Listening While Coding

One of my Twitter friends retweeted a link to a post of the “Top 5 Coding Albums Of All Time” earlier (with his own comment that he’s more of an Op Ivy type of guy), and it got me thinking. What would my top 5 coding albums of all time look like? I’m not really sure how to answer that question (I’ve never been very good at creating “top 5” or “top 10” lists, because I am never able to shave things down to such a small number), but I do know that none of the five listed on that blog post would be on my list.

The list, for those that don’t feel like switching back and forth between two browser tabs, basically boils down to (shown in reverse of the way he listed them, so I could use a simple <ol> to display them):

  1. Kind Of Blue – Miles Davis
  2. Bach: Goldberg Variations – Murray Perahia
  3. Dark Side Of The Moon – Pink Floyd
  4. Mezzanine – Massive Attack
  5. The K&D Sessions – Kruder & Dorfmeister

The author of the post also included a handful of honorable mentions, all seeming to fit with his criteria for “the best music to listen to while coding” (excerpted below).

Fundamentally, an album must block ambient distractions and simultaneously not itself be distracting… tracks are exceptional from start to finish, no fluff or repetition… Lyrics must be minimal and instrumentation must be tasteful… I will give a tremendous amount of latitude here, but triangles, glockenspiels, bagpipes, whistles, shouting, screaming, and other cacophony is highly frowned upon.

Honestly, there are very few parts of that criteria with which I agree; and those disagreements are made even more obvious when I look back at the list he selected. About the only part with which I do agree is the statement that it “must block ambient distractions”.

For me, the last thing I want to occur while I’m coding is for me to fall asleep or, potentially even worse, slip into a meditative trance. While I am certainly a fan of Pink Floyd (and I do have a soft spot in my heart for Dark Side, since it was the first Floyd album I picked up), and I have occasionally been known to enjoy Kruder & Dorfmeister, Massive Attack, Miles Davis and selected interpretations of Bach’s music, they are far from what I want while I’m trying to concentrate and get work done. Instead, for the most part, those types of albums tend to make me fall into a state of self-reflection, ignoring everything around me (including the task at hand).

Instead, I would prefer (along the lines of what Patrick mentioned when he said he’s more of an Op Ivy type of guy) music that gets my blood pumping, has a good, quick beat and generally has heavy undertones. It is the type of music that gets my fingers moving across the keyboard with little effort; and keeps me moving throughout the day.

While I’m not a humongous fan of Operation Ivy, I do understand the sentiment behind choosing their music to code. Following are some of my favorite artists to use as a soundtrack to my coding and writing adventures.

  • Electronic-based music (techno, dub step, industrial, etc.)
    • Celldweller
    • Blue Stahli
    • Atlas Plug
    • Ministry
    • Deadmau5 (his more recent stuff)
    • 16Volt
    • Lo Fidelity All Stars
  • Punk, ska and other punk-related genres
    • Bad Religion
    • Madness
    • Lagwagon
    • Propagandhi
    • Anti-Flag
    • US Bombs
    • The Clash
    • Ramones
    • Huntingtons
    • The Misfits (occasionally; though I like most of their Danzig-era stuff better than their Michale Graves stuff, the Michale Graves stuff tends to be more conducive to my coding)
    • Therapy?
  • Metal, Hardcore, etc.
    • Amon Amarth
    • Living Sacrifice
    • Children of Bodom
    • Sepultura
    • The Agony Scene
    • As I Lay Dying
    • Rollins Band
    • Avenged Sevenfold
    • Tourniquet
    • Between the Buried & Me
    • Dark Tranquillity
    • Megadeth (their later, more mindless stuff – again, similar to The Misfits, I may like some of their older stuff better, but the newer stuff is more conducive to coding)
    • Damnation AD

What are your thoughts on the matter? What kind of music do listen to while coding? What tends to boost your productivity more? Again, the list above tends toward artists that are most conducive to my coding efforts; not necessarily my favorite artists (though many of them would also make that list) and certainly not a comprehensive list of my favorite artists (or even my favorite genres). For me, I’d say the two main criteria for a good coding soundtrack would be:

  1. It shouldn’t put me to sleep or induce a trance
  2. I shouldn’t have an overwhelming urge to sing along (the occasional sing-along can be a good break from heavy coding, but it shouldn’t fully distract me from my writing)

In my list above, the electronic/industrial stuff is probably the most oft-played stuff during coding sessions; followed by the metal/hardcore. While I enjoy listening to the punk and ska while coding, a lot of that tends to put me in the mood to sing along more than I should while I’m coding.

What do you think? Do you agree? Do you tend more toward the fast-paced, blood-pumping sounds listed above, or more toward the slower, more deliberate, less-obtrusive sounds in the original blog post?