Mood Music for Work
February 14, 2013 1:25 PM   Subscribe

Music may be able to improve productivity at work, especially music without words. There are some services that stream music intended for work: Focus@Will (US Only) offers a wide range of choices, Groovesalad is more ambient, while Get Work Done is decidedly more fast tempo. If music is too distracting, you can use a white/pink/brown noise generator or Buddha Wall, which loops relaxing sounds. Other people prefer particular songs or albums, since researchers suggest you should listen to what you like.
posted by blahblahblah (53 comments total) 171 users marked this as a favorite
I can't do real work unless I've recently had coffee and I'm listening to Groove Salad.
posted by diogenes at 1:28 PM on February 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

posted by helicomatic at 1:31 PM on February 14, 2013 [8 favorites]

What works for me? Biiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeebbbbbbbbeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
posted by maudlin at 1:34 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can't work without music, the sound of people talking is WAY too distracting. Which means lots of techno with the BPM varying with my levels of stress and energy.
posted by Hutch at 1:36 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Someone on MeFi posted a a link a year or so back that had police scanner mixed with some ambient music. (Incredibly vague description.) I found this relaxing...and hopefully bet someone reading this knows exactly what I am talking about.
posted by snap_dragon at 1:39 PM on February 14, 2013

white/pink/brown noise generator

FYI, you can get the same result for less by stuffing each of your ears with a scoop of Neapolitan.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:42 PM on February 14, 2013 [22 favorites]

Someone on MeFi posted a a link a year or so back that had police scanner mixed with some ambient music. (Incredibly vague description.) I found this relaxing...and hopefully bet someone reading this knows exactly what I am talking about.

You are listening to Los Angeles
(Now with many more cities...)
posted by mykescipark at 1:47 PM on February 14, 2013 [13 favorites]

Groovesalad, and the other great streams from are all superb, and recommended for the ambient background type niche.

If you want something slightly more engaging though, I can't recommend Radio Paradise enough. My work music mode has been Grooveshark for when I want to choose, Radio Paradise for when I want someone else to choose. Radio Paradise is probably my largest single source for music discovery.
posted by mcstayinskool at 1:47 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I hate listening to music while I work. Since I'm biased, this reminds me of an experiment with a different result that was described in Peopleware, in a section that was arguing against noisy, disruptive work environments and various "solutions" (like music) that did not actually change the noisy, disruptive environment:
During the 1960s, researchers at Cornell University conducted a series of tests on the effects of working with music. They polled a group of computer science students and divided the students into two groups, those who liked to have music in the background while they worked (studied) and those who did not. Then they put half of each group together in a silent room, and the other half of each group in a different room equipped with earphones and a musical selection. Participants in both rooms were given a Fortran programming problem to work out from specification. To no one's surprise, participants in the two rooms performed about the same in speed and accuracy of programming. As any kid who does his arithmetic homework with the music on knows, the part of the brain required for arithmetic and related logic is unbothered by music—there's another brain center that listens to the music.

The Cornell experiment, however, contained a hidden wild card. The specification required that an output data stream be formed through a series of manipulations on numbers in the input data stream. For example, participants had to shift each number two digits to the left and then divide by one hundred and so on, perhaps completing a dozen operations in total. Although the specification never said it, the net effect of all the operations was that each output number was necessarily equal to its input number. Some people realized this and others did not. Of those who figured it out, the overwhelming majority came from the quiet room.

Many of the everyday tasks performed by professional workers are done in the serial processing center of the left brain. Music will not interfere particularly with this work, since it's the brain's holistic right side that digests music. But not all of the work is centered in the left brain. There is that occasional breakthrough that makes you say "Ahah!" and steers you toward an ingenious bypass that may save months or years of work. The creative leap involves right-brain function. If the right brain, is busy listening to 1001 Strings on Muzak, the opportunity for a creative leap is lost.

The creativity penalty exacted by the environment is insidious. Since creativity is a sometime thing anyway, we often don't notice when there is less of it. People don't have a quota for creative thoughts. The effect of reduced creativity is cumulative over a long period. The organization is less effective, people grind out the work without a spark of excitement, and the best people leave.
tl;dr: The task people were given had a hidden solution that required some insight, and the people who did not listen to music found it more often.

It's interesting that the study linked in the NY Times article used a purely subjective evaluation of quality of the work people did ("In solving the problem, was the solution creative? 1) Not at all, 2) Somewhat, 3) Moderately, 4) Very much so") rather than something more objective like the one I quoted.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 1:56 PM on February 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


Fail's Audio Workshop for IDM/eclectic

Merck Records Radio
for the greatest IDM label of all time (of all time!) plus some glitch and other electronica

Sleepbot Environmental Broadcast for low-volume ambient, drone, ethereal

Mixing of Particulate Solids Radio 1 for ambient

Mixing of Particulate Solids Radio 2 for electronic general

Mixing of Particulate Solids Radio 3
for ambient/experimental

(all direct links)

I can probably throw together some other links later.

As a point of interest, the Mixing of Particulate Solids streams are in fact operated (unofficially) by members of the Department of Chemical Machines and Equipment at the Slovak Technical University in Bratislava.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:57 PM on February 14, 2013 [11 favorites]

I use that white noise generator for whenever I want to compose in public, because there are just no public or pseudo-public spaces without music playing anymore. I used to keep a tiny Max patch around that was basically just a noise~ object, but I'm lazy and so I've tended more towards just using the internet solution. After a while it makes your ears ring unpleasantly, though, and this is at reasonable volumes.
posted by invitapriore at 1:57 PM on February 14, 2013

Actually, I'm trying out a mix from the Buddha Wall right now and I love it: first two black, first two aqua, last orange.

Music for sleeping: plug the iPhone in and stream WFMU.
posted by maudlin at 1:58 PM on February 14, 2013

I used to keep a tiny Max patch around that was basically just a noise~ object

I understand all the individual words, but not when you put them together in the above sentence. What's a Max patch?
posted by leotrotsky at 2:10 PM on February 14, 2013

I find music helps me work (I'm a software developer) because my attention tends to shift. If it shifts to the music playing on my headphones, that's fine because it's going to shift right back.

I think this is because music is something I can give half-attention to at best. I can't listen to comedy or a podcast and get work done, because I'll be listening to the voices and giving it all of my attention. At the same time I find it difficult to just listen to music and do nothing else (while sober at least).

If I have no music on, and my attention shifts to some jackass parking outside, or someone's conversation, or my empty coffee cup, or, uh, a web browser, then I'm going to stray from the work.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:14 PM on February 14, 2013

I can't work without music. I've got Spotify, so I shuffle that. If I really need to work I put on upbeat pop punk. Or whatever band just emailed me about their tour.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:15 PM on February 14, 2013

leotrotsky, Max/MSP is a visual programming environment for audio applications (with Jitter being the video equivalent). A lot of musicians use it for live processing and/or controller interfaces.
posted by TwoWordReview at 2:15 PM on February 14, 2013

I listened to Groovesalad wayyy back with WinAmp. Lately I use XMOnline+ (pay) or Grooveshark (free). I see lots of people here listening to Rdio (pay).
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:15 PM on February 14, 2013

Well one of my colleagues has some nice ambient Groovesalad-style music playing on the office Sonos, so I should be more productive right now. Reading this MeFi thread right now at work, however, is not increasing my productivity one bit. Maybe MeFi and the music cancel each other out? Maybe I should get back to work? Yeah, it's probably the latter.
posted by zachlipton at 2:30 PM on February 14, 2013

There is a station that mixes ambient music with NASA space transmissions: Mission Control.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 2:30 PM on February 14, 2013 [9 favorites]

For work music, I use Mog, whose sound quality is better than Spotify's. But Mog was purchased by Beats, and I'm worried about its future.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 2:38 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this. I always think I want to listen to the music I actually like while working, but then I end up not working and hovering around or Pandora and rocking out. Honestly, sometimes what the doctor ordered for productivity is Buddha Spa Ambient Samba Dream Rhythms 3 or whatever.
posted by threeants at 2:47 PM on February 14, 2013

Any type of music is too distracting to me. I run an electronics lab and there has never been any music in there as long as I've worked there. Everyone besides me wears earphones and listens to their iPod. I hate this! It's annoying to have to tap someone on the shoulder to get their attention when they're two feet away. On the other hand I can listen to static and barely audible voices on ham bands for hours while I build equipment at home. But music doesn't work for me, silence or white(ish) noise does.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 2:51 PM on February 14, 2013

I always like to just put on Thursday Afternoon.
posted by Red Loop at 2:52 PM on February 14, 2013

I listen to anything that will drown out the chip-eating, apple-munching pro basketball blather at work. "Quiet room." Sigh.
posted by travertina at 2:56 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a lot of deeply emotional memories that are inextricably linked with "Thursday Afternoon" in my head, which ironically makes it much less suitable as ambience than a lot of more active songs.
posted by invitapriore at 3:00 PM on February 14, 2013

If (any of) you like the Buddha Wall, you might want to check out the FM3 Buddha Machine's official site - the machines are inexpensive and very lo-fi. I've got a version 2 and a version 3 and the both of them on together make for some interesting ambient sounds on a little speaker in a bright box. Recommended by me! Time to pick up version 4 too.

If you like electronica/downbeat sort of stuff, the stream is very cool, baby, cool. The link "selected music" goes to their SoundCloud page, where you can download a fair amount of their DJ's mixes.
posted by Zack_Replica at 3:00 PM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

I recently bought 50 minutes of train track noises. I discovered rather accidentally that I was able to focus a lot better on tasks if I had it running in the background (I work on my own, thankfully). Oh god, I hope Me Aged 17 never finds out. I'd be so disappointed in myself.
posted by kariebookish at 3:13 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

When work is ridiculously stressful, I listen to Disneyland ride soundtracks.

It's just incredibly soothing to me - hearing the rides I used to go on, the rides I love to go on when I can, rides I'll probably never go on, but can't stop listening to...

I especially love the soundtracks that come in the ride queues - the slow and sweet ballads interspersed with announcements at the Jungle Cruise, the delightfully surreal calliope renditions of 60s' pop classics from California Adventure, the wonderful shininess of Space Mountain...

You give me eleven minutes of the Peoplemover, and I'm in heaven.
posted by Katemonkey at 3:15 PM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

Thanks for this whole post and thread everyone! I forgot all about SomaFM.

Zack_Replica: special thanks to you!
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 3:17 PM on February 14, 2013

Boards of Canada and Godspeed when working with words. Tom Waits and Modest Mouse for working with numbers. Dandy Warhols and Lou Reed / Velvet underground for coding or diagramming. 60% increase in productivity, p=0.001, n=1
posted by [expletive deleted] at 3:26 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have some attention management... issues and I actually find there's this weird synergy where if I'm doing something very repetitive it makes it easier for me to listen to more complicated music. If I'm coding, it has to be something lounge-y and breezy, but if I'm doing a growth curve, I can often listen to something pretty abstract and "difficult." In some ways I feel like it deepens my enjoyment of the music, because I'm just busy enough where I don't get frustrated or bored and impulsively put something else on. But yeah, stuff where I have to be even modestly creative, I just want to drown out ambient sound and if possible feel like I'm in a really pleasant bar.

(And for stuff that is very complicated there is really no substitute for absolute library+earplugs silence. Wish I'd realized that in college.)
posted by en forme de poire at 3:38 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Soma's 'Drone Zone' is hands down their best worky-channel IMO
posted by moorooka at 3:42 PM on February 14, 2013

The Bb project and associated Bb buddha machine are favorites of mine.
posted by namewithoutwords at 3:45 PM on February 14, 2013

The original Muzak.

If someone somewhere is streaming old retro Elevator Music, that would be nice.
posted by ovvl at 3:53 PM on February 14, 2013

I use the music from classic nes and snes games.
posted by mulligan at 4:01 PM on February 14, 2013

TRON: Legacy. That is all.
posted by adrianhon at 4:08 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Boodler is quite fun. You can load or design soundscapes, and it will go off and render them forever. If you have a modern browser, here's a Boodler stream of a Buddha Machine:
posted by scruss at 4:41 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, Muzak was the original, and their work productivity mix increased in peppiness around 10 AM and 3 PM. No French Horns. (Too mellow.) No voices. (Too distracting.) It was all very "scientific,"
like those early-mid 20th century "efficiency experts." As with everything else, it has become a little more complicated these days.
posted by kozad at 4:45 PM on February 14, 2013

I took a watercolour workshop recently with a professional illustrator. She said that she can't help but hear Tom Waits when she looks at any images from this book, because she was playing Frank's Wild Years all the months it took to finish it.
posted by maudlin at 5:25 PM on February 14, 2013

I made a Pandora station for exactly this purpose. I've been working on it for 5 years and it has over 120 seed bands. It's remarkably consistent.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:12 PM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm a classically trained musician, so my perspective on music as a productivity booster/mood modifier is a little different.

On the one hand, I'm glad that many non-musicians find classical music to be pleasant or enjoyable and to have a place in their lives. On the other hand, it's a little frustrating that so much classical music gets lumped into this kind of background/semi-attentive listening for industrial purposes. I mean, Mozart didn't say, "gee, I should write music that makes babies smarter." The composers saw their music as maybe breezy or courtly or humorous or formal or religious or transcendent or melancholy or pastoral or gentle or...any number of other moods and references. But in this context, it's all lumped together as "relaxing" or "non-intrusive." Its value lies in the measurable effect it produces for workers, not in any artistic expression.

I'm sure lots of people appreciate classical music for both its beauty and its mental benefits, but I have also read an awful lot of student essays where nearly every classical piece is described as "soothing," and I wonder if the constant promotion of music for these purposes isn't partly to blame.
posted by daisystomper at 6:33 PM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

Sort of a tangent.

I find it amazing how many things I share with my fellow mefites. GrooveSalad - I listen to acid jazz, trip-hop, house and sometimes classical when I have a pile o' work to do. Other times I'm listening to NIN, maybe some Ministry or KMFDM. Or Ryan Adams/Wilco/Uncle Tupelo. Maybe Zappa. Or Boards of Canada.

You have to understand, I was born in '62, I work from home, by myself, with little to no interaction with anyone except the young hipsters I see at coffee shops who think I'm an old perv checking out the young chicks (which may be true). It's not like I could easily pigeonhole myself near the middle of the Bell curve and yet, and yet... here I am "on the blue" amidst a sea of people I only know virtually (well, I know a couple of you offline from another life back in the frenetic and delusional " irrational exuberance" period) and y'all could be my twins.

This is both comforting and disconcerting. So, well, thanks.
posted by skepticbill at 6:36 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've found recently that listening to podcasts and video reviews helps me concentrate on my work, but I haven't found many I like.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:40 PM on February 14, 2013

I've been listening to Monolake while programming lately, along with some Boards of Canada and the musicForProgramming(); sets. I agree with the video linked above that silence is preferable to listening to music; but listening to music is preferable to the chaos that surrounds me in my hell-office.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:56 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was told that I could listen to the radio at a reasonable volume from nine to eleven. I told Bill that if Sandra is going to listen to her headphones while she's filing, then I should be able to listen to the radio while I'm collating, so I don't see why I should have to turn down the radio because I enjoy listening at a reasonable volume from nine to eleven.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:23 PM on February 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

If I have a large document to write or have to crank out a lot of code, this is my go-to guy for mindlessly repetitive but soothing productivity music.
posted by prepmonkey at 5:55 AM on February 15, 2013

I've just recently discovered Groove Salad myself. I find it pushes a creativity button for me in a really big way. Partly because much of the music seems to be incomplete, and I start completing it with some leads. This leaves me very 'activated'. But also it often suits what I'm working on.

For me, the issue is silence. I find silence deafening at times, and sometimes too sleepy-making. On the other hand, much of my own music collection is what I call "strong stuff", only suited to serious listening.

BTW, this "Thursday Afternoon" is nice, except it becomes sleepy. I like some beat to keep me perky. If I'm trying to do physical stuff, like house work, then I go to the more upbeat stuff. When I'm out for exercise, I go for some Juno Reactor kind of stuff.
posted by Goofyy at 6:13 AM on February 15, 2013

daisystomper, I think that's true, but perhaps not only of classical music. Boards of Canada has been cited a few times in-thread as great coding music, but they definitely aren't just defined by "soothing" - their music covers an emotional range that includes the foreboding, brooding, anthemic, playful, etc.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:19 PM on February 15, 2013

I just love that we live in a world where so many people bothered to make and compile all this great stuff. I'm motivated to work today (I have to anyway), just so I can check it all out.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:32 AM on February 16, 2013

Related: history of the Buddha Machine, the source/inspiration behind the Buddha Wall.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:58 PM on February 17, 2013

Anyone who's even remotely interested should check out filthy light thief's amazing post previously on the subject. Brian Eno bought eight of them, and David Byrne likes them too. If you like what they do, or just need some interesting ambiance in your life, they're the best.
posted by Zack_Replica at 10:34 PM on March 1, 2013

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