Bob Marley said that one of the good things about music is that when it hits you, you feel no pain. Who doesn’t know the pain of a long work day? It’s mentally draining, physically taxing, and often demoralizing. But that doesn’t mean we can get up and go home. Some days you need to just put your head down and finish the job.
This is especially true of the computer programmer or company founder. We can picture them up late, working long into the night. The garbage is filled with a pile of crumpled energy drink cans. And there, in the wee hours, we can hear them blasting music to help them stay awake, to help them focus. But what are they listening to?
Well, if they aspire to head the next YouTube, they might be trying to emulate Steve Chen’s Spotify playlist. It’s chock full of good ol’ country music. Or they might be more into hip-hop like Quora’s Marc Bodnick.
Whatever the preferred genre, music plays a big part in the world of Silicon Valley. More and more founders are publicly sharing their playlists with the world.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is rather fond of 90’s stalwarts like Green Day and Nirvana, but also enjoys the contemporary stylings of Lady Gaga.
Elon Musk seems to prefer the crooning of Frank Sinatra and Andrea Bocelli. But he’s not afraid to indulge his sense of humor by playing the soundtrack to Monty Python’s Life of Brian when he appeared as a guest DJ in L.A.
Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel is well known as a music fan, and has said he’d like to see Snapchat run its own record label one day. This TechCrunch piece takes every song that Spiegel has ever tweeted and compiles it into one playlist.
And it’s no wonder. Studies out of the University of Birmingham, England, show that music raises efficiency in repetitive work,like coding and design.
We spoke with a number of startup founders and CEOs to see what they like to put on when they need to crank.
I listen mostly to heavy metal. Specifically a lot of Metallica and Motörhead. For Metallica it’s almost exclusively pre-Black Album. Songs like Creeping Death,’ Ride the Lightning,’ For Whom the Bell Tolls,’ Whiplash,’ Blackened,’ and Fight Fire with Fire.’
I actually am quite productive on long flights (as long as they’re not redeye)It’s the same playlist every time, which is The White Panda (high-energy mashups). On long drives (e.g. to the South Bay), I always put on the Deep Focus playlist. It’s great for entering a zen-like state to reflect and think about problems.
Martin Henk, co-founder, Pipedrive
Because of the open office environment, my headphones get a lot of use. My music habits have changed quite a bit over the years. From having favorite albums on repeat all day in iTunes to Pandora to stealing good ideas from the people I follow on Rdio and Spotify. These days I’m finding myself relying more and more on the Discover Weekly functionality in Spotify. They’ve been great at finding new music I generally like and it’s a gateway to exploring new artists in more detail.
Roger Dickey (CEO) and Debo Olaosebikan (CTO), co-founders, Gigster
Roger: “Technical founders will listen to music far more often than non-technical founders who are stuck in meetings and answering emails all day. When I do get a big block of working time, which is rare, I do put on music, but I think music choices are very personal. It helps me to listen to a playlist I know by heart so that I can just tune it out. New music or radio can be distracting. I have a few that are electronica or top 40.”
Debo: “I use music either to focus for a very long stretch of time or to get myself pumped up and excited while working. For focus I listen to artists like Sia, Adele, Florence & The Machine, Beethoven and for getting myself pumped up I listen to The Weeknd, Drake and Kanye West.”
Sahil Lavingia, founder, Gumroad
I don’t listen to music while I work. I find that music, for me, is a frontline activity. I can’t listen to music in the background without it hijacking my brain.
“I primarily use music at work for two reasons. One is to wake me up and get me pumped up and the other is to keep me focused. I also love browsing our Music Amino app to see what’s happening in the music world. It’s a cool way to discover new artists and meet other like-minded people.”
Dan Burkhart, CEO, Recurly
In the morning, classical and acoustic folk, something to get the day started. Later in the day, R&B, soul something to give more energy. Sometimes, when cranking on projects, old-school country-westernhonky-tonk Hank Williams or Johnny Cash is great. Toe-tapping energy, but nothing to distract.
Rajagopal Sathyamurthi, CTO and co-founder, AirPR
“I’m a big fan of A. R. Rahman’s music. Whether I’m doing a mundane task like refactoring code or trying to come up with an innovative solution to a challenging problem, listening to his music motivates me and gets my creative juices flowing.”
Tony Gallippi, executive chairman, BitPay
Music is a great way to take a quick pause during a long stressful day. My go-to song is Imagine Dragons Radioactive that my sister coined as her bitcoin theme song. When I’m in the car I like Pitbull and David Guetta. My girlfriend is from Colombia, so when I work from home I get to hear Enrique Iglesias and Marc Antony.
David Spector And Heidi Zak, co-founders, ThirdLove
We definitely listen to music all day long at the office. We have a pretty advanced setup too, with speakers throughout and Airplay, so that different people on different days can play their favorite playlists or channels and take turns DJ’ing. It’s mostly a mix of classic rock, pop, and EDM.
Amadeus Demarzi, creative director and co-founder, Kiip
“My current favorite genre of music to listen to is Synthwave. I don’t think I have a favorite artist in particular, I just usually scan reddit.com/r/outrun or https://www.youtube.com/user/NewRetroWave for new stuff to listen to. It’s what I listen to when I work as well as for fun.”
Vivek Sharma (CEO) and Michael Nutt (CTO), co-founders, Movable Ink
Vivek: “When I’m programming or doing something creative, I listen to electronic music (house, trance, techno, ambient, etc)… importantly, something without lyrics. Stuff from Sasha, Cafe del Mar, Ibiza mixes. I’ll mix in some old jazz once in awhile too. It lets me get into a flow.”
Michael: “I can code to anything.”
Sunny Tsang, co-founder and chief designer, AnyPerk
I am currently listening to ‘Luv(Sic)’ by Nujabes. I often listen to jazzy hip-hop while I need to concentrate. The genre fits my need for music that is unobtrusive, but has enough of a beat to keep me alert.
“My favorite artist is The Sound Providers – they’re the leading crew in the jazzy hip-hop scene. The beats and rhymes are great and everything just flows. They have a simple formula to their songs – smooth jazzy beats with no gimmicks. There are very few artists making music like this today. Their album ‘True Indeed’ is one I listen to often and I would absolutely recommend it if you’ve never heard them before.”
John Kvasnic, chief product officer, OpenHouse
“We have a turntable in the office and some of our current favorites to play are ’45:33′ by LCD Soundsystem, ‘You’ve Got it Bad Girl’ by Quincy Jones and ‘No. 1 in Heaven’ by Sparks.
“My favorite music to listen to when I need to concentrate is ‘Carboot Soul’ by Nightmares on Wax, the ‘Social Network’ soundtrack by Trent Reznor, and anything by Ratatat, The XX, Tommy Guerrero or Pink Floyd.
“James Murphy’s remix of David Bowie’s ‘Love is Lost’ – the 10:24 version is incredible! I’d also recommend ‘Head Hunters’ by Herbie Hancock and ‘Barchords’ by Bahamas.”
Daniel Ruch, CEO and founder, Rocketrip
“We’ve always got music playing in the office to keep up energy levels and drown out the ever-present street sounds of NYC. The actual choice of music becomes a lot less controversial when there’s incessant jackhammer noise to cover up. The Beatles are always an acceptable option, and have been in heavy rotation since Spotify added their catalogue.”
Anand Kulkarni, Chief Scientist And co-founder, LeadGenius
“I’m usually hopping between sales calls, customer meetings, and planning sessions all day, so the moments at my desk are high-value. I plug into headphones whenever I’m at my desk to enhance flow state, drown out distractions, and punch through tasks. It keeps energy levels up.
“Like many technology companies we have an open floor at our office in Berkeley, so headphones are code here for “do not disturb”. LeadGenius also keeps a chat room open where folks share new music, 24/7 – we have two DJs and a couple of musicians on the team, so we enjoy a wide range of excellent suggestions on the regular.
“Any genre can be motivating if the music is good. This Pandora station is hand-trained along house & EDM (Daft Punk, Justice, Skrillex, Glitch Mob) – it’s great for hacking or running. Here’s a hip-hop station inspired by Kid Cudi, Kanye West, and variants. Lately I’ve also been listening to the Hotline Miami soundtrack, which has a heavy 80s synthwave slant (Jasper Byrne, Scattle, M.O.O.N).
“Finally, here are four songs that are just plain good.”
Music At Work
We’ve taken a few of these founders’ favorite songs and compiled them into a playlist for your enjoyment. To continue the conversation on Twitter you can use the hashtag #foundermusic.
Are you a founder who uses music at work? Fill out this survey to be included in our next founder music piece.
Looking to ease some of that stress tech project stress? Gigster can help.