Some people can work with music, some people can’t. For the people who can, though, they’ll attest to the inspiration music brings to creativity and how some music can influence the style of work, etc. In fact, some designers (myself included) listen to certain genres of music for the pure reason that by doing so, the mood it brings about will be brought through the design. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. A big part of music is about feeling it, and sometimes if you try to force certain types of music on yourself, it ends up failing pretty epically on your end.
There is one overlooked element of music, however, and that is how it affects your productivity. I’m not talking about how head banging and constantly getting out of your seat to do the twist can end up wasting your time so you should listen to incredibly shitty music. I’m not talking about listening to ambient music because it’s the “way to go” and there aren’t any words to keep you distracted (although that’s a reason enough to listen to it). Instead, I want to talk a little bit today about BPMs, and why you should be paying attention to them.
Count Your BPMs
Woah, holy crap. BPMs. Another acronym. What are you trying to do to us, James? Well, BPMs are short for Beats Per Minute. If you haven’t noticed in iTunes (and most music players, nowadays), there is an invisible column you can enable called BPM. BPMs usually range anywhere from the 60s to the 130s. Do me a favour and listen to a song in the 60s. Now listen to a song in the 120s. Both have different feels. Both have completely different speeds. You’ll notice some genres stick within certain BPM ranges, like dance/pop music is usually above the 120 mark while reggae music is around that 100 mark.
BPMs: A DJ’s Perspective
Let me get one thing straight, first. A DJ is someone who plays music. A producer is someone who creates music. If you do both, you can call yourself a producer/DJ, but if you make gino beats in your basements while tripping on cocaine, you’re not a DJ. Just saying.
One of my dirty little habits is DJing. When I first got into it, I had been watching others do it and thought it looked pretty straightforward. Y’know, you have two sides and just bring the fader over. This “mixing” (or, the transition between two songs) was the easy part. The hardest part was getting the good music. Well, let me tell you – I was completely wrong.
While there are a hundred different factors of DJing that make it an artform in itself, the art of mixing is something a lot of people have trouble with, and DJs depend on BPMs (whether or not they look at the numbers) to mix properly. They speed things up and slow things down, but it’s very rare a DJ will abruptly switch from a heavy-hitting 130 BPM song to a more laid-back 80 BPM song. Reason being? You’re building moods with music, and when you abruptly switch it, you’re wrecking the flow people had with the music, the way they were dancing, et cetera.
So then, why the hell are we doing this with our music in our day-to-day?
BPMs: A Hard Worker’s Perspective
Let’s first analyze the problem so we can figure out a solution. We have a lot of music in our libraries. We have anything from slow melancholy songs to fist-pumping anthems, and all that weird stuff in between. We depend on the shuffle function to take us through the day, and we figure that we’ll switch songs when we hit something we don’t like. Either that, or we’re working and listening to music on the radio, and the same things happen. It hits a terrible song, and we either switch it off or laboriously try and find a new station to listen to. This, in itself, is a waste of time. And here, lies in the problem.
We listen to this music that jumps from fast stuff to slow stuff, and subconsciously our work goes from productive to [not as] productive. When we’re head-banging, singing the lyrics to that Jay-Z song feeling like a total badass, the tempo is keeping the tempo for our music. We type to the beat. We think to the beat. We let the mood of the song affect us. The song switches, it slows down, and our body takes time to react to this new speed. And it all has to do with those damn numbers that are BPMs.
We’ve just analyzed the problem. Now let’s get a solution to fix things.
While it can be a huge pain in the ass to organize your music library (mine has almost 25,000 songs) by genre, feel, etc, there is one small thing you can do that will help. All of your songs should be automagically tagged with BPMs. If they aren’t, and your preferred application is showing a way to organize by BPM, find out how to get the application to analyze tracks to find their BPM. Then, sort your music from slow to fast music.
Don’t get me wrong, you’re going to hit a song you’re not going to look, still, but through your day your productivity will slowly rise as each song ends and the next one starts at a gradual pace.
And That’s It!
It’s as easy as that. But what do you think? Does music affect your work? In what ways, and how do you stay productive while listening to music?