Whether amping your team/yourself up for a daylong workshop, burning the midnight oil deep in production mode on a deck or deliverable, or sitting in the back of a pre-dawn taxi on the way to the airport and headed to a faraway place, I find that music helps sets the right tone. If I’m listening to the “right” music for the moment, it’s possible to get into the headspace that’s both best for what I want to achieve in the moment and for those working/traveling alongside me (sometimes through tense and unpredictable situations).
Lots of the songs that make up these came as recommendations from Spotify, which you’ll need to access them, and which also has its own fair share of fantastic playlists that sets the mood beautifully. As with so many of the things I do, I felt compelled to invest this amount of work and obsessive detail around assembling these playlists and designing the album covers (using Illustrator to draw over photographs taken during my Fulbright research grant in China) because I found that most pre-made playlists on Spotify were 95% right, but that that wasn’t good enough.
A caveat about titles: You might do your best pre-dawn work to the sound of Beastie Boys and Daft Punk (from Production), rather than Ali Farka Touré and Steffen Basho-Junghans (from Pre-dawn focus). You may prefer to look out of train or plane windows to the sound of Toots and the Maytals and J Dilla (from Workshop welcome) instead of Chihei Hatakeyama and Stars of the Lid (from Train windows). More power to you. I mostly named these playlists after the moments I subjectively find them fitting, rather than describing the type of music contained in them (which typically defies easy categorization and spans multiple genres). Feel free to duplicate them, chop them up and remix them any which way you want and call them whatever you please, and note that these playlists will always be changing, growing, and evolving. Finally, I’d love to hear about what they inspired you to make and create!
When traveling in particular, I find that music is key for easing transitions between home / street / taxi / airport / lines / lounge / seat (or camel, dinghy, tuolaji, or hitchhiked lift across Tibet). These tunes help me cut straight through jet lag, sleep deprivation, or a gaggle of aggressive taxi drivers hoping to hustle you for an outsized fare in an unfamiliar place.
I spend a good deal of time on trains these days – in particular the route that runs along the coastline between Massachusetts and New York, trundling on rails through fields of reeds, past beaches and ponds, and through sleepy seaside hamlets and the eroding industrial powerhouses of yester-century. This ambient playlist sets the mood well, and I’ve also found it works even when you’re sitting still, enjoying a quiet evening at home with a book.
For me, the best days start before the sun comes up. I tend to be at my most focused and creative in the hours before sunrise, and as I stumble around and try to make coffee before getting cracking, it helps to have some soft, pleasant tunes that get my brain humming without requiring all my focus (or waking up my neighbors).
Sometimes, even with the best planning, work requires a particularly long day and/or night of pixel-pushing. While I can’t write worth a damn when this more “intense” sort of music is on, I find my productivity when it comes to designing vastly improves with when this soundtrack is blasting and our team is one of the last left in the studio for the evening.
One of the most important (and underrated) features of a workshop is the soundtrack. It makes everything easier when you have the right music to welcome people into the space, provide the background to group work, and serve as an aural cue for when to stop and start a given exercise or activity.