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The Best Music for Productivity

The Best Music for Productivity

Written by

James Picken


September 1, 2023



What type of music should we listen to if we want to be productive? Let's take a look.

We all know the feeling - you sit down at your desk, your to-do list longer than your arm. You have the best intentions, turn on the tunes… but you just can’t get in the head space. It’s possible that your music choices are having an impact. 

According to a survey by TotalJobs, 79% of people can boost their productivity by listening to music, and 37% of Spotify’s survey respondents noted audio as the number one key driver to success during productivity moments. 

So, what is the best type of music to listen to for productivity? Although there is a huge element of personal preference, we wanted to share our recommendations. 

Classical Music

It’s hard to talk about the impact of classical music on our productivity without talking about the “Mozart Effect”. The phrase was coined after a 1993 paper claimed that people perform better on certain spatial tasks, such as folding paper, after listening to Mozart for 10 minutes.

Now, we know that this research has been looked at over and over, and we’re not saying that listening to classical music will make you a genius. But there’s no denying that it’s an incredibly popular genre of music to listen to when we’re trying to be productive. 

A big reason why classical music can make us work more efficiently is the lack of lyrics. Distraction is the enemy of productivity, and music which is word-heavy can lead to our brain not focusing as much on the task in front of us. It’s just enough ear-candy to stimulate our brains, but not too much to make us sing along. 

An experiment was even conducted on four office workers - they were asked to transcribe two 600-word sets of song lyrics. The first set were transcribed with no music playing, while the other was completed with classical music playing in the background. The first task, completed in silence, was completed in an average time of 20 minutes and 59 seconds. However, the second transcription exercise that involved music was completed in an average time of 17 minutes and 42 seconds.

Provided the music has a calm, regular beat, it can actually help us to stay calm, reducing our stress, slowing our heartrate, and moderating our pulse. This makes it easier for us to focus on the task at hand rather than entering into ‘flight or fight’ mode, in which it can be very difficult to think clearly because of our elevated levels of adrenaline and cortisol.

- Dr. Spelman.

Ambient Noises

Ambient noise is essentially background noise - it can range from noises like rain and ocean sounds, to things like brown, white and pink noise. It’s used to mask loud noises, improve focus and productivity. 

According to psychophysical data and sound-field analysis published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, listening to “natural” sounds could enhance cognitive functioning, optimise your ability to concentrate, and increase your level of satisfaction. 

The positive impact of ambient noise on our productivity is a big reason why so many of us are working from places like coffee shops, rather than from home or in a traditional office. 

The idea of stochastic resonance helps to prove that background noise can improve concentration and decision-making ability - it is often thought that adding more noise to an already distracting environment will have a negative impact, but studies have shown that adding an optimal amount of background noise can help with focus. 

Lo-Fi Music 

A popular subgenre of electronic music, thousands of people all over the world use the relaxing rhythms lo-fi music to help them concentrate on studies or work and to relax.

Lo-fi music, or low-fidelity music, is typically built around "imperfections" like incorrect notes, background noise, and low-quality audio—all of which were traditionally frowned upon by mainstream music.

Most lo-fi tunes are instrumental, influenced by genres like boom-bap, jazz, funk, and electronic. Tracks often use looped samples and hip-hop beats to encourage feelings of relaxation, positive emotions, and nostalgia. They can often also include sounds of animals, nature, the sea, disco noise, or recordings from day to day life.

Those flaws or low hums can help to put the brain in the mindset to focus, can help drown out distracting noise, and create a calm atmosphere to be more productive. 69% of respondents to a Spotify survey said ambient or chill music is better for productivity. 

You may be familiar with the iconic ‘lo-fi’ girl on the cover art of a lot of the playlists in this genre - and it’s incredibly popular. For example, at the time of writing, this live stream has over 668 million views. 

Interestingly, these first three recommendations are reflected in actual listening activity; three of the most popular playlists within the Spotify Focus Hub across the globe at the time of writing are Music for Concentration (piano based), lofi beats, and White Noise 10 Hours.

Video Game and Film Soundtracks

There’s one thing that we all have to do when playing a video game or watching a film - focus. 

Video game music selections are often very strategic in helping you stick to the task, complete the level and feel motivated to push on. One study even found that participants who played “Twilight Princess (Legend of Zelda)” with the music and sound effects on performed better than those who played with them off. 

Film scores are also composed with the intention of keeping audiences engaged and in-the-moment, without being too distracting. And let’s be real, they can be quite epic - who doesn’t want to feel like they’re in the climax of a blockbuster in the middle of the working day?

There’s one thing that all these types of music/sound have in common - they’re instrumentals. So, the key thing to focus on when picking something to listen to and be more productive, is a lack of lyrics to help with your concentration levels. These are the genres we’d recommend, but it’s all up to personal preference - let’s get productive! 

Hey, we've just met you and this is crazy. But here's our number +44 (0)203 397 7676. So, call us maybe? Or get in touch here.

The Best Music for Productivity

James Picken

Creative Director at Startle. It's my job to produce and execute our music output, making sure everything is sounding, feeling and performing just right for our customers. When I'm not doing this, you can find me either walking my dog, remixing 90s divas on Logic Pro X, returning overdue library books or throwing weights about in the gym.

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Hey, we've just met you and this is crazy. But here's our number +44 (0)203 397 7676. So, call us maybe?

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