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The productive ritual of listening to a single song

Dan Ganiev
May 10th, 2022 · 2 min read

I can not work without music. Ever since I started to code, I needed some musical accompaniment to do it well. And I finally found the most productive way of listening to music while I work, at least for myself. I listen to a single song, over and over.

The period before the song finally bores me and I switch to another can go anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days. After that I wander around my playlist, until I stumble upon a next song which would be worthy of listening to for a while.

Not every song can be used in such way, oh no. The song has to be PERFECT. Only a handful of 1100+ songs from my meticulously curated playlist work for me. I cannot bear other songs for more than an hour or two.

This is my ritual in a nutshell. Now about how I came to it during a decade of slow thinking about the subject.

Everything started somewhere around 2011, when I first tried RescueTime. It clearly showed that from my 8 working hours, on average, I’ve only spent around 2 hours in Visual Studio 2010. And that’s on better days. But, what was more alarming, it showed that I regularly spent more than 30 minutes everyday in Winamp (most popular music player back in the day). And I didn’t do anything in Winamp except pressing “Next song”. So if extrapolated to a whole year, I spent 7.6 days per year in a music player. A week of my life wasted on shuffling music every year! WTF!?!😡🤬😡

So I tried to thoughtfully control the impulse to change songs. Every time I wanted to play next song in my playlist, I would stop myself, and let whatever was playing finish. This worked for 2 to 3 days tops. The thing about willpower-based self-control experiments is that if it’s not something life-threatening, like going cold turkey on alcohol, you will slip. It’s just a point of how much time it will take. Unless you are Nicola Tesla, which I am not. A better way had to be found.

The next stop of better music-based productivity came when I found out about a set of ambient recordings called Environments. The repetitive pattern of amazing natural sounds and the lack of need to shuffle them was perfect for doing focused work. There was only one but. Even meditative toad sounds become boring after some time (toads, please take no offense).

A better way had to be found. And slowly, it was. From Environments I moved to other ambient songs. Then to techno albums. Then to any musical bangers that I love. And some of them worked pretty well. There is one rule common to the songs that I noticed. They must have a strong rhythmical and melodic part that repeats itself, so it can be looped seamlessly. I guess my brain didn’t evolve that much from my ancestors who liked the ecstatic rhythmic drum dance sessions with their fellow tribesmen. In that regard the ritual certainly works for me.

And I hope you will find yours too.

P.S. Even among my favourite songs there are some standouts that feel like a cheat code. Try this one in a loop if you feel like building a dam.

P.P.S. This one is kinda amazing too.

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