.
posted by MtDewd at 1:59 PM on March 26, 2007

For me it's anything I know and like and isn't going to throw me any curves.

For some reason Simon and Garfunkel works really well for me. I can put it on loop and never get tired of it.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:04 PM on March 26, 2007

It depends immensely on my mindspace. Sometimes I need very spacy, ambient electronica, sometimes I need mewling angst, sometimes I need singsongy punk. And a lot of times, when I'm working at a client's office, I'll have the earphones in my ears, plugged into the ipod, and no music playing at all because I simply want the isolation and this is less antisocial than bright orange industrial earplugs.

That said, what I dial up most often are albums by Curve, a band with a fairly extended repertoire of hard-driving electronic dance-rock. But for the past week I've been delving a lot into Husker Du, Minutemen, and other greats from the 80s.
posted by ardgedee at 2:08 PM on March 26, 2007

Psytrance when you need fast, focused energy (aural-caffeine because its over 90 beats a minute!). has a mathematical structure like classical music.

And, if you need to calm the nerves, ambient/chill.

If you listen to iTunes radio, a psytrance station is Philosomatica (in Electronic section) and a good ambient one is OEM radio (in ambient section)

No lyrics in either type...
posted by hazel at 2:10 PM on March 26, 2007

nth-ing SomaFM, especially their "Secret Agent" station. It makes me feel like a hacker in a movie, with millions of dollars or the lives of world leaders or something riding on my ability to focus and build a solution. Plus it's just goofy enough to keep me smiling through the urgency.

Don't laugh - it makes work way more fun. :P

Most of the CDs and purchased mp3s I listen to while coding are things I discovered in SomaFM's playlists.
posted by vytae at 2:21 PM on March 26, 2007

Just get a whitenoise generator to block everything out.
posted by delmoi at 2:21 PM on March 26, 2007

Eno's ambient stuff, Music for Airports in particular.
posted by bricoleur at 2:22 PM on March 26, 2007

Oh, and also try collections of archetypal 80s music. I find that these songs are familiar enough that they don't distract me, but absurd enough that they make me laugh for a second every time a new song comes on. They keep my spirits high when I'm working late.
posted by vytae at 2:26 PM on March 26, 2007

JS Bach - excluding anything with voices (which still leaves you lots and lots).

I once heard it said that music of that era tends to have a predominant beat which is close to the beat of ones heart and that this leads to it being good 'thought music'.

Sounds like a lot of hooey to me except for the fact that ... it is !
posted by southof40 at 2:29 PM on March 26, 2007

I type "goa" into Shoutcast's search and click on the highest bitrate i see.
posted by contraption at 2:39 PM on March 26, 2007

soma.fm, recommended yet again. my favorite amongst their station is the original -- groove salad.
posted by mcstayinskool at 2:40 PM on March 26, 2007

Check out the ambient/downtempo/chillout feeds here:


Or, you can listen to my favorite pandora station, which is what I listen to when I'm programming.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:43 PM on March 26, 2007

SomaFM is nice (hell, I even donated) but ultimately I found that they don't rotate their lineup nearly often enough. I like DI's feed better, although they occasionally run commercials.

Sirius has an alright chill station, but theirs is a bit too dance-y for me.

Oh yeah, and here's another good techno feed:

posted by Afroblanco at 2:50 PM on March 26, 2007

(sorry for the multiple posts)

I can't possibly overstress how much of an awesome resource Pandora is. Even if you don't dig the station that I linked to, it's really easy to make your own.

I reccomend listening to DI, SomaFM, Iceberg, and Deepmix to find some artists that you like, and then creating a Pandora station with those artists as 'seeds.' Once you have a Pandora station, *you* have control over the lineup. It's also a good way to find out about new bands.

I have two monitors at work, and I typically have Pandora running in my side monitor. This makes it really easy to thumbs up/down songs.
posted by Afroblanco at 3:00 PM on March 26, 2007

I like dubstep. Check the Grimelock mixes. Also raggacore (some more mixes, I like the ones by Aaron Specre and Sock Monster), but it's a bit aggressive and I can't listen to it if I'm programming something like PHP since I'm likely already angry.
posted by moift at 3:02 PM on March 26, 2007

sbagen for binaural beats looped over any appropriate ogg file.
posted by arimathea at 3:55 PM on March 26, 2007

DJ Bolivia's "Music to Code By".
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 4:25 PM on March 26, 2007

nth SomaFM. When I was doing serious CS in school, I definitely spent a fair chunk of time in the Drone Zone.

For me, it's all about familiar music that I enjoy. If I listen to new tracks, I'll lose focus on work because I'm too focused on listening to the music. For me, that includes a lot of the 90s alternative and country I grew up with. I have a particular soft-spot for 3rd Eye Blind and Matthew Good/Matthew Good Band, but ymmv.

Good headphones with solid isolation are a necessity. I use Sennheiser active noise cancelling on-ear headphones -- I can't remember the model number, but they're really good at wiping out standard office, bus and plane hums and whirrs and only cost about $80.
posted by Alterscape at 4:49 PM on March 26, 2007

Seconding Bach. I find that The Well Tempered Clavier, and The Goldberg Variations are both great for coding. I usually listen to Glenn Gould's versions of both, but there are tons, so you can take your pick.

Philip Glass is good too. I often listen to the Koyaanisqatsi soundtrack while I'm working.

Other than that... Thelonious Monk.

I also want to second what jon_kill said above. Good headphones and familiarity with the music make a huge difference.
posted by benign at 4:52 PM on March 26, 2007

I always list the same cds for questions like this. Probably shows my recent lack of musical exploring that I don't have anything from the last couple years, but I am a huge fan of ambient experimental noise (my name for intelligent dance music) when coding.
posted by ch1x0r at 5:55 PM on March 26, 2007


Specifically, the radio show A State of Trance.

I'd like to say Aphex Twin too, but I don't think that's for everyone.
posted by krisjohn at 7:47 PM on March 26, 2007

Kind of Blue. Anything with Bill Evans on the piano.

Snowflakes Are Dancing by Isao Tomita.

Perpetually Hip by Mimi Fox.

The Art of Fugue and the Musical Offering and even the Brandenburg Concerti, but I personally find it hard to concentrate to the Goldberg Variations with that busy, busy harpsichord.

That said, I concentrate awfully well to busy, busy instrumental bluegrass (Unit of Measure by the Tony Rice Unit, the instrumentals from either of the first two Will the Circle Be Unbrokens or from the O Brother soundtrack, early Alison Krauss, etc.).

Also Phish (Round Room, not cranked up too far), and to Béla Fleck and the Flecktones (roughly speaking, the intersection of instrumental bluegrass and Phish). Familiar rock works OK: For me that means Blood, Sweat, and Tears and Океан Ельзи, and for you it probably doesn't.
posted by eritain at 10:14 PM on March 26, 2007

Check out the book Peopleware and find the part that refers to coding with or without music. There's an interesting test in there.

The best music for coding is none. Get some ear plugs to drown out the sound.

However, music may help you get into the zone. Also, wearing headphones that block out sound (just generally) gives people a clearer message that you don't want to be disturbed. And they will think you're listening to music, which is more socially acceptable.
posted by sien at 11:56 PM on March 26, 2007

Nothing makes me more productive than Boards of Canada's Music Has the Right to Children.
posted by aparrish at 12:22 AM on March 27, 2007

For me, the real productivity gain of listening to music while coding is that it provides a continuity-- sometimes I need that continuity, especially when it's kind of a bumpy road (chasing a subtle bug down in someone else's code, for example.) However, if I already have that continuity (i.e. when doing traditional 'coding.'), my brain usually does a pretty good job of staying focused on its own, and the music can distract me.

I'm all about coding to music which I know really really well, that way I don't have to dedicate precious brain processing power to analyzing it (I think what little bit of music theory knowledge I have works against me here.) Anyway, my favorite (though I usually save it for special occasions) is Soul Coughing, since that's my favorite band. However, I can only handle it since I already know all the words! If I didn't, it would probably be detrimental.

To me, music like drum n' bass, or trance, are pretty interchangable and uninteresting (though not unpleasant,) so those work well, too.

I'd like to say Aphex Twin too, but I don't think that's for everyone.

Nothing makes me more productive than Boards of Canada's Music Has the Right to Children.

Both excellent, but distractingly too nuanced, musically, for me. Also, while we're on Boards of Canada, Geogaddi really creeps me the fuck out, for no reason I can discern.
posted by blenderfish at 12:52 AM on March 27, 2007

Bazillionth person to recommend Trance, here. Lyrical stuff just distracts me. A lot.
posted by empyrean at 3:32 AM on March 27, 2007

I'm more productive when I have a set of albums I only listen to when I code. It helps put me in the right frame of mind when I put the music on.

For me, these albums are Kelly Clarkson's Breakaway, and Switchfoot's Beautiful Letdown.

I can't believe I wrote that down.

I also like Jean Micheal Jarre's Oxygene. It is much more energetic than Music for Airports.
posted by adamwolf at 6:13 AM on March 27, 2007

nth-ing Bach, plus post rock, Grateful Dead soundboard tapes, hard house/trance, chiptune, and noise/industrial.
posted by zamboni at 7:26 AM on March 27, 2007

Scarlatti sonatas do it for me.
posted by dfan at 7:40 AM on March 27, 2007

Ahahaha. I listen to a lot of hip-hop while I program. I normally love the ambient/trancy stuff but it makes me space out if I listen to it while coding.

So beyond just "hip-hop in general" it could be said that I enjoy anything that generally keeps me alert and on my toes.

Short list of albums/artists that I've really enjoyed listening to while programming:

Lifesavas - Spirit in Stone
Dr. Octagon
G. Love and Special Sauce
Lovage - Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady by
Cannibal Ox
Dead Prez
Prefuse 73

Do Make Say Think
Xiu Xiu
Os Mutantes
Simon Joyner

And if I'm really in for a long session, I have a 4-5 hour gamelan mix that I love to listen to.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 10:20 AM on March 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I'll be trying the online services and off to the used CD stores soon.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 1:30 PM on March 27, 2007

*shrug* I bested my last coding challenge listening to Bach's Mass in B Minor with a pair of Shure "sound isolating" (read: earplug) headphones. I find when I have an electronic hard beat, I can't focus.
posted by jeversol at 4:16 PM on March 27, 2007

Akira soundtrack.

The world just fades away.
posted by ReiToei at 4:18 PM on March 27, 2007

I'm very late to this, but I find that Piobaireachd works well when coding, though not when designing or debugging.
posted by vilcxjo_BLANKA at 5:38 AM on May 30, 2007

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