Background music: Boost or Bummer?

There seems to be two main categories of people when it comes to the topic of music and productivity: those who need complete silence to concentrate and those who can’t imagine working without background noise in order to achieve maximum potential.

Personally, I believe I fall between the two categories. I work best to music, and depending on the task at hand, different types of music. When I’m attempting to concentrate on tasks that require a lot of attention and little details, such as code, I prefer instrumental music, usually repetitive remixes and/or classical sounding music that acts as background noise and doesn’t distract me.

Studies have demonstrated that most people don’t work best in total silence, and that a moderate level of ambient noise can aid concentration and inspire creativity. It seems that the main draw of the coffee shop for designers and other creative folk may not be the caffeinated beverages, but rather the constant background hum of conversation and clinking coffee cups. When it comes to music, rather than just background noise, the effect on your productivity will probably depend on what you’re doing. Just as listening to high energy music with a fast beat can help you to stay motivated during a run or aerobic workout, energetic and upbeat music can be helpful for being productive in any kind of physical job or repetitive task. In fact majority of researchers agree that familiar background music was shown to improve one’s concentration and memory, having a positive influence on overall performance.

Furthermore, a psychologist employed by Spotify, says that music and the ability to choose that music, improves both our worth and work. Self-selected music can be a means for people to seize control over their surroundings and emotions. Choosing the right tempo and sound for example, can make people better manage their stress levels.
Music genre/artist choice, has an interesting effect on work performance as well. There’s a few routes you can take in order to benefit from your music choice.

The classical route:

Essentially, I went through 7 years of music school and really classical music is not my thing anymore (had enough of it I suppose), however if you’re after similar sounding music ‘Vitamin String Quartet’ is a great choice. They cover modern tunes in a string quartet/chamber music style. It’s not the same kind of down-deep arrangement as traditional classical work, but the Quartet’s work takes away distracting lyrics and soothes out pop music’s more annoying edges.

For example:

I personally find that these types of music help in relieving stress, and aid in completing tasks.

The ambient/electronic/trance route

Much of this genre is designed to relax the mind and allow it to roam, while providing just enough stimulation to register as inspiration.

How it works:

Low amount of lyrics and steady, upbeat rhythm is a great mood booster without affecting concentration. These genres of music are designed not to jump in your face, but instead to keep your brain engaged at a lower subconscious level. However when I’m trying to learn new things, I try to eradicate all music with lyrics from my playlist, due to its interference with memory. Instead of remembering information I need, I might memorize the words to the song, which is counterproductive.

The aggressive/angry route:

When I’m presented with a somewhat boring and/or repetitive task that isn’t difficult, but may require some time, I prefer some of the angrier sounding tunes that will place me into a rhythm for faster completion of the said task and possibly even making it fun. Industrial rock, alternative, metal etc, are good examples.


In case of creative work, designers should dive into something inspiring. If you are drawing, you should tap into a song that helps you visualize.

It seems that in my music preferences I may have something in common with egg-laying hens. Unnamed British farmer was surprised when his chickens started laying eight eggs a week instead of the usual four. What was different, he wondered? The increased production seemed to correspond with the music that was being played in order to entertain the workers.

In conclusion, calibrating different music genres during the day can lead to various positive effects on your life in general. Also for the big finale. Here’s some available music apps for your entertainment

  • Spotify
  • Songza
  • Grooveshark
  • Rdio
  • Slacker
  • Google Play

and something that will make you smile! (and yes I actually have this in my iTunes)…

Do you prefer to work in silence or are you a headbanger creature like Stephen King? What’s on your work playlist? We’d love to hear your thoughts on music and productivity!!

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