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Listen While You Work

Brandy Porter

Big Nerd Ranch musicIt is all too easy to generalize the “Nerd” personality, but there is in fact incredible individuality across the board at Big Nerd Ranch. We have former physicists, civil engineers, nuclear submarine officers, gaming experts, opera singers, marathon runners and beer brewers on our team.

I get a kick out of stepping back and watching the hum of these brilliant minds working together to solve the world’s problems. But whenever we have to get work done, we put our headphones on and zone out. We go into our happy place where the rest of the room fades away and we are productive like well-oiled machines.

TUNING IN, ZONING OUT

What audio treasures transport these minds to the mental wavelengths of steady productivity? Well, I asked. And in true Nerd fashion, the answers were as unique as each person who responded. Nerds are passionate about music! Did you know there are layers and flavors of white noise? Or that disco is still alive?

Several Nerds invited me to view their current catalogs for the full breadth of musical interest. One Nerd gave me their entire Grooveshark index. “Dumped via a script [they] ran in the Firefox JS console,” of course. I would have been disappointed if it was any other way.

One of my favorite quotes: “Any kind of goofy dance music with a solid beat somewhere between 100 and 120 beats per minute usually hits the spot for me—it feels like it’s propelling me along.” I was given musical preferences for songs with specific BPMs!

One person listens to British comedy. There are many electronic, indie, psychedelic and experimental music lovers. J-Pop made it on the list from a few people. So did video game soundtracks. I love that Billie Holiday and Glen Miller made the list.

No distractions

The general consensus is that, for moments of concentration, music cannot have words. They are distracting, and steady electronic or ambient instrumentals are preferred. As one programmer put it, “For coding work, it is extremely important that the music be strongly rhythmic and hypnotic. It should drive the mind, but it should not demand conscious attention. I’m always looking for music that fits this mold, wherever it comes from.”

When creativity is happening, the landscape changes dramatically, as this programmer continues to explain. “Sometimes I like to listen to music when I’m writing, too. I wrote a fair amount of one of the Big Nerd Ranch programming guides while listening to a couple of Alan Parsons Project albums, but I finished it off listening to Dire Straits (all their albums, on loop).”

Personally, I’m in a similar boat as most Nerds. If I’m writing or concentrating, I may just put my noise-canceling headphones on without sound. Or I’ll listen to Sharon Isbin or Takenobu… something analog. But if I’m cranking on designs, I need some “angry” energy with The Glitch Mob, The Presets or Crystal Castles. They’re so familiar by now that my creative wavelengths get into the groove within the first few beats.

Music moves us. It can make us tense, relaxed, productive, distracted. I really enjoyed this observation, and can relate: “Listening to music while I work has completely altered the kind of music I listen to in general.” What do you listen to while you work?

Image courtesy of Andrew Jones

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