The Best Music for Focused Work and Study


Having go-to work or study music could be the thing that keeps you on track during this unprecedented time. More people than ever before will be working from home, which presents certain challenges; can you resist the alluring hum of the fridge, for instance, or will you get up to check its contents every half an hour? For those for whom remote working is unchartered territory, one thing many people will struggle with at first is creating an atmosphere that is conducive to productivity. It’s easy to stay in your pyjamas with Netflix on in the background, but if you’re doing that you’re probably not going to be getting as much done as you would if you were in the office with your boss sat next to you.

We spoke to some of The Indiependent’s contributor team to find out what they listen to when they want to get shit done in the hope that you will find a new way of focusing.

Steve Reich

There’s a lot of nerdy, technical detail that comes into play when appraising the master of minimalism, but I won’t bore you with my uninformed analysis. More than anything, there’s just something oddly comforting about the endlessly looping wall of sound in the works of Steve Reich.

The way melodies start together, move into a chromatic mess, before neatly finding themselves back together again. Canons, tape loops and phasing all seem to target the concentration part of your brain; not enough melody to distract your focus, but still pretty enough to not be white noise. His music hits home how sometimes the most complex creations sound so simple. How a soothing blend of instruments can funnel you into a workflow; a hive of worker bees gently humming together.

Words by Steph Green

The Animal Crossing soundtrack

In this current climate, even if we don’t have work to do, finding a sense of balance and calmness can be key to feeling okay and simply getting through the day. For me, and I assume many others, this can pretty much only come from moments of escapism – and what better escapism than a world populated with business minded tanukis and bubbly pug mayoral assistants.

This wholesome and calm fantasy world is also reflected within the game’s soundtrack, which I listen to while studying, working, falling asleep and frankly, just whenever I feel like I need to chill and escape reality for a while. The slow to midtempo, major key songs, sprinkled with charming percussion, acoustic instruments and upbeat brass sections serve not only as the perfect background music to transport you to your own island or village while you work and live, but to bring some peace and happiness to your day.

Words by Emma Reilly

Film soundtracks

Since I was revising for my GCSEs, my go-to study music has always been film soundtracks. Now, to those who deem this equally as distracting as listening to songs with lyrics, bear with me. In my opinion, film soundtracks provide the perfect level of background noise, and familiarity so that you’re not bored, but they also don’t require too much of your attention. I also find myself adapting what I’m listening to depending on the stage of revision I’m at.

For example, I might put on Nemo Egg (Main Title) by Thomas Newman if I’m ahead of schedule and feeling relaxed, but Time by Hans Zimmer feels far more appropriate for a last-minute panic cram session. What with having plenty of time to try out new things at the moment, I encourage you to give film soundtracks a chance!

Words by Charlotte Bresh

Islands: Essential Einaudi // Ludovico Einaudi

A far more cultured friend first turned me on to the calming, soothing melodies of Ludovico Einaudi and it wasn’t long before the Italian pianist and composer cemented himself in my Spotify library as a firm favourite for music to work and study to. Whilst I was at university and suffering from the curse of being a last minute Lucy, I always found there was something about his compositions that instilled a sense of urgency and focus that led to me finish whatever I was working on that much quicker than if I worked without music, or I just put the radio on in the background. Now I’m in full-time employment, I return to his music when I need to get something done pronto.

My classical knowledge is somewhat lacking, but I would describe Einaudi’s music as ‘entry level classical’ – it doesn’t have the grandiosity or pomp of more canonical classical works, and therefore you’re not likely to get distracted by pretending to be the conductor of your own invisible orchestra. There are also some more lucid, relaxing melodies which I would recommend if you are struggling to get to sleep – Islands: Essential Einaudi is a good starting point, and there’s also a ‘This Is Ludivico Einaudi’ playlist on Spotify.

Words by Beth Kirkbride

Hangover Friendly // Spotify

Unsurprisingly, given the name, I first stumbled upon this Spotify playlist thanks to a rather vengeful hangover which meant that sunlight (any light, really), loud noises and just generally standing up were pretty much a no-go.

The playlist draws on the most mellow tunes from the indie-sphere from some familiar up-beat hits from the likes of George Ezra (bring back the 2014 ‘Budapest’ days, please!) to some slow and emotive hits from Angus & Julia Stone and Kacey Musgraves.

Read more: Album Review: Staying At Tamara’s // George Ezra

Whatever your vibe, this playlist is perfect for some chill, easy listening with a strong emotive through line. It’ll have you bopping, empowering, crying and reminiscing while you’re tapping away at your laptop or just lying down with a towel over your head trying not to be sick. So, whether you’re working from home or just plain hungover, or both, this is definitely one to check out. 

Words by Joey Lewin

Disintegration Loops // William Basinski

In the acknowledgement section of my dissertation I thanked the Special Collections at the Brotherton Library, my dissertation supervisor, and William Basinski. I usually have to work in ear-shattering silence, but when the environment is noisy or the inner chorus of dissenting voices becomes a little too loud it’s always worth strapping on the cans. 

The music that seems to yield the most productivity in me is, to borrow Brian Eno’s descriptor of ambient music, ‘it must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting’. Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in Bb Major, Sunn O)))’s most recent albums, and Eno’s Music For Airports are all good to work to, but nothing really comes close to the first instalment in William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops, ‘dlp 1.1’. It’s the sound of a wistful brass refrain slowly decaying over time as the tape wears out. 

We’re here to talk about music to work to, so I will spend no time detailing why this piece is so celestially brilliant or how its elegiac quality deals with themes of entropy, flaw, and the 9/11 attacks (the cover is a photo of the smouldering World Trade Center buildings which were visible from Basinski’s apartment). 

The loop repeats and repeats and you become accustomed to it allowing you to focus on the task as the outside world fades. The gaps are as important as the music, so as the loop disintegrates you become accustomed to a noisy or distracting environment, like the frog in boiling water analogy. The Disintegration Loops seem to slowly submerge your ears, creating a sonic equivalent of glorious silence. 

Words by Will Ainsley

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Articles have materialised for the last ten years blaming social media and the online “language of efficiency” for the condensation of popular music. In 2018, Spotify painted digital media as the progressive new engine of contemporary storytelling; it’s all about busy consumer needs and declining attention spans. If nothing else, the global Coronavirus pandemic presents an opportunity to step back and make a bit of time for those under-appreciated long plays.

Eight days in, our house has made the most of the extra time to listen to the 21-song instrumental The Good, The Bad & The Ugly Original Motion Picture Soundtrack while working from home. It is a gradual and delicate showcase of Ennio Morricone at his best: the score relies on a handful of motifs to guide the listener through different tensions and subtleties over an hour, all the while building up to a natural conclusion in ‘The Ecstacy of Gold’. If you feel like getting back in touch with the great outdoors, there’s no better substitute. 

Other than that, we have been listening to the experimental drones of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the rain-forest ambience that comes with Alexa and way too much Bonnie Tyler.

Words by James Reynolds

Feature compiled by Beth Kirkbride

What do you listen to when you want to get stuff done? Tell us by leaving a reply below


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