Hundreds of thousands of Americans were forced to make the immediate adjustments to working from home earlier this month, and many likely noticed there are a lot of differences in the lifestyles that come from living remotely versus that of operating a physical office.
First off, there’s no more of that stringent dress code that you try and weasel around with a Jerry Garcia tie. There’s also no more making chit-chat in the elevator–however, you may find your patented blend of sarcasm doesn’t fully translate to the workgroup chat, so tread lightly. Unfortunately, many are likely quick to find that working from home isn’t all pajama pants and rolling straight out of bed into a makeshift home office.
While it might be great not having that morning commute anymore, that also means the loss of a vital decompression chamber where one can rock out to hand-selected music before selling your time to the man. Music platforms noted a 7.6 percent drop in streaming numbers from March 13th–19th, just as companies around the United States started forcing employees to work from home. Now without those vital jam sessions, many people are going to try to supplement that musical intake throughout the day, only to discover that they cannot be as productive working to the same music that they usually crank while zoning out and driving home. That’s why the team here at Live For Live Music has compiled a list of some great music to listen to while actually staying on task.
First off, a lot of jam bands are going to have to get nixed. No matter how much you really enjoy listening to Dopapod or Goose while at the gym or riding a bike, those bands just get way too heavy to the point you start banging your head and it even influences your keyboard rhythm. Another unfortunate reality of listening to music while trying to focus is the axing of a lot of material from the Grateful Dead catalog. With the exception of maybe a “Dark Star” or “Playing in the Band”, or anything that can get really spacey (without being an all-consuming “Space”), much of the Dead’s catalog has too much lyric density. It’s going to be hard to focus on those TPS reports while listening to the sorry tale of Stagger Lee. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to work to jam bands, but it just has to be something a little less intense or consuming.
There will be a lot of people who want to listen to Phish, and that is possible, but such a decision comes with some precautions. Forget about trying to work in the early ’90s live cuts. Trey Anastasio is peaking so hard on guitar and ripping through solos that it seems just silly to think you can do anything more than flip a garlic grilled cheese while the band tears into a “Maze” from 1994. Even a mighty-fine, exploratory “David Bowie” from 1993 is bookended by two exits to shred city.
If you find yourself saying, “Self, I need to listen to Phish while I work,” there is a simple two-word answer: cow funk. Twist up some 1997–2000 or 2.0 era live grooved out jams and that’s a ticket to productivity. The easy climbs, grooves, and declines are the perfect pace to maintain a cohesive idea and flesh it out to the end.
Phish – Cow Funk
Now, bridging off of that idea of easier listening for maximum concentration, the go-to response for music to work to is undoubtedly lofi hip-hop. For those same people out there who call their children to ask what the “Cloud” is, lofi hip-hop is a genre of music on YouTube characterized by simple, low-fidelity instrumental sounds and soothing landscapes featuring drum machines joined by synths and light, jazz-inspired guitar work. Essentially, it’s just enough music to know that there is actually something playing, without really paying attention to it. There are no lofi stars or festivals. Just eight hours of music that all kind of sounds the same and never really ends, kind of like jam bands.
While there are dozens of lofi videos streaming live at any given moment, one is by far the most popular and a great entry point. This live feed from ChilledCow was actually taken down by YouTube in February after airing for a continuous 13,000 hours and earning 218 million views in the process, only to go back up shortly thereafter. There also exists entire subsets of categories of lofi hip-hop, including this Bernie Sanders filibuster remix, as well as this new quarantine edition.
lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to
There is also the tried-and-true route of classical music. Few acts are more time tested–and somewhat cliche–than sitting down and cranking out a paper while playing your favorite jams from Ludwig Van Beethoven. In a way, putting on Johann Sebastian Bach or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart while trying to get some work done is one of those things you try and force upon yourself just because you know its good for you. Similar to buying artichoke that ends up sitting in the fridge for a month until you finally work up the courage to throw it out and admit defeat.
Rather than weeding through seas and scores of classical music or putting on just any YouTube video, check out “Mozart At Midnight” Spotify playlist instead. This tailor-made selection of some of Mozart’s hottest tracks is designed to be the kind of gentle background music perfect for concentration, rather than all the BUM BUM BUM BUM, bum bum bum bums the kids are listening to.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Various Artists – Mozart At Midnight
If Phish, Mozart, or lofi don’t float your boat, and you’re looking for something a little more engaging and produced, there are still more options for productivity music. Look behind door number four to see: Emancipator. This downtempo producer (born Douglas Appling) has made a name for himself in the ever-expanding world of ambient trip-hop electronic music. Now some fans are wary of putting on electronic music to help maintain focus, especially if they aren’t terribly familiar with the different types of electronic music, but this is a completely different animal. It’s more identifiable and less generic than lofi hip-hop without crossing over into any sort of mainstream EDM music with gratuitous drops that cause one to lose focus. It might not be the ideal choice for a headliner at a music festival or a Friday night, but for concentration and working from home, it’ll do the trick.
Emancipator – Soon It Will Be Cold Enough
There are also other broad musical subcategories that offer some diverse stylings. Obviously, not all of these bands fit together under the same umbrella, but for the sake of argument are worth grouping together.
One lucrative niche is a more jazz-centric type of jam, where the focus on instrumentation is brought to the forefront of the conversation, and improvisation is still important but somewhat relegated to the backseat. These bands truly exemplify the inherent connection between jazz improvisation and jamming that has been lost on so many suburban kids with dreadlocks. You won’t see BADBADNOTGOOD playing at The Peach Music Festival, but they display instrumentation that can be appreciated by any fan. Some fans may remember drummer Joe Russo being vehemently against the label of “jam band” for The Benevento/Russo Duo, saying in Peter Conners‘ JAMerica, “I would always say, ‘We are not a jam band! We are instrumental postrock!'”
However you want to bag it and tag it, these bands offer some great instrumental grooves.
SPAGA – SPAGA
BADBADNOTGOOD – III
The Benevento/Russo Duo – Best Reasons To Buy The Sun
Addison Groove Project – Wicked Live
Eight hours a day of music can be quite exhausting, and at a certain point nauseating. Working from home is a huge adjustment for a lot of people. There will be things that you’ve always dreamed of, like no commute or being able to listen to music at your desk, that can eventually turn into a nightmare. For many people, there is a large mental barrier separating their work attitude and their home attitude, and this separation is reinforced by things like a dress code or a commute. It is important to remember that even though you might be working in your pajamas, three feet away from your bed, that your commitment to the quality of your work is paramount to keeping the company afloat, now more so than ever.
While it is nice to have the ability to listen to your own music on your own speakers, rather than secretly putting in AirPods to listen to Goose at the office, we are reminded that with great power comes great responsibility. At this moment, bosses and owners of companies around the country are taking stock of their workforce and focusing on trimming the fat like never before. If folks aren’t careful and realize when your home life (music included) is becoming a distraction, you might end up with all the time in the world to listen to any music you want. Stay safe and stay focused.
Check out the “9 To 5: Work From Home” Playlist below.
9 To 5: Work From Home