Updated By: Nick Peterson on Sat, Jan 03, 2015
I recently read an article by Ruth Blatt titled Using Music To Work More Effectively. The article outlines how veteran composer, producer, and arranger Joel Beckerman and writer Tyler Gray have defined audible productivity in their novel The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel, and Buy. Essentially, they define sound as an emotional engine that can be used to “rope in other sense, spark memories, tell rich stories with incredible efficiency – and most importantly, elicit feelings from listeners. As a marketer, the very thought about audible cues affecting everyday life decisions is absolutely mind-boggling. This is the kind of stuff I love to explore and understand. So, I did a mini-experiment with myself as the guinea pig. I used the article's example playlists in an effort to activate, motivate, produce, inspire, create, and calm myself. Below I've outlined my not-so-scientific results; after all, how does one technically measure an increase in productivity anyways? That question is for another blog. The playlists didn’t perform exactly as advertised, but the results were interesting nonetheless.
In the article, six different Spotify playlists are outlined – each designed specifically with one goal – to elicit specific feelings from the listener.
This playlist was certainly full of upbeat music, and most songs had a pretty common theme – conquering the next challenge. I could picture this playlist being used as motivation at the gym or jump-starting some weekend chores. Overall, my workflow and productivity didn't improve.
- Sleigh Bells - "Comeback Kid" - I really enjoy Sleigh Bells, so I was happy to see Comeback Kid on this playlist. They have a very interesting mix of rock, pop, and electronic. I’d recommend a listen!
- Muse - "Supremacy" - I’m a big Muse fan, and I think their music really puts me in a powerful mindset. Supremacy begins strong, then gets quiet before swelling to a wailing climax. Absolutely amazing song; I’m going to go listen to this entire album now.
- Royal Blood - "Figure It Out" - Royal Blood is one of my favorite new bands, so I’m probably biased because most of their songs put me in an active mood.
I enjoyed the overall feeling of this playlist. Lots of rock and alternative music that genuinely made me feel motivated. There were a few oddballs, but I think we could say this playlist was a success! I noticed my motivation increase, and I'm one step closer to world domination.
- Jack White - "High Ball Stepper" - Jack White’s grungy guitar is the perfect motivation to conquer the world!
- Beck - "E-Pro" - A classic get stuff done song. You’ll be hooked within the first 10 seconds, guaranteed.
- The Chemical Brothers - "Galvanize" - Old school DJ electronica mixed with hip-hop. So good! The consistent beat makes me want to power-through whatever I’m working on.
This playlist is a lot calmer than I expected. When I usually listen to productive music, my genre of choice is typically hip-hop or electronic – something with a steady beat. Music that changes tempo often commands my attention and distracts me from whatever I’m working on. Calm music usually doesn’t drown out outside distractions enough for me to become productive, which might have held this playlist back from being a success.
- Zeus - "Are You Gonna' Waste My Time?" - I like this song, but it’s distracting! I want to pay attention to the music more than my work.
- Jonsi & Alex - "Happiness" - Very calm and ethereal. My mind keeps wandering while listening to this song, which isn't helping me be productive!
- Olafur Arnalds - "Old Skin" - Really cool, slow-paced music. I’m putting this song on my relaxation playlist.
I may sound like a Grinch, but this playlist is much too happy and upbeat. It feels like I’m trapped in an Apple commercial. Did I feel more inspired? Not really. For a song to inspire me, I have to be wowed. The music needs to grab my attention and hold it like a vice grip. I want to marvel at the lyrics, songwriting, instrumentals, and vocals. To me, inspiring music isn’t simply upbeat; it possesses depth and soul. The results? Not my cup of tea.
- Imagine Dragons - "On Top Of the World" - I see what they’re going for, but Imagine Dragons really doesn’t fit my taste. I’ll give this one an A for effort.
- The Irrepressibles - "In This Shirt - Royksopp Remix" - This might be the only song on this playlist that I enjoyed. I enjoyed the vocals and instrumentals. For some reason violins and other string instruments strike me as inspiring.
- Arcade Fire - "Keep The Car Running" - Again, very upbeat. I’ve heard good things about Arcade Fire, but I couldn’t get into this song.
This playlist has a lot of songs that I’d define as strange. I think they are trying to tap into listeners’ creative mindset with off-kilter music. Most songs in this playlist don’t use common instruments, which I’m sure adds to the creative mindset. All-in-all, I didn't feel particularly creative listening to this playlist.
- Gorillaz - "White Flag" - One of my favorite Gorillaz songs! I love how the rappers (Bashy & Kano) alternate lyrics back and forth. I’d definitely classify this as a creative song.
- Can't Stop Won't Stop, SID - "NPR (feat. Sid)" - I really enjoy this song, but I’m not sure why it’s on the creative playlist! I feel much more motivated, or productive when listening to this song.
- Andrew Bird - "Hole in the Ocean Floor" - I think this song is very interesting. There aren’t any lyrics until very late in the song. Interpretation is left up to the listener, and the song isn’t overtly happy or sad. Let your creativity take over!
This playlist gave me mixed reactions. Some songs are definitely passive and downtempo. However, other songs weren’t exactly calming in my opinion. This was one of the larger playlists, so I’m sure there was a lot of different input on what makes a calming playlist. I'd say this playlist was somewhat successful.
- tUnE yArDs - "Powa" - Not an abrasive or aggressive song by any means, but I’m not really feeling calmed by this song. There are a lot of things I really enjoy about this song – vocals especially.
- Beck - Morning" - Yet another great Beck song. Appropriate to the playlist, it’s really calming and mellow.
- Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Porcelain" - One of the most calming Red Hot Chili Peppers songs I’ve heard. Very fitting for this playlist.
Overall, I'm still very curious about the possibilities behind behavior-altering music. After testing these playlists myself, I'm not completely sold on the playlists working as intended. I felt active and motivated, but not quite productive, inspired, creative, or calmed.
My conclusion? Certain moods are easier to trigger than others. Upbeat, enthusiastic music easily brings on feelings of positivity, determination, and encouragement. Feeling such as productivity, inspiration, and creativity are much harder to convey because they rely heavily on personal opinion and music taste.
So, whether you’re looking for music to help you conquer that next challenge at work, or simply take over the world – it’s all subjective. Find that perfect playlist that motivates you to increase your productivity, and you’re one step closer to ruling the world.
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About The AuthorNick Peterson
I'm the get-it-done, keep-it-on-track guy. Project coordination, traffic, and scheduling are my responsibilities with Leighton Interactive. I use my attention to detail, masterful communication skills, and passion for teamwork to propel our client's projects across the finish line. Outside of work, you'll find me rooting for my favorite hockey team and enjoying a cold craft beer with friends.