Let Music Fuel Creativity

Music is super personal to me. I grew up with a love for singing and nowadays seem to have music on when I’m doing just about everything from working, running, showering, doing household chores, driving … you name it. I even have a tattoo of music. (I’ll spare you the picture. Just believe me on this one.) Little did I know that music was subconsciously fueling me to generate new ideas and creativity.

A recent study suggests that when you need to be creative and generate new ideas, you should listen to “positive music.” It should be happy though — not anxiety-provoking dubstep or tear-jerker ballads.

Scientists conducting the study believe it has to do with a dopamine release — the “feel good” chemical. When listening to happy music, it increases creative thinking and goal-directed working. Great news for your next brainstorming session!

Choose the Right Music Based on the Specific Task

Not all music is created equal. Happy music doesn’t seem to impact situations that require solving problems. In fact, it could interfere. In those situations, silence might be a better choice. Personally, I have found some instrumental music to be helpful when I am writing or reading. I know I absolutely can’t write or read when there are lyrics. Try as I might, it’s just too distracting.

Here’s a perfect example: try doing whatever it is you do that requires deep thinking or problem solving (like reading or writing a blog post) with Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” in the background. You can’t not sing along. Go ahead, try. I dare you.

Was I right?

It’s hard to focus because when songs mean something to you, it activates your implicit memories — stuff you unconsciously store — such as what you were doing when that song played. Prom, a killer concert, vacation, etc. And that’s why you can’t concentrate on the task at hand. Scientists and researchers have called this the “reminiscence bump.”

This is why having music appropriate for the job is crucial.

Here are some of my favorite artists and tried-and-true stations on Pandora radio to help spark some ideas and possibly even introduce you to some new music.

High Energy

High energy for doing mundane tasks, for that “extra lift” after 3 p.m. (also great for running!):

  • Fatboy Slim Radio
  • Dubstep Strength Training Radio*

*Spoiler alert for any Deadpool fans.

Skip to “Groovy Instrumental” below if you haven’t seen Deadpool 2.

Dubstep made an appearance in DP2. Can you imagine that scene with anything OTHER than dubstep?

Check out the song featured in Deadpool 2

Groovy Instrumental

If I need a more upbeat tempo, these are some solid go-tos:

  • Guitar Club (Instrumental) Radio
  • Lindsey Stirling Radio

Chillaxing Instrumental

I often read and write with stations and artists like these on in the background:

  • Lakeside Guitar Club Radio
  • George Winston Radio
    • Fun fact: I’m listening to this station as I edit this post
  • Helen Jane Long Radio
  • Ian Ethan Case
    • Fun fact: Ian is an acoustic double-neck guitarist I discovered at a TEDx talk this summer.

Female Vocalists

I could listen to these ladies all day but not if I’m reading or writing. These are artists to listen to for tasks like accounting and files organizing:

Male Vocalists

Same thing for the gentlemen. Don’t try to problem-solve with these guys in your ear:

Extreme Wicked Chill

  • Sounds of Nature: Tibetan Healing Sounds
  • Girish http://www.girishmusic.com/ Radio
    • Fun fact: Girish played during a yoga class I attended. What a cool experience!

Girish after yoga class

Post Modern Jukebox

These guys and gals get their own category because I’m going to see them in concert in a few weeks at the Lowell Summer Music Series. PMJ does covers with a vintage twist.

My preferences are in no way an exhaustive list — it just takes a bit of time to figure out how music interacts with your mind. Maybe you have some new ideas?

A Note About Headphones

Do yourself a solid and grab a pair of over-the-ear wireless noise-cancelling headphones.

I have one by Plantronics that also doubles as a Bluetooth headset for my smartphone. It’s these glorious little treasures that truly make a world of difference and your work day all that much more enjoyable. Got a barking dog? Gone. Noisy air conditioner or heater? Gone. Loud colleague? Buh-bye. Package delivery at the front door? Well, you’ll probably miss that with your headphones on. But it will be worth it!


You can be more creative on the job by listening to music that makes you happy. Experiment with different artists to find your groove and bring more ideas to your next brainstorming meeting.

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