Music has always been an important part of my life growing up. I learned to play the piano and violin at a young age, and picked up the guitar as I entered high school. I was involved in piano recitals and orchestras as well as a couple of punk rock bands. I helped lead worship at a couple of churches and have continued to play guitar here and there to this day. I have even photographed a few concerts and really enjoy it.
One of my proudest moments was helping to create, organize and participate in the Rock for Charity concerts in Shanghai back in 2004. The charity concert was such a huge success that when the tsunami hit Indonesia later that year, everyone committed to putting together another concert to help raise relief efforts there. It is now the largest student-led annual charity concert in one of the largest cities in the world. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we helped start something that was larger than just a bunch of international kids and teachers coming together to play some music. We provided a way for international students and teachers to help their communities and neighbors in a large and impactful way together. What started off as a one-off event for the international community to help raise money for an orphanage on the outskirts of Shanghai turned into a larger movement that I’ll always look back on and cherish.
I have and still am surrounded by music all the time. It is essential for me to have a good music playlist when sitting in front of a computer all day doing design work and editing photographs. Of course, musical tastes are highly subjective and different people will work more efficiently with different kinds of music. Sometimes I switch around playlists depending on my mood to help boost productivity. Regardless of music genre though, I like my music to have good substance. First and foremost it needs to have solid lyrics. Second it needs to have instrumental accompaniment that successfully sets the tone. It doesn’t need to be complex but it does need to have substance; simple melodies and rhythms can have very good substance. And finally, the musicians need to actually perform well live.
Songs that have bad or awkward or illogical lyrics bother me. I can’t use them as background music when I need to work because I get fixated on the subpar lyrics and agitated to the point where I lose concentration. These are most commonly found in modern popular songs on the radio. For example, the very first line in Katy Perry’s Firework completely overshadows the rest of the song for me. “Do you ever feel like a plastic bag / Drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?”. What kind of line is that? Was she referencing American Beauty or something? It just sounds out of place in relation to the rest of the song. None of the five songwriters (including Perry) vetoed that line? And Bruno Mars. Oh Bruno. First there’s the Grenade song. Then there’s the Marry You song. I would go on, but that may require a separate blog post. I digress.
A wide variety of music is important in a playlist depending on how I’m feeling. Usually in the morning I like to start with more mellow music to help me settle into the day. As the day goes on I like to switch to more upbeat music to help give me an extra boost to finish out the late afternoon. When people decide to have a meeting at a desk nearby where I sit and I need to concentrate on getting my work done for a deadline, I will temporarily switch to louder music to help drown out the noise. Sometimes though, I will actually just sit in front of the computer with my headphones on and no music playing at all. This is usually due to one of two things: I’m completely in the zone and just cranking away at my work or I’m zoning out and have almost zero productivity. If it’s the first scenario, I usually just keep going. If it’s the second scenario, I get up and walk around for a little bit and get a snack or some coffee or water before returning and switching to a more upbeat playlist.
I have included a list of some of the music I like to listen to when I’d like to be productive to the right. As you can see, it’s a pretty wide ranging mix from chill acoustic coffee shop type music to melodic synth-pop to rap. I have listed some of the artists more popular songs though I do also listen to and enjoy almost all of the music created by these bands, so I highly recommend listening to their other stuff as well.
I’m always searching for more good music.
BONUS: We Can’t Stop - Bastille (Miley Cyrus Cover)
One of the best covers I’ve heard so far. Bastille manages to combine We Can’t Stop by Miley Cyrus, Lose Yourself by Eminem, I Just Can’t Wait to be King from The Lion King, and Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus into one song. With a few minor lyrical tweaks and some added emotion singing, they managed to transform a shallow anthem about defiance and the party scene into one about a complex relationship between a father and his daughter and certain lifestyle addictions and a cry for help.