May 20, 2015

Written by

Tyler Hayes


Sarah Book

You’re always listening to something while you work — after all, none of us lives in a silent vacuum. Sometimes the sounds are obvious, other times subtle. Whether it’s a summer baseball game on the TV, cars passing by outside the window, or a favorite Pandora station that helps keep the concentration while typing away in front of a screen, there’s usually something “on.”

It’s been studied and proven that most people are more productive with ambient noise. Though, lots of people do prefer some kind of music. The problem is that whatever your soundtrack sweet spot is, there’s usually not enough variety to sustain it over the long term and you’re frequently left searching for something new to assist your work time.

The question remains: What should you listen to? Here are some suggestions, along with quotes from a few writers about their favorite music to work to.

Mellow Music

I’ve found that most of the time I enjoy some mellow music. Not necessarily instrumentals, but calming music with low and subtle vocals which aren’t distracting. Something that can keep things flowing and moving.


Rdio playlists

iTunes Radio Playlists


Instrumentals might seem a little boring, but they don’t have to be. For example, Big Noble is the instrumental collaboration between Interpol’s Daniel Kessler and sound designer Joseph Fraioli. Their album First Light contains lots of unique sounds and recordings layered beautifully. Here are a few other instrumental starting points.


Rdio Playlists

iTunes Radio Playlists

Christmas radio in Kansas City is horrible. But I love to listen to Christmas music. […]

So I saved a new Pandora radio station built on the classic 1965 album, A Charlie Brown Christmas, where Vince Guaraldi and his trio do some great Christmas songs. From there Pandora does the rest, and I get hours and hours of instrumental and jazzy Christmas tunes.

Shawn Blanc


Sometimes you don’t want to listen to music, but you still need sound. Here are some apps, websites, and unique options to listen to.

  • Coffitivity — Ambient coffee shop recordings. Makes you feel like you’re in a cafe, no matter where you are.
  • Thunderspace — Stereoscopic thunderstorms app.
  • Chicago Avenue Moon — Cool iOS app that generates a melodic soundtrack based on your movements. Yes, it’s technically music and not ambient noises, but it seemed fitting to place it here among the other apps and services. Listen to a sample here.
  • Sound City Project — Accurate recordings from cities around the world.
  • Sunny — Stereoscopic ocean/beach sounds.
  • Noisli — A variety of customizable real-life sounds.
  • Noizio — Ambient sounds.

You’ll often see me sporting my B&W headphones, bobbing my head while fixated on my computer screen. Music — songs without lyrics that would otherwise distract me — helps me focus while working and adds delight to my day.

—Ryan Hoover, Product Hunt founder

Real Life

If all else fails, take the headphones off and try to appreciate the subtle sounds you might not notice on a daily basis.

I actually work in silence a lot of the time. I find music too distracting for writing and typically listen while walking or driving or doing something a little mindless. But if I do listen at work, it’s whatever new album I’m going to be writing about that week.”

—David Greenwald, The Oregonian music critic