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Ask HN: What do you listen to when you code?
13 points by zaphar on Mar 22, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 30 comments
I find that different people use widely different music styles to help get into their coding flow.

What do you typically use when you are starting a coding session?

For myself I prefer Metal/Rock from bands like: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disciple_(band)

Richard Williams (of Roger Rabbit fame)wrote an excellent book about animation called "The Animator's Survival Kit". In it he describes (illustrated with beautiful caricature) how he once asked Milt Kahl (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milt_Kahl)

"Milt, do you ever listen to classical music when you're working?"

Kahl is illustrated as turning back from his work, towering over Williams and bellowing

"Of all the s-s-s-stupid god-god-god-damned questions I-I-I-I've ever heard! I-I-I-I-NEVER heard such a-a-a-f-f-f-f-stupid question! Iy-Iy-Iy-Iy-I'm not smart enough to think of more than one thing at a time!"

The author is then pictured with "Animation is concentration" written across the back of his shirt.

I tend to agree with this sentiment when it comes to programming. If you can't have quiet, find a place where you can to start new projects. Music is to be enjoyed, and I enjoy music most when it's the thing I focus most on. I can listen to music when cleaning, but not when programming (or cooking).

I can relate to the cooking part. :-)

I have a "boom box" (what are those called, these days?) in the kitchen, and I'll listen to it while doing basic prep work, stirring, etc. But when it comes to adding spices and testing for taste, I have to mute it. If I leave it on, it is a mental struggle to relate what I am adding (not just items, but also hand-measured quantities) to past experience and to fully perceive what I am tasting (particularly as I am looking to adjust and optimize, and not just enjoy a finished preparation).

I also need to turn the music way down or off during various parts of cooking. For example, when I am frying up meat and waiting for the right time to add onions, either sound from the pan helps me adjust heat, stirring/flipping, and timing; or silence allows me to better focus my concentration on same. Another example, when bringing something to a boil, I am using sound and not just visual appearance to judge progress.

Richard Williams (of Roger Rabbit fame)wrote an excellent book about animation called "The Animator's Survival Kit".

Upvoted. As an fan of animation this is indeed an excellent book.

Another one I particularly enjoyed is "The Illusion of Life" - particularly the early chapters in which the authors describe describe Walt Disney Studios during their startup days.

Fascinating stuff.


Sometimes classic Coltrane era Jazz, sometimes 70'-80's-90's rock amalgam, sometimes acoustic guitar (Kaki King, Doyle Dykes, other non-alliteratively named artists), sometimes trance/electronica. I like to kid myself I play bass guitar, so sometimes a custom-built bass guitar heavy station.

As someone else mentioned though, mostly nothing. I find it easier to concentrate.

Silence. I rarely listen to music when I'm working, because I like music, and when it's playing I pay attention to it. And then I can't work.

Eno's music for airports, other ambient stuff, Philip glass and Steve Reich. Mostly, i walk around with my Shure IEM jammed into my ears so i can't hear anything.





I have a wide array of taste, but when working, I primarily listen to metal. The key here is something with a fast and steady beat, which really gets me into the groove.

It's hard to automatically classify this kind of music, so I have a half-dozen or so hand-made playlists, each around an hour long.

The music is for when I know what needs to be done and just have to sit down and do it. When I'm thinking about a problem, silence is what I need.

I have a playlist of similar stuff labeled "Chill Metal". Bands include: Isis, Arsis, God is an Astronaut, etc. Excellent stuff for coding/studying.

Silence. mostly it is easier to grasp new ideas and form new designs this way.

And then, Iron Man Soundtrack or Matrix soundtrack, or Linkin Park. This is for when I know what I am doing, and it just needs to be coded. Like, doing tests, fixing bugs, testing new features, pretty much all coding which doesn't require any help.

I go with SomaFM.com's Groove Salad, as most of the music is without words, so no distraction.

I listen to music without words since with them I tend to try and listen too closely. However, music with indecipherable words or repetitive phrases are OK. Right now I'm listening to mostly:

Grouper, Burial, Ricardo Villalobos, Ahmad Jamal, Bill Evans, some classical sprinkled in, Ben Frost, Julianna Barwick, Black to Comm, Eno's Ambient stuff, Stars of the Lid, Magma, Boards of Canada, Gas, Leyland Kirby, Rachmininov, Zelienople, Belbury Poly, Mt. Vernon Arts Lab, Basic Channel, Eno-Moebius-Roedelius, Fursaxa, Jannick Top, Philip Glass, Wouter Veldhuis, and Montauk

Sometimes I think thats why Meta/Heavy rock works so well for me. It's easy to ignore the lyrics in the song and the vocals seem more like just another instrument.

If it's something I need to focus on and think all the way through, either silence or light classical.

If it's a trivial but time-consuming let's-wire-A-to-B-to-C kind of task, then I'll put on an interview podcast (e.g. NPR's Fresh Air or something techy like The Changelog). Those don't require the same level of attention as an audiobook or an information-dense podcast like Radiolab.

Whatever the Coffee-shop or Lounge I'm into has, usually some form of lounge or ambient music.

When at home I don't have a particular style. If it's quiet, I'm OK with that.

When it's noisy (usually some neighbor's dogs or own music) I just pick the album I'm currently into and loop that. Nowadays, for some reason, I'm listening to the the Twin Peaks sound track by Angelo Badalamenti.

I load up all of DJ River's Ambient Chillout mixes and his Colored room series (Blue room, Green room, etc) and hit "random".

He was an excellent mixer and I feel sad that he (apparently) has quit. He recently let his site djriver.com lapse but you can still get his stuff through iTunes or torrent.

Metal and Jazz, sometimes Country. Metallica to Cat Powers to Django Reinhardt to Travis Tritt to Sepultura to Ida Maria to Godsmack to Opeth to Jennifer Holliday to Jeff Buckley to Rise Against to Jesse Dee to Pantera to Stone Sour to Paul Brandt to Hank Mobley, etc., etc., etc.

BBC Radio 1/2/4, set at a lowish volume. I used to listen to podcasts, but I never actually listened to them, I'd not even realise they'd ended, it was just background noise. I now save the podcasts for design sessions, where I don't tend to zone out as much.

Dub Step from http://soundcloud.com/. I can't imagine it might work for many people but that's what really gets me moving.

Dubstep here as well. Ambient dub is the best music I've ever coded to; Dirty dubstep for when that gets boring :)

Mostly classical music, definitely with no lyrics - this helps me to stay concentrated. But sometimes I prefer much stronger music: metal, rock.

Checkout Shpongle. It's great chillout. I hear anything that goes in the mood, from Heavy Metal like Gojira to Pop/Rock like K's Choice.

Thanks for this thread, I was just thinking about this myself and was going to ask HN... figured I'd check the ASK section first.

I don't feel like listening to music when I'm coding, especially songs, it may disturb my thoughts.

I listen to post-rock (instrumental) most of the time, and Dragonforce when I really need a boost.

http://di.fm usually the trance channel

nature stuff for the space. i like listening to recordings of thunderstorms.

Bach bay (or Batch!)


Works great for me.

Mostly I listen to a lot of reggae, ska, and punk .. Operation Ivy being a favorite that seems to help motivate me.

As easily distractible as I am, a great set of noise-canceling headphones is a must. They help me control my adhd and block external interference. I really recommend the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7's. I pretty much already have them on when I code. http://bit.ly/9FCd5e talks about them a bit more.

Pandora QuickMix of Sound Dimensions, Ratatat and Menahan Street Band, at very low volume.

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