Music to Program By


Image By J E Theriot

One of my favorite parts of my job as a programmer is the ability to listen to music all day long.  One day I might be in the mood for some chill indie rock and the next I’ll cue up some dubstep.  I’ve even been known to declare some weeks as 90s R&B week.  I still have a hard keeping the emotions in when I hear some good Boyz II Men.  Music is incredibly inspiring, and speaks to us on a level much deeper than words.  I find a good song can inject a surge of motivation that bubbles up from depths I was previously unaware of.  Maybe that’s comes from the fact that I’m also a musician, but either way, motivation is good.
It’s a curious phenomenon, but I find that a lot of us in the engineering world are also musicians.  If anyone can offer up some reading or research on why that is, I’d be interested in hearing some theories.  My unscientific theory is that an engineer primary uses the left half of their brain nearly all day long.  We are constantly problem solving, often dealing with black and white issues that have a clear right and wrong answer.  At the end of the day, the right half of our brain is crying out for some usage.  We need some outlet for creativity and dealing with shades of gray.  Music presents a nice way to move away from our computer desks and exercise the other half of our brain.  I am convinced we need a good balance in our life to truly be satisfied.
There are days when I get a little bored of the same music though.  I have a tendency to latch onto something I like and listen to it until I realize I’m pretty tired of it.  With so many music services out there, many of them being free, there’s really no excuse for this.  So I figured I’d highlight a few of my favorite services and stations that I listen to while programming, in hopes that you might be spurred to discover some new music for yourself.  I would love to hear suggestions on other people’s favorite stations to listen to while programming, so I, too, can avoid getting stuck in a musical rut.


My favorite service for discovering new music is Songza.  I prefer Songza because the playlists are curated by real people, and often times present a much better match for my musical preference than any other.  Plus, they offer activity and mood based stations, which is kind of fun.  I’m not sure what criteria they use to choose a playlist for “Doing Housework”, but they manage to find songs that really do seem to fit the activity.  In fact, there are actually playlists for “coding”, and they are pretty great to program by.  Overall, the choice of music is great, and does the best job of presenting music that I will likely enjoy.
I used to listen to Pandora a lot, but lately I’ve found that it lacks some diversity in it’s choice of songs.  Just because I want to listen to music based on Mumford and Sons, it doesn’t mean I only want to listen to acoustic guitar based rock with a banjo in it.  I know there are ways to add variety to stations, but it seems a bit hit or miss to come up with a station that plays what you want it to.  In all, there seems to be a human element missing in Pandora’s dj algorithms.
So what are some of my favorite Songza station to listen to while programming?  Here’s a list, along with Songza’s description of the station

  1. Blogged 50 – We read all the music blogs so you don’t have to. Updated weekly, these are the songs that indie music blogs love.
  2. Liquid Dubstep – Looking for a chilled-out take on that brain-splitting, wobbly bass? Liquid dubstep combines ambient soundscapes with beautiful melodies and, of course, visceral bass lines.
  3. Cool New Music: Summer 2013 – Highlights from the critically acclaimed albums released in the summer of 2013. Updated weekly with brand new music that you won’t hear on the radio.
  4. Coffee Shop Indie – Accessible indie tunes that should be the soundtrack for your favorite local coffee shop.
  5. Alt-Pop Workout – These fun and upbeat songs from the alternative side of the pop music spectrum will keep you energized while you exercise.

Album Listening

Every so often, while listening to Songza, I’ll come across a song that I really like.  When this happens, I’ll thumbs up it.  Unfortunately, I don’t think Songza offers a way to view a list of favorited songs (I wish they would), so I also make a note of it.   At this point, I turn to Spotify to let me listen to the artist’s whole catalog.  I figure if I like an individual song, I’ll probably like the whole album.  That’s doesn’t always hold true, but it’s a good place to start.  So I’ll generally pull up the whole album that the song is a part of, and listen to it start to finish.  It’s nice to get a sense of the artist in the context of a whole album, as it represents a cohesive work of art more than a single song does.   If I get through the album and still really like the artist, then I’ve got a nice favorite artist to add to my rotation.  Now I can go back to Songza and find stations that feature this new favorite artist, and discover more great music that I will probably like.  It’s the circle of life.  It moves us all.
Spotify does cost money, as do most streaming music services that claim to offer the whole world’s music catalog in it’s entirety.  But for less than the price of one CD each month, I am surprised that anyone still buys CDs.  If you figure up the fact that I can listen for 40 hours a week, 4 weeks a month, for less than $10, it’s comes out to pennies per hour.  Well worth it, IMHO.
So go ahead, get out of your musical rut.  The world is full of good music, and us programmers have a great opportunity to discovery lots of it.  I’m montanajob on Songza, so feel free to follow me and we can discover together.

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