The Music of Business

Being able to choose the soundtrack for your business day is one of the perks of working at home.

What kind of music do you listen to while building your business at home? One of the great pleasures of an at-home business is your freedom to choose the nature of your business environment, including its sound. When you’re working with others, music is always a compromise. You don’t end up with music that anyone actually likes. Instead, you get music that nobody really hates. Thus you end up with elevator music (sweet strings playing the Beatles) or soft rock (How many more times can you listen to Rod Stewart’s Maggie Mae?).

The music you hear can have a big impact on your work. I find the appropriate work music changes through the work day. The right sounds are also dependent on the type of work you’re doing. If you have to be on the phone most of the day, you’re best off with even-keel music that doesn’t have the sharp spikes of aggressive alternative rock (Nirvana or Audioslave). If you’re taking notes over the phone, you don’t want to be disturbed by Kurt Cobain or Chris Cornell’s raging screech.

Classic country music works great for phone work, say Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson or even Hank Williams. If you bog down through your time on the phone, pick yourself up with some easy-energy Bob Wills. Don’t try Patsy Cline or Billie Holiday, though. Their voices may seem gentle, but they’re very demanding emotionally. When you’re on the phone, you won’t lose any credibility if classic country bleeds through. Alternative rock can be a problem. A good shot of a White Stripes feedback shriek during a customer call can jeopardize and account. Yet that same driving, take-no-prisoners noise is a perfect match when you’re deep into white-hot deadline crunch with a three-coffee-pot buzz that’s makes your typing fingers hurt. The Strokes work well on deadline, too, especially the song, “Last Nite.”

Now for creativity, you have to go Leonard-Cohen deep. Time of day matters when you’re trying to match creative efforts with music. On early summer mornings when you have the door open to birds chirping, you’re best off with Bach, especially the “Brandenburg Concertos.” If this doesn’t provide useable ideas, switch to the early work of Gordon Lightfoot.

For late night creativity, you have to go much darker. Tom Waits makes perfect sense at 3:00 a.m., especially if you’ve switched from dark-roast coffee to an old port or an oaky Irish whiskey. Dr. John’s first album with its dark gris-gris voodoo is also great for the dark-hours creativity. If the port makes you sleepy, you can keep the same mood but boost your energy with early Muddy Waters. His later Chicago-streets music is great for mid-morning drudgery work, but to drill down to your true creative pools, listen his first Chess albums when can still smell the swampy Mississippi in his voice.

For flat-out production work during the later mornings and through the afternoon, you need some very dependable higher tempo drive. If you have to concentrate, try bluegrass, especially the light and bright work of Tony Snow or Ricky Skaggs. Alison Krauss and Union Station is also wonderful, but you’ll sometimes get distracted by her hauntingly beautiful voice. Go ahead, take your chances, she’s worth it. If it’s dumb work that requires no brains at all, try the Rolling Stones (their earliest albums through Exile with “Some Girls” thrown in for fun) or any period Beatles, always a pleasant and listenable ride.

Late afternoon requires something more substantial the move you through the afternoon slump. Bruce Springsteen works well. Surprisingly, even “The Rising” satisfies. Also put on anything by Lucinda Williams. Oddly Bob Dylan’s recent albums, “Love and Theft” and “Time out of Mind” are good for moving through the late p.m. doldrums. If you nap in the late afternoon, all bets are off. Go to sleep to the Beach Boys – strangely comforting through day-sleep – and wake up to the Doors.

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