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What are your top 3 focus songs?

graciegregory profile image Gracie Gregory (she/her) ・3 min read

At the risk of sounding like a Martian that got plopped into Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 2004 and is trying to blend in... I'm getting back into playlists.

A lot of my job involves writing, and it can be hard to focus on creating NEW words if I'm hearing ones sung by someone else (— my brain kinda prioritizes Kate Bush's voice over my own thoughts as it should). I do love certain instrumental artists/styles but generally, I'm a bigger fan of songs with lyrics. Because of this, I often forget to even seek out music for tasks wherein melodic sounds would actually help with the task at hand.

But recently, a good friend of mine went through a breakup and I did what any good friend would do... I made a ton of playlists for her to get through it! I remembered how obsessively I used to curate playlists, and how amazing they are for focusing on a feeling, daydream, or goal. Now that I'm a working lady with words to sling, this experience got me back in the mood to make some great work playlists for my non-writing tasks.

So I'm curious... what are your top 3 favorite songs to work to? Coding or otherwise? Fill my playlist!

Here are my picks

1. Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush

Yep, I'm a huge K.B. fan. I think of her as a glorious 80s witch that belongs in the terrifying dark fantasy world of Return to Oz (anyone? anyone? Don't watch that movie alone if you've never seen it. It's supposed to be a kids movie but it's pure terror but visually pretty awesome).

Why it helps me focus: There's something about the electronics in this song that are really conducive to focusing on more repetitive tasks. And there's enough vague, cool imagery in there that allows certain types of work to fly by. Kate's a queen — and a surprisingly good work-companion. Can I also just say that I am PRAYING for that collab between Kate and Big Boi?!
Kate Bush
All hail the other royal Kate! Image courtesy of Stephen Luff.

2. Time by Jungle

Jungle rules and if you haven't checked out their eponymous debut album and INCREDIBLE music videos (when you don't have a ton of work to crank out)... walk, don't run.

Why it helps me focus: It's cheerful and upbeat (pun neither intended or not intended) but also has the refrain of "time" in it which it motivating on a subconscious level when you have to get stuff done.

Jungle
I both highly agree and highly disagree with this YouTube comment.

3. Walkaway Blues by M83

It's weird that I can multitask while listening to M83 because I have some great memories from a few of their live shows and I'd think it would send me into a Scrubs-style flashback. Instead, I have finished many an assignment listening to their 2016 album, Junk.

Why it helps me focus: Lots of '80s-elements in here, too. It makes sense that synth/electronic music helps me (and many other people) do work related to tech, I guess! There are some crazy electric guitar solos in here (emphasis on electric ⚡)

M83
M83 @ Electric Factory, Philadelphia, 08/01/2012 — Image courtesy of Vladimir on Flickr at philadelphia_live


What else should I add to my focus playlist? And why?

P.S. Yes, I fully get the irony of spending precious time writing about songs that help me focus. Let me live.

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graciegregory profile

Gracie Gregory (she/her)

@graciegregory

Content Manager @ DEV. "You know what this sentence needs? An Em dash!" - Me to me

Discussion

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It's not everyone's cup of tea but I quite like extreme metal when I'm coding. It wasn't something I listened to much before but I find that the heavy repetitive sounds get me into a rhythm. Most of all there's no distracting vocals - just a death growl or scream! It works for me anyway.

 

On a similar note, I love listening to classical music and jazz while doing focused work.

 

Totally.

I only recently discovered the incredible work of Joseph Bologne — a Black classical composer who (of course) I was never taught about in school. Apparently Mozart was extremely envious of Bologne and even stole one of his ideas in his Sinfonia Concertante!

I have just looked him on wiki! Incredible that someone so accomplished isn't more widely known. (Well, perhaps it's not so 'incredible' but that's another issue, I guess.)

 

Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Antonin Dvorak, and Dmitri Shostakovich get my creative juices flowing.

Kind of Blue is great coding music.

 

I love light Jazz while coding.

 

Chainsaw death metal is a must. Groovy to get the rythme, growly to not get disturbed by the vocals. My tops are Bloodbath and Entombed (of course), but also Krypts, Chthe'ilist, Undergang, Solothus...

Some atmospheric black metal (and shoegaze) bands are also a good way to stay focus without being over pumped up or excited. (Glaciation, Alceste, Downfall of Nur, Mgla, Kval, Spectral Lore and Mare Cognitium)

 

Opeth was my favorite band (until Haken just overtook them with the release of Virus on Friday), but their earlier growls-only stuff (everything before Still Life) puts me to sleep. I like it, it's just not nearly as engaging as Mikael's melodic vocals whether he mixes them with growls (Still Life - Watershed except Damnation) or not (Damnation and everything since Watershed).

 

I have heard of Opeth but not Haken. I will check them out! I was always more into classic rock (Black Sabbath, Motorhead etc) but over the last year or so moved into the darker sound. MGLA currently the band I'm listening to most while I work.

Unlike Opeth, Haken has always been prog with mostly or completely melodic vocals (though their earlier stuff has bits and pieces of a Faith No More/Mr. Bungle influence).

 

I've actually heard this from a lot of my dev friends/colleagues! I haven't explored the genre much but I should start :) Thanks!

 

How about cinematic music? No vocals, pure focus.
It has to be hans zimmer.
Hero - Kung fu Panda
Dark knight theme
Lone Ranger - Overture

 

I'm with you on that
Hans Zimmer - Mountains (Interstellar)
Daft Punk - Rinzler (Tron Legacy)
Nier Automata - Memories of Dust

 

I've gotta check these out, thanks!

 

If we're going with Hans Zimmer then The Amazing Spiderman 2 theme.

 

That's an amazing suggestion. This list should have top 10.

 

Hard second this. The Spiderman 2 score is amazing and I haven't even seen it.

 

I really gravitate to metal and hard rock when I need to get things done. These three tracks are super motivational to me and the lyrics on all of them are super great!

 
 

I’ve been listening to a lot of Survive this year. I also love Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ collabs.

 
 

Both discs of The Fragile together (still my fav album of all time). Great for getting a large chunk of work done. That album is such a journey.

 

I like irregular music to work to. I often search Spotify for phrases like Avant Garde classical or free jazz. It's not the sort of stuff I listen to in my leisure time but it helps me focus. Other times I've listened to audio books in languages I don't understand, use archive.org for this. It sounds weird but I find it really helps

 

That's super interesting. I'd be curious to know the psychology behind irregular background sounds helping folks focus (and sleep!)

 

I normally prefer instrumental progressive metal. I find many albums flow nicely so I have favourite focus albums rather than specific tracks. My most read post on here is about this:

If I have to pick 3 tracks, they'd be:
1- Seven Insignia by Sunset in the 12th House
2- Station by Russian Circles
3- (II) by Toundra (the full album 😅)

 

Don't have specific songs, but Cyberpunk 2077 music is great. Also anything by Rammstein (I don't even try to understand the lyrics). Finally, the new Doom soundtrack is great for some metal in the background.

 

If I had to choose songs to focus I guess I would reach for the latest album of Nightwish. Since english is not my native language the lyrics don't distract me, Floor Jansen's voice becomes another beautiful sound that blends well with the music. Here are the songs I would choose.

 
 

Hmmm... top 3 is too tough, but I'll concede to top 3 for where my heads at today.

  1. Fela Kuti & Ginger Baker's "Let's Start" — this tune kicks off an excellent live album, aptly titled Live!

  2. I really dig working to the film director/composer of rad synth sounds John Carpenter's tunes as they definitely scratch that 80's itch. I totally relate to your line "It makes sense that synth/electronic music helps me (and many other people) do work related to tech, I guess!" I think it does! 😀 The theme for Escape From New York has been one of my go-tos recently. Here's a really cool live-in-the-studio version too.

  3. "The Man in Me" by Bob Dylan has been a regular for me recently as I'm learning to play this one. It's just a really awesome tune and it doesn't hurt that it was featured in The Big Lebowski — linking to the soundtrack because it's so good.

 

Yessss great list. The Escape From NY theme is so good and is perfect for this purpose.

 

Uhm, what about:
1) Complete silence;
2) If unattainable, white noise
3) If no silence and no white noise, scream "shut up!!" and recurse

BTW Hans Zimmer rocks! But I would lose myself in the music, I cannot listen to it while coding

 
 

I like to listen to lo-fi trip hop when needing to focus on something : )

 
 

For me, lyrics aren't a problem as long as the music is intricate enough to keep them from taking over. On that note, below is my recent post about the new Haken release. It feels like an instant 50 point IQ boost for me. They're at the top of my list of "flow" state music.

dev.to/stereoplegic/tunes-for-brai...

 
 

I am all about playlists too! I still listen to ones I made 10+ years ago 😆. I made a couple different writing playlists that have a collection of downtempo and instrumental songs (Tycho, Explosions in the Sky, M83, The Album Leaf, etc.) and also instrumental songs from movies (like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Those playlists help me get in the writing zone. :)

 

Ignoring the rule of three coz
I AM REBEL

Default case:- Stuff by the red hot chili peppers
Good bye angel
Rain dance Maggie
Look around
Other side

When deadline is far away and work is chill:-childish Gambino's
red bone
feels like summer

When I need an evil plan to conquer the world:-
Rammenstien's Engel, Deutschland, feur feil
Metallica's king nothing,
Slipknot's psyco social (banjo cover)

 
  1. Paid My Dues - NF
  2. Faucet Failure - Ski Mask
  3. Keep It Mello - Marshmello
 

Dej Loaf - Desire
Era - Ameno
Dej Loaf - Liberated

 

Hey,
You may want to try functional music like brain.fm -> it works really good for focusing.

 

Oooh, it's been Metallica recently (Death Magnetic) but also some Photek or Squarepusher I find is good for focusing.

 

This is the song that I listen to the most while I'm coding.
cover

 

Ah, I love this. Thanks for sharing!

 

Normally, I listen Lofi, Blues or Hip-Hop classics from 80-90y

 
 

I’ve been listening to RATM while working lately. Work has been incredibly long and tiring and endless lately and so I need more adrenaline.