Learning to love music

I’ve had a strange relationship with music for my entire life. When I was really young I loved to sing. Then puberty hit, my voice changed and now I sound like a dying giraffe. After I realized that my singing career was over, I decided to take up playing and instrument. I started playing the trumpet religiously. In middle school, I also learned to play a number of other instruments and even thought that I wanted to be a music teacher. Of course, I also played guitar my and my friend’s Sum 41 cover band.

But once I got to high school, that love of music fell off pretty hard. My focus shifted to playing sports and learning about computers. I always played team sports, so listening to music while exercising wasn’t an option. My computer-time was mostly in the lab at school so I didn’t listen to music there either. I just didn’t have that same passion for it that everyone else seemed to have.

Music and Programming

Nowadays, I’m the technical co-founder at a startup called Pelorus Health where we hope to improve the success rate of people in recovery from substance addiction. In the startup world, “technical co-founder” usually means the person who writes the code before you can afford to hire engineers. We’ve been through a couple versions of our web app, and almost the whole time I spent writing was in silence. I never listened to music because I

  1. didn’t really have an interest and
  2. found it distracting. I also thought that was true for most programmers.

About eight weeks ago when we hired Thoughtbot to build our mobile app, I realized that I was wrong. Apparently everyone there listens to music while writing code and couldn’t imagine working without it. I’ve spent three of the last seven weeks at the Thoughtbot office in San Francisco and, unless they’re explicitly pair-programming, everyone is always listening to music.

Scientifically, the jury is still out on music and productivity. Some studies, such as this one from the “Applied Cognitive Psychology Journal,” found that listening to music the background decreases performance when attempting cognitive tasks. Other studies find that listening to background music boosts performance and efficiency in repetitive tasks. Finally, some argue that music helps eliminate outside distractions and increase your mood which then lead to increased creativity and productivity.

The last point really speaks to me. As the sole technical founder, I spend a lot of time by myself trying to build our web apps and our server. There are times, and I’m sure every solo-developer can relate to this, that the experience is discouraging. It can be a pretty lonely and sometimes frustrating to run into an issue and not have someone to just chat with. If music can get my brain thinking in different ways and make me feel better in general, then I believe it’ll be worth at-least experimenting.

My music experiment

I want to learn to love music again. That being said, I’m not particularly tied to any style or genre. My first thought was that I’d just put in some stuff I used to like; maybe some Blink 182 or maybe some classical music. But if I’m going to be “starting over” on my music journey and also experimenting with music + programming, then why limit myself to the past?

So here’s my plan: every week for the foreseeable future I’m going to listen to one genre of music. I know there are a million different genre’s and sub-genre’s of music so I think I’m going to take a “reasonable person’s” approach. I’ll respect the differences between say, “punk rock” and “metal” but probably not “glitch pop” and “chillstep” (whatever those things are).

At the end of every week, I’ll take some time to write both my feelings on the music and how productive I felt during that time. Maybe I’ll even do something useless and arbitrary like track the number of lines of code I commit at the end of the week or something like that. Who knows? We’ll experiment.

To start, I’ll mostly be listening to music that my friends listen to. This isn’t even close to a comprehensive list, just a start.

  • EDM (Might be split… we’ll see)
  • The Grateful Dead (two other co-founders love them, apparently “the Dead” deserve their own genre own genre)
  • 90’s Punk Rock
  • Top 40
  • Hard Rock
  • Country

On Monday I’ll metaphorically roll a die (rand(0..5)) and get started from there. Wish me luck and stay tuned for updates on my journey to rediscover my love of music.