One of the best aspects of my job is the problem solving. Sometimes it is just a matter of “How do I get that hero banner to overlap the hero text?” while accounting for all the browsers and screen sizes. Other times, it is chunking logic of code so that it makes sense not only to me, but the next person that might have to use it. Spinning a problem into a challenge is even a means of problem solving, and that alone can be fulfilling. Properly triaging, recreating, dissecting, and fixing a bug involves many levels of problem solving. You get the idea.
One of my favorite things to do while problem solving is listening to music. I believe it can enhance the process, but in moderation. Obviously, blaring Carly Rae Jepsen is dance worthy (definitely encouraged), but it is distracting, and can influence productivity. I won’t bore you with reviewing the countless studies on the effects of music on the brain, but here are a few if you’re inclined:
- Mehta, Ravi, Rui (Juliet) Zhu, and Amar Cheema. “Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition.” Journal of Consumer Research 39.4 (2012): 784–799. Web.
- Lesiuk, Teresa. “The effect of music listening on work performance.” Society for Education, Music and Psychology Research Vol. 33 (2) (2005): 173–191. PDF.
I believe there is a certain genre of music that is mostly conducive to problem solving and coding, and I like to label it: ambient. Ambient music is subdued, while slightly engaging. At least, that is my definition. Here is Wikipedia’s:
Ambient music is a genre of music that puts an emphasis on tone and atmosphere over traditional musical structure or rhythm. Ambient music is said to evoke an “atmospheric”, “visual” or “unobtrusive” quality.
Throughout the years I’ve found albums and artists that help me stay in the zone while writing code and designing, and I would like to share a few.
Artist: Brian Eno / Album: Music for Airports (1978)
Let’s start out with a classic, Music for Airports
Brian Eno, is one of the pioneers of ambient music, and this is certainly a masterpiece, and great place to start.
Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.
This music is imbued with a subtle atmospheric presence, and created with mostly electronic piano and synthesizers.
Eno went on to make several albums which fit nicely within the ambient genre, and all equally worthy of a listen.
Grab it from your favorite source.
Artist: The Album Leaf / Album: In a Safe Place
The Album Leaf are not entirely ambient in classification, but this album has always provided a subtle soundtrack to get things done.
Grab it from your favorite source.
Artist: Aphex Twin / Album: Selected Ambient Works Volume II (1994)
The notoriously subversive Richard D. James claims the sounds on his SAW2 were inspired by lucid dreams, and whether you believe it or not, they certainly have that quality. Some of these songs are fairly haunting.
Artist: Tycho / Album: Dive (2011) & Awake (2014)
I’m saving the best for last. Tycho is not only a compelling musician, but also visual artist (see ISO50). Their music really sits in a fine place for this list, and has taken ambient music to another level in my opinion. 🙂
Currently my iTunes Play Count for Tycho’s entire Dive album is at 113. There have been countless days I’ve spent in a #codeComa listening to Tycho, and tapping my feet.
Grab it from your favorite source.
Other worthy mentions
Some other artist to check out, as the list can go on and on…
- Ulrich Schnauss (Learn) (Listen )
- Boards of Canada (Learn) (Listen )
- Andy Stott (Learn) (Listen )
- Oneohtrix Point Never (Learn) (Listen )
- Isolée (Learn) (Listen )
While these are some of my favorites I would be curious to know what other developers listen to, and what keeps you in your #codeComa? Please share your favorites in the comments.
16 thoughts on “Music to Code”
Thanks for the recos. I’ll definitely check a few of these out.
One of my favorite albums to have as background music is “Audio” by Blue Man Group. Give ‘er a shot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVTMBLFSSIo&list=PLC3B2E37FE3AA6586
I have not listened to Blue Man Group stuff, and from what I’m hearing it sounds great! Thanks John.
I perfer a little more energy than the typical elevator music.
The bulk of my playlist is movie soundtracks like Star Wars, LOTR, Harry Potter, and Jurassic Park. I also have a good bit of stuff by Lindsey Stirling.
My favorite, for the moment, is Green Onions by Booker T Washington.
Haha, “elevator music” I love it. Reminds me of Elevator.js website, which I highly recommend you check out for a quick laugh (Warning: computer speakers/headphones should be turned on).
Sometimes I like it quiet, sometimes some kind of concentration playlist and other time music like 90s ALTERNATIVE https://open.spotify.com/user/myplay.com/playlist/20LKsiDZd4ALrlihncFcFa
These are great. I used to think that I needed to listen to high energy rock, edm or pop to code. But I have found that I am more likely to achieve flow when I lurk on the Chill playlists on Spotify. While the high energy stuff was “fun”, I found myself needing to switch songs or changing things up.
Yes, these recommendations are all about getting in the “flow”. Couldn’t of said it better. 🙂
Any particular Chill playlists you would like to share James?
You should definitely check out “Music to Code by”, by Carl Franklin http://mtcb.pwop.com , the host of the podcast .Net Rocks
Damon, thank you for the post. I love listening to all kinds of music while coding. Last week it was classical music other times I fire up some pop music, electronic, or melodic fast metal. Do you have a Spotify playlist that you could share?
Unfortunately, I’m not a Spotify user. I am an iTunes Match subscriber, but can’t share playlists from Apple (yet). Doh!
No worries 🙂 I went ahead and make a playlist of your recommendations in case anyone wants to use it. It’s set to be “collaborative” (not sure how that works).
Some of my faves in the chill/trip-hop electronic genre include Bonobo, Four Tet, Mono/Poly, Maribou State, Gramatik , Flying Lotus, Mt. Kimbie, DJ Cam, Nightmares on Wax, and more…
A fave “get stuff done” artist (and fave all-around), is STS9.
Spotify does have some great playlists for this purpose. Their Electronic Study Music is still a fave: https://open.spotify.com/user/spotify/playlist/65y98W0UItf73DJKVgylTP.
I love me some Bonobo, Flying Lotus, Mt. Kimbie, and DJ Cam too! Going to check this out. Thanks Carrie!
you forgot to put metallic on the list lol
I must respectively disagree that music for coding shouldn’t make you want to dance. I have a standing desk to keep my back healthy, and when I’m at my most productive I blast old classic R&B like James Brown, Etta James, etc. and dance around the room when a truly great song comes on.
But I’m totally with you as far as Music for Airports by Brian Eno. That’s one of my favorite albums of all time.. I’ve never heard anything else to quite compare with it in ethereal calm beauty…
Standing desks rock Patty, and I also work at one. I think we can all have our own definitions of being productive, while dancing and coding. 😉