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Environment Is Everything: Music Edition.

by David Yates

I’m a software engineer. My job involves long days of staring at a computer screen, typing away at a keyboard, and I’m a firm believer that environnment is everything. Wether it’s your home life, work life and code repositories, I genuinely believe that the environment you work in can have a huge impact on your productivity and happiness. So much so that over time I’ve developed these kinds of “rules” about the types of music I listen to depending on whichever environment I’m in. Now most people will do this anyway, heck, playlists aren’t anything new, but when it comes to the music I listen to at work I started discovering certain things about my productivity depending on the music I listened to.

Like I said, I spend a long time every day staring at a computer screen. A long time spent in focus. I’ve found that the music I listen to while I’m in focus mode has to be very specific. I can’t listen to music with lyrics, I can’t listen to music with a lot of variation, and I can’t listen to music that’s too loud. I need music that’s very consistent, very repetitive, and very calm.

There was another time in my life when all of these criteria applied, and that was when I was a child playing video games. Thinking about it now I’m wondering if a childhood playing video games at length somehow primed me for this job way before I started writing small pieces of JavaScript.

If you think about, the sound engineers working on video games have quite a hard job to job to do. While someone making a hit record has to engage their users for just 3 or 4 minutes, a sound engineer (or team of sound engineers) need to create music and ambience that will engage their players for hours, days or even longer. They must create music that just does not bore their listener. yet the music still needs to be repetitive (sometimes to be looped) and consistent (so that the player can focus on the game).

Of course not every video game fits the mold either, and not because they aren’t good soundtracks (looking at you, Doom). Some games are just too fast paced, or too action packed to have a soundtrack that fits the mold. For the most part, I’ve found that video games centred around RPG’s, or adventure games tend to have the best soundtracks for my work environment. I have my own exceptions, for example Metal Gear Solid is one of my all time favourite games, and captures an atmosphere quite unlike any game I can think of.

I’m not the only one who thinks this:

It’s not always video games, I do like to throw in bits of Future Garage, or other minimal dub heavy styles of music - and minimal is the key word here. Much like the code I write, a good piece of music should be as much as it needs, and no more.

Much like anything in life, YMMV when it comes to something as esoteric as music preference. I’ve known engineers happily tapping along to Deathcore, Deep house, and even the occasional bit of classical music. I’ve also known engineers who can’t stand music at all, and prefer to work in silence. I’m not here to tell you what you should listen to, I’m just here to tell you why I listen to what I do.

Here’s some excellent resources for finding some of music I like to code to:

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