Reporter's Notebook

The Best Songs to Work To
Show Description +

A collection from readers of the songs they most enjoy listening to while reading and writing for work (typically sans lyrics).

Show None Newer Notes

Track of the Day: 'Music for Airports' by Brian Eno

Coming off a two-week vacation, traveling through several airports, I especially need our “songs to work to” series to help transition back to office mode. Sarah is the latest reader to lend a hand:

Since I spend a lot of my days reading and deciphering complex scientific papers and work in a noisy office, music is often the only way to get anything done. Like many people, I listen to a lot of classical music to focus, especially the Karajan recordings of Beethoven’s symphonies that I’ve loved since I was little, as well as Bach’s B minor mass and “St. Matthew Passion”—because nothing soothes the soul like Bach (and that opening of the Passion gets me every. single. time.). Josquin Des Prez’s “Ave Maria” and “Missa L’Homme Arme” have also been favourites since I heard them in my first year of music school.

When I stray away from classical, Brian Eno’s Music for Airports [first part embedded above] or Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven are longtime favourites—waves of lovely, lovely sound.

And when I’m doing work that doesn’t require intense focus, like answering emails, it’s Beyoncé of course. I often think of it as a little treat to myself for getting through a complicated math or physics paper. Yes I’m lame.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

Reader Doug digs deeper into his collection:

“Skylight” by Gramatik. The title of this album, Beatz & Pieces, Vol. 1, pretty much sums up my taste in “working music”—heavy beat, probably some mixing / sampling or something that sounds like it, brought together by great composition.

“Imagination” by CFCF. A little less electronic, slightly more jazzy than some of the other stuff on this list, but still has that solid underlying rhythm layered with the more complex melodic stuff on top.

“Ce matin-la” by Air. Just relaxing, easy instrumentals. Nice changes of pace, combination of a bunch of different instruments ... working gold.

That song from Air is off their album Moon Safari, available on YouTube, and one of their others, Talkie Walkie—available here—was a favorite during my senior year of college, so highly recommended.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

Reader David recommends a popular soundtrack whose movie—a George Clooney vehicle directed by Steven Soderbergh—got a mediocre Rotten rating:

Hello! I listen to a lot of ambient and film music while I work, and one of my all-time favorites is the soundtrack to the 2002 sci-fi film Solaris, composed by Cliff Martinez. Ambient beds of synthesizers and the occasional swell of strings (real? electronic?) mingle with steel drum sounds—yes, steel drums!— to create an otherworldly soundscape that’s simultaneously free-floating and grounded in pulsating rhythm.

You can hear the whole album here on YouTube.

One of its most popular tracks is embedded above, and the bouncing audio visualizer adds a nice touch.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

Reader Doug keeps alive our series of “songs to work to” with a score by Nick Cave set to an enchanting timelapse of scenes from San Francisco:

Pretty sure I picked this one up from the Dish, but it’s a phenomenal instrumental song that tends toward the more relaxing, if that’s what you’re craving.

You may recognize it from the 2007 film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

It’s rare to see something end well on the internet. Most ongoing projects—whether blogs, podcasts, or novelty Tumblrs—don’t really ever formally end; instead, their creator loses interest in them over time, and then they have a busy couple months at work, and then maybe they have a new kid on the way, and obligations stack up until eventually an unpaid server bill takes the long-fallow page out of its misery.

So I want to congratulate and also thank Hoverbird (also known as Patrick Ewing) for formally and lovingly ending his tremendous online radio show, Warm Focus, this Wednesday. You can listen to the final episode on’s website.

For the past 18 months or so, Warm Focus has run early on Wednesday afternoons on, capturing a nameless but very weekday-in-autumn vibe: the popping-synapses, bright-but-background, happy-and-humming, in-the-flow feeling that characterizes music for good work getting done well. Hoverbird himself says the genre walks the line “between mellow & energetic, digital & analog, high & low BPM.”