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Music to design (or code) to

11 Aug 2004 by Jason Fried

What music helps you design? What puts you in the zone? What helps you focus? What keeps you moving forward and inspired?

I’ll start… Lately it’s been the Softa Surfers new record, See The Light. I’ve also had the “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” track from Wilco’s A Ghost is Born on repeat. And then of course there’s the fabulous DubLab streaming station that’s full of good “design music.”


77 comments so far (Post a Comment)

11 Aug 2004 | Chad said...

Kidsmoke is a great track!

Postal Service, Miles Davis, and recently - Frou Frou

11 Aug 2004 | Jeremy Flint said...

I have lots of different stuff I listen to.

Lately, I have been listening to Modest Mouse "Good News For People Who Love Bad News" a lot. On the other end of the spectrum, I have also been listening to a recording of The Dead's (formerly the Grateful Dead) performance at the Bonnaroo Music Festival back in June.

I have also been listening to a lot of 94-95 Phish shows.

Occasionally I will break out some instrumental bluegrass. Chris Thile's "Not All Who Wander Are Lost" is a really good album (mandolin player in Nickel Creek).

I am kind of all over the spectrum depending on the time of day, the mood I am in, what/who I am designing for, etc.

11 Aug 2004 | kingbenny said...

I agree, kidsmoke is a good track for background music when focusing on something else. I usually find myself listening to very mellow music when I'm workin', like Kelly Joe Phelps or Mason Jennings... and a lot of Big Wreck and Our Lady Peace lately too.

11 Aug 2004 | Rick Moore said...

Lately it's been The Shins (both albums are great!), "Action Pact" from Sloan (Canadian goodness!), and anything by Zero 7.

11 Aug 2004 | Rick Moore said...

Lately it's been The Shins (both albums are great!), "Action Pact" from Sloan (Canadian goodness!), and anything by Zero 7.

11 Aug 2004 | Rick Moore said...

Oops...sorry about the double post. I think I am asleep...

11 Aug 2004 | One of several Steves said...

On heavy rotation on the iPod or my home stereo lately have been Alpha, Noiseshaper, Bent, and I keep going back to "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" (the new Wilco doesn't do it for me nearly as much). If I feel like reaching back a bit, Massive Attack and DJ Shadow seem to be the choices lately.

11 Aug 2004 | Scorched said...

The Ultra Chilled compilations from Ultra Records are my favorite set of cd's. I've got 8 long hours of happiness out of those cd's, and I run winamp with a crossfader plugin so that they play as a long continuous mix. If I have to pick individual artists, it's got to be Ivy, Zero 7, Royskopp, Chemical Brothers, and some old school hip hop like Blackalicious and Digable Planets.

11 Aug 2004 | JF said...

Digable Planets -- great call. Smooth.

11 Aug 2004 | Don Schenck said...

Okay, now I know why I suck at design: I listen to the wrong music -- The World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band.

11 Aug 2004 | David Horn said...

well ... you can never go far wrong with Johnny Cash to get a design project started ... leading on to anything by Eels for the bulk of the design. As deadlines loom and to inject a little urgency, then it has to be The Strokes. For that dark, growling project that's been on the shelf, under appreciated, for ages, then Tom Waits does the trick nicely. For that blissed out feeling of just finishing a project (or, even better, just getting paid) then nobody, and I mean nobody, does the trick better than Beck!

11 Aug 2004 | Chris said...

Ultra Chilled is great, as is any live jamband stuff.

As far as stuff that hasn't been mentioned, my absolute favorite coding soundtrack is The Siket Disc. I also quite enjoy ambient music (Fripp & Eno, etc.) when I code. Lately I've been listening to (of all things) the Rounders soundtrack, which I received as a gift, and it's really nice, though its frequent switching between haunting piano and funky jazz may not be for everyone.

Thanks for the post, this is great :)

11 Aug 2004 | Lea said...

I listen to movie or video game soundtracks; various types of them. Might as well listen to a piece of music that was made specifically to manipulate my emotions and mood, and is meant to remain in the background so it doesn't disturb my work. ;-)

11 Aug 2004 | Ed F. said...

ah, good topic.
Iron and Wine - Our Endless Numbered Days (but any album will do).
The Shins - Chutes Too Narrow (also any album will do).
Sonic Youth - Sonic Nurse
RJD2 - Since We Last Spoke (try the song "One Day" soon to heard in Urban Outfitters and car commercials everywhere).
Broken Social Scene - You Forgot It In People

lastly, you can check my Top 16 songs (it was 25, but iTMS could only find 16): Ed F.'s Top 16

11 Aug 2004 | Mike said...

Gotta second the vote for The Postal Service.

"The District Sleeps Tonight" sits on repeat for hours on end.

11 Aug 2004 | Dale Cruse said...


11 Aug 2004 | Dr_God said...

Either the "Ambient" stream or "Eclectic" stream, depending on how much I need to concentrate on my work (i.e. music w/ words vs. music wo/ words).

11 Aug 2004 | Greg Hoy said...

Lemon Jelly's Lost Horizons. If you're not singing "Nice Weather For Ducks" on the commute home you will be.

11 Aug 2004 | Michael Spina said...

Electronic works best for me. It's energetic and doesn't distract me all that much. Basically I can appreciate it without concentrating on it. Some in my rotation: DJ Shadow, Amon Tobin, Daft Punk, Roni Size, Defragmentation, Ralph Myerz.

Sometimes hard core/punk does the trick.

11 Aug 2004 | Jeff said...

Music usually distracts me. I focus on the music more than the design work since I write songs myself. It's always like that for me. I can't have background music. Whatever I'm doing, I get distracted. Some folks have even said I might have aural autism. I can't even understand what people are saying in a loud club or bar, but I hear every note in the music playing in the background. And this is why I don't go to loud clubs anymore.

11 Aug 2004 | Derek at CD Baby said...

GROOVE SALAD, baby! It doesn't distract. Has enough groove to keep you from falling asleep, but nothing distracting. Perfect trip-hop.

11 Aug 2004 | RS said...

Electronic works best for me. It's energetic and doesn't distract me all that much.

I second that. Theo Parrish's edit of Jill Scott's "Slowly Surely" ( mp3, info) has been a favorite lately.

11 Aug 2004 | Jonny Roader said...

The Brian Jonestown Massacre

11 Aug 2004 | Andy said...

My absolute favorite music to do anything creative to is Radiohead's Kid A. Really I guess anything by Radiohead is great (except perhaps Pablo Honey).

In addition, Sigur Ros is great, no understandable vocals to get in the way of the gorgeous melodies, harmonies and weird sounds.

And I second the vote for Broken Social Scene's You Forgot it in People. That album is sweet... they're great live too. So much energy with 6-7 people rocking out on stage at once.

11 Aug 2004 | Mike D. said...

I love the new Wilco album but what the hell is up with:

a) all the weird noise around the ends of some tracks. It's really annoying to hear 10 minutes of screeching and static when you're trying to listen to music.

b) all the "volume issues". I swear, some songs are recorded on like a "2" volume level and others are a "10".

Although I love the album, it's tough to just sit there and let it play without skipping through noise or adjusting volume from time to time.

11 Aug 2004 | Jamie said...

- Beastie Boys - To The 5 Boroughs

(2 large commerce sites being designed/maintained through this album in the past couple weeks)

11 Aug 2004 | Chris S said...

Head and shoulders above everything I have is the soundtrack from A Charlie Brown Christmas (instrumentals only). Peppy enough to keep the mind cranking and mellow enough to stay out of the way.

11 Aug 2004 | Ed Knittel said...

For coding I choose Chicago's very own Bass Drive or Hard House.

iTunes radio is always on at my house...

I too have have had "Postal Service" on a continuous loop at times

11 Aug 2004 | Steve said...

I'd blogged some music themes not long ago that I used.

11 Aug 2004 | aliotsy said... I have this going all day, at work and at home.

11 Aug 2004 | sloan said...

Music sucks. I just chant really loud. Everyone loves it.

11 Aug 2004 | Steven Jarvis said...

I dig the Secret Agent internet radio stream (found in the Electronica category in iTunes' Radio section), which they refer to as "downtempo lounge spy," which is as good a description as any. When I get tired of the electronica, I've been spinning the new album by Matt Pond PA:Elements. I also fall back on Al Green's Greatest Hits pretty often, too.

11 Aug 2004 | Tom Keekley said...

Wheat, Rush, Lisa Loeb, Living Colour, Franz Ferdinand, Gin Blossoms, Shuggie Otis . . . and the new B-Boys.

11 Aug 2004 | Noel D. Jackson said...

Cardigans - Gran Turismo (best cd I've ever owned)

11 Aug 2004 | chuck said...

Tim McGraw, Third Day or Creed

11 Aug 2004 | Tyler Weir said...

Drone Zone from .

It's enough white noise to drown out conversations and (mostly) different enough to not get annoying.

11 Aug 2004 | LNJ said...

Poe's Haunted.
The Postal Service.
Depeche Mode's Violator.
Mozart's Requiem

11 Aug 2004 | Jose Rui Fernandes said...

I pretty much stoped in time regarding music. The last records I bought were:
Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft -- Fünfzehn neue DAF Lieder (didn't like that much, but it was a surprise to see these guys still around)
Devo -- Freedom of Choice
Jarboe -- Dissected (I need to be in the mood)
Lisa Gerrard & Patrick Cassidy -- Immortal Memory
The Shamen -- In Gorbachev We Trust
That Petrol Emotion -- Babble
X-Mal Deutschland -- Fetish
So, mostly '80 indie UK/US, but I guess most of them are mainstream now (we can hear The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs, The Smiths, Dead Can Dance... in TV shows and big budget movies). I do have some "modern" music and jazz also.

11 Aug 2004 | Indi said...

I have a Disney compilation that does the trick. I've heard the songs so many times they are pleasant, yet block extraneous interruptions. If I'm in for a long haul I'll just select my entire iTunes library and hit shuffle.

The occasional jarring tune makes a good mental break when needed ... but as many of you know, when you are in the zone, totally connected to what you are doing, nothing will jar you loose.

11 Aug 2004 | Alex said...

Not a single one here apparently likes it, so I'll chip in with Bach, Monteverdi, deMorales, Biber, Corelli, more Monteverdi, deWert, Schuts, Telemann, and of course Bencini. You may have heard of Bach. :)

12 Aug 2004 | beto said...

It depends a lot on my mood and how busy or relaxed I am. I have very eclectic tastes so it can be anything from ska-punk to downtempo beats to Brazilian to who knows what else. I like ambient, chillout grooves and jazz as well but they usually put me on a laid-back, sleep-inducing state - not the best mood when at work.... As of late, SKA-P and Manu Chao have been on heavy rotation around here.

12 Aug 2004 | Drew said...

Kane Hodder
The Blood Brothers
The Pixies
Godspeed You Black Emperor!
Do Make Say Think
The Fall of Troy
The Polyphonic Spree
The Postal Service
Death Cab for Cutie
Sunny Day Real Estate
The Smashing Pumpkins
Murder by Death
An Albatross
Engine Down
Franz Ferdinand
The Killers
Lightning Bolt
Mercury Rev
Of Montreal
The Rapture
The Reindeer Section

12 Aug 2004 | Drew said...

(accidently hit post)

Sufjan Stevens
The Thermals
The Walkmen

Generally, if I'm going hardcore I need lyric-less or lyric-light stuff
but depending on my mood I will throw in the spazz-screamo stuff to get me hopped up and typing/clicking fast.

12 Aug 2004 | Don Schenck said...

Alex, I listen to a lot of classical, mostly from the baroque period. Teleman, Bach, the Red Priest (that's a quiz, folks -- know who that is?), Handel.

Great stuff, all.

Oh, and, of course, The World's Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Band!

12 Aug 2004 | SH said...


12 Aug 2004 | Justin French said...

When I'm designing, it's pretty open. I'm a big fan of heavy stuff like Helmet and Tool, as well as quieter groove-oriented stuff like Massive Attack and Lamb. iTunes on "random" usually works for me with 400+ CDs in there :)

However, when I'm coding PHP or reading, I usually need absolute silence. At the most, I can deal with something peaceful and instrumental, like the Tool String Tribute album (a string quartet interpreting Tool), due to the lack of words.

In other words, when I'm dealing with words (in any complex way, I find it distracting).

Perhaps I've been working from home like a hermit for too long!

12 Aug 2004 | Mark Eichin said...

My (somewhat misnamed) "work techno" playlist includes: Soundtrack to Spy Game; the Bolero from Moulin Rouge (over the credits); credits music to Buckaroo Bonzai; MIB main theme; X2 main theme; parts of Carmina Burana; YYZ; Fanfare for the common man, and a half dozen other notable tracks. Very loopable, non-verbal but not grating. Mostly for "coding sprints" which I've gotten away from lately, though.

12 Aug 2004 | Neil said...

For coding, thinking, and anything else where loud music might be a bit too distracting, I have a mellow playlist that I usually listen to. I usually start the day off with this playlist, too, as I don't like waking up and sitting down to work with something heavy slapping me in the face.

Some great mellow stuff:

The Rachels' Music for Egon Schiele (gorgeous, organic music consisting of cello, violin, and piano)

Pullman: either of their albums - Viewfinder or Turnstyles & Junkpiles - lovely acoustic instrumentals by Chicago Thrill Jockey musicians

Nick Drake: absolutely anything by the sad troubadour.

Archer Prewitt: pretty much anything by this guy, too, except for some of the more rocking tracks from his latest album Three, which is a great record, too.

Antonio Carlos Jobim: anything from the Brazillian master.

Feist: Let it Die - this is actually one of my favourite albums right now. Great pop-chanteuse music with a twist from an ex-pat Canadian.

Iron and Wine: it's all good.

Classical music is also great, too. Okay, that's enough for now.

12 Aug 2004 | Russell Upsumgrub said...

I enjoy the streaming tunes of The Cowboy Cultural Society

12 Aug 2004 | Mark G said...

Kid Loops is always in a steady rotation in iTunes for me.

12 Aug 2004 | Don Schenck said...

Sarah, of course, is correct: The Red Priest was Vivaldi. Wow ... gorgeous *and* smart.

Now if I could only taste that lip gloss ... ;-)

12 Aug 2004 | jason said... is waaaaaay better than dublabs. better to design stuff to also =]

12 Aug 2004 | ar said...

Cocteau Twins and other older 4AD stuff. It's funny since 4AD albums covers are what got me into the business of designing in the first place.

12 Aug 2004 | MrBlank said...

Anything Soma FM streams out. Secret Agent is fun.

I've also gotten into Yoko Kanno. Her stuff from the various Cowboy Bebop soundtracks keep me grooving. If I'm in a evil mood, I'll listen to some Akira Yamaoka from the Silent Hill 2 and 3 soundtracks.

12 Aug 2004 | Jeni said...

Lately, I've been listening to old favorites. Hybrid (Wide Angle, the live disc from Wider Angle, and Remixes and Addtional Production...); Conjure One, Conjure One (the side project of Rhys Fulber of Delerium, with appearances by Poe and Sinead O'Conner); VNV Nation; Radiohead; APC; and a random assortment of drum 'n bass and trance. I'll occasionally throw in something lighter for those times when I'm too hyped up for a lot of bass - Azure Ray, Tori Amos, and Ani Difranco all stay on pretty high rotiation.

12 Aug 2004 | Eamon said...

When I really need to focus during an all-night session, I pick one song and play it over and over and over for 6 or 7 hours. At some point, I'll completely freak out, and that's when I know I'm too exhausted and distracted to keep working. A remix of Kelis' "Milkshake" was the latest track I played in such a fashion.

12 Aug 2004 | Shawn said...

R. Carlos Nakai - Native American flute music.

Any pop music (Britney, Maroon5, Kelis, Christina, Tatu) nothing of intellegence to distract you there.

Flogging Molly / The Tossers / The Chancers for deadlines.

Soundtracks: Black Hawk Down, Monsoon Wedding, Animatrix, Hedwig And The Angry Inch, Dream With The Fishes

When working in teams... my entire music collection on random...

12 Aug 2004 | Don Schenck said...

Shawn, GOOD CALL on the Nakai music! I love that native flute music, but can't listen to it any more because it revives memories of when I suffered from deep, deep depression. But great music, nonetheless.

12 Aug 2004 | Scrambler said...

I guess I'm from the music dark ages.

Billy Holiday
Alice Cooper
Jim Croce
Van Morrison
John Lee Hooker
Albert Collins
Annie Lennox
The Beatles
Beethoven9th-B (awsome)

12 Aug 2004 | indi said...

Reading through this thread has made me feel really out of touch with current and recent music. Are a lot of the artists mentioned here well known ... or are they obscure but good? I suppose it's probably a combination of the two .... *sigh*

12 Aug 2004 | ComputerGeek75 said...

Designing & Coding = Nine Inch Nails, Rob Zombie, Seether, Switchfoot, Alice in Chains, Nirvana. Make it loud, it covers up the rest of the noise in this place. Make it fast, I type faster (strange but true).
Of couse I'll put this into the cd player at home to fall asleep to as well. Nothing puts me to sleep quite like Pretty Hate Machine.

12 Aug 2004 | Don Schenck said...

Scrambler -- Van Morrison rules! And Annie Lennox has THE PERFECT voice of all time. Good choices (IMHO).

12 Aug 2004 | John Bedard said...

When I get too serious and need to lighten up I queue up Beatallica ( Otherwise it's a lot of hard rock, techno and a smattering of hip hop.

12 Aug 2004 | Alex T said...

A Perfect Circle
Nine Inch Nails
In Flames
Frontline Assembly (though I can only work along to the Civilization album)
music from Shenmue (especially the orchestra CD)

Also, I've found that anything that I know the words and tune of and can sing along with helps - I guess it occupies the parts of your brain that aren't working and stops them from bothering the parts that are?

12 Aug 2004 | Don Schenck said...

Yeah anyway ... why IS it that listening to music can actually help a person design or code rather than distract them? Hmmmmm ...

13 Aug 2004 | Ken Pratt said...

I find that ambient, electronic, and light hip-hop are the easiest genres to concentrate to. I would heavily recommend dZihan & Kamien to anyone who hasn't heard of this amazing duo. Thievery Corporation, DJ Shadow, RJD2 and all in heavy rotation as is an amazing electro-jazz album called St Germain Des Pres Cafe Volume 4.

13 Aug 2004 | Tom said...

Apart from the assorted ambient and chilled electronica already heavily mentioned, I like to work to jazz, mostly swing, bebop and groovy. Plenty of Ellington, Basie, Mingus, Gillespie, Jimmy Smith, and some Raymond Scott thrown in for twisted genius.

Those guys getting creative on your ass in real-time is always inspiring.

13 Aug 2004 | zzen said...

I don't know about design, but as far as coding is concerned, it depends on the time of day or night for me.

During the day, jazz and swing work for me (similar stuff as Tom mentions).
During the night sessions, when everything is quite, I prefer ambient electro.

My secret red-hot tip is Plastikman. Especially the Closer and Consumed albums really drive me ecstatic into my work.

13 Aug 2004 | RS said...

My secret red-hot tip is Plastikman.

aka Richie Hawtin. Good stuff. If you dig Plastikman, I highly recommend Thomas Brinkmann. He's on Kompakt and Max Ernst (his own label), and he's partly responsible for the whole German minimal thing. Kompakt has a lot of good stuff in general.

13 Aug 2004 | Charles said...

I'm of the jazz and hip-hop school of thought. If I'm working on the creative design aspect I almost always have some sort of jazz playing, usually Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck or The Modern Jazz Quartet. Something from after the swing era but before free jazz. If I'm working on code then it's almost always hip-hop... something to help me feel like I'm partying instead of doing code if the coding is going well, something to help me feel like I can beat the crap out of anybody or anything if the coding is going poorly.

If I'm really stumped on either side, it's time for more modern classical: Shoshtakovich, Stravinsky or Schoenberg. There's nothing like Schoenberg's twelve-tone rows to knock me out of my comfortable existence.

14 Aug 2004 | jh said...

Gould playing Bach instantly puts me in the zone for almost any kind of work I have to do at my own keyboard (Apple Extended II, not Steinway unfortunately). Book II of The Well-Tempered Clavier, the first volume of the English Suites (No. 2 in A minor is a kind of adrenaline shot to thought processes it seems), and, of course, The Goldberg Variations. All of them some of the best music to think by ever composed, but with Bach, there's plenty more where that came from.

Neville Marriner conducted a terrific recording of Mozart's early symphonies (good earlier-in-the-day music), and Rostropovich and Richter playing Beethoven's sonatas for piano and cello can make me work better, too.

The Desert Music (Steve Reich) gets played somewhat regularly. The Kronos Quartet playing Kevin Volans does something nice for alpha waves.

Django Reinhardt, Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington et al if the work's coming more easily.

16 Aug 2004 | Chuck Farley said...

Radical, mellow, indie type shtuff.

17 Aug 2004 | monkeyinabox said...

Acid Mothers Temple

18 Aug 2004 | jim louderback said...

Grateful Dead, really loud. Or SKB.

Of course that's probably why my site sucks...

18 Aug 2004 | Don Schenck said...

Jim ... wow ... your site *is* ugly! I don't feel so bad now!


Must be the old-guy music we listen to, eh?

18 Aug 2004 | blong said...

Following up on the Richie Hawtin tip, his DE9: Closer to the Edit mix will help keep anyone's nose to the grindstone. 53 minutes at a tempo and intensity perfect for coding or other computer work nonsense.

08 Sep 2004 | JohnyB said...

Millencolin, Lagwagon, Mad Caddies, Papa Roach, Pennywise, Jaksi Taksi (CZ), Ine Kafe (SK), Wohnout (CZ) -- depends on mood, weather, client/task ;) etc. ...

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