Silence.

I struggle to work in it.

It gives me a chance to think about some strange stuff.

Did you know that you produce between 1 and 2 litres of spit each day?

Gross, right?

Don’t look at me like that. You’re the one drooling everywhere.

So anyway, I need to quieten down my beautiful smooth brain so I can focus on the work in front of me. And guess what? Come a bit closer; I need to whisper this next bit.

I’m getting a bit sick of my music.

I have exceptional music taste, don't worry. I listen to cool sounds and comb my cool hair in the mirror. Cool. But I need a break. I'm sitting at the carvery after too many roast potatoes - I need something to cleanse my palette because I may never be hungry again.

But what are my options? Let’s explore 10 alternatives to your usual Spotify playlist.

1. Poolsuite

I used to work with a chap who sat at his desk wearing armbands and a snorkel.

Poolsuite is designed for people like this. It’s an artificial retro radio station that plays sunny tunes you’ve never heard of from the past.

It is perfect for background noise, although it makes you want to take your trousers off and dip your feet into a tiny paddling pool under your desk. Which, thinking about it now is technically fine for Zoom calls. Just don’t splash too hard or you’ll short circuit your air fryer.

Poolsuite™
The ultra-summer internet radio station, playing an infinity pool of summer sounds 24/7. Swimwear optional. Formerly Poolside FM.

2. Study with me videos

This is the polar opposite of the above. We're no longer drinking a bucket of cheap mojitos in the sun. Oh no, Ma'am, we're now slowing down and focusing on some fat tasks.

Study with me videos come in a few flavours, but centre around a video of somebody working in a cosy location. You hear the ambient noise, and more often than not, there is music (often lo-fi, chill-hop or soft piano).

You might have to watch one to see what I mean:

Many of these videos feature 'Pomodoro' style timers if you're splitting your tasks into deep work segments. Every 25 minutes, a ping lets you know that your block is up so you can stretch those toes and brew some tea.

3. Noisli

If you want to pay some money for your worky sounds, look no further. Noisli is great if you need white noise sent into your brain.

$10 per month gets you access to 28 sounds, unlimited streaming and a focus timer.

They also offer a free version that limits you to around half of the sounds, and you only get access for 90 minutes a day.

Is 10 dollarydoos a month steep for this? You can get plenty of free white noise from elsewhere. Maybe it's a placebo, and the paid sounds make you focus more? Answers on a postcard please.

They have a super minimal design, and from a purely aesthetic point of view, it's top-notch. Give the free version a go, and let me know what you think.

Noisli - Improve Focus and Boost Productivity with Background Sounds
Your digital place for focus. Mix different sounds and create your perfect sound environment to work, study and relax.

4. MyNoise

This offering seems to be designed to cut out any disturbing noises if you're working in a busy office or a quarry or whatever.

It's similar to Noisli, but you can fine-tune your sound to the Nth degree.

Need light rain and only the small birds chirping? Sure thing, boss.

Want less chat but more sounds of Janine buttering a fish? You got it.

Less clinking of mugs in a coffee shop and more of that man tapping his pen and chewing loudly? Don't be daft. Nobody wants that.

But you get the gist; you’re in complete control of your environment.

Focus at Work • Relax at Home • Sleep at Night | myNoise ®
Background Noises • Ambient Sounds • Interactive Soundscapes • Relaxing Music • Online & Free

5. Japanese City Pop

Niches are great.

I work in a niche, I write in one. I even ride a niche bicycle. Liam Niche-on.

Japanese City Pop is a wonderfully obscure pocket of late 1970s funk music and soft rock. I couldn’t tell you how I discovered it, but so many projects in 2021 were powered by Miki Matsubara, Junko Yagami and the Omega Tribe.

I don't speak a lick of Japanese, so it means I can dial into a task without any lyrics or English words distracting me.

6. Film scores

I like a good film. Like Babe: Pig in the City.

So by default, I like film scores as well. They set the scene on the big screen and translate surprisingly well into productivity tools.

Are you trying to get a job out in time and struggling for ideas? Go for Gladiator. With all the chopping and the kicking and the 'are you not entertained'-ing.

Cramming too much text into a layout? Think small thoughts with Hobbit music. Get in the speakers, wee Hobbits, and play the tin whistle.

⚠️
Be careful going down this road because the temptation is real to disappear for 11 hours and 36 minutes to watch the extended LOTR trilogy.

You have to pick your film wisely, but big horns and a string section have assisted many a tight deadline in my career.

I know the point of this piece is to avoid Spotify, but you can't beat them for film scores and OSTs.

7. Chill AF

I'm obviously not the target demographic for this Youtube channel. I creak when I stand up, and I bought a coat because it had 10,000K waterproofing.

Editing note: I was making the point that I'm uncool, but it's a peach of a coat in hindsight.

Anyway, the concept here is that it's <insert singer / Soundcloud rapper / hip hop artist of your choice> but they're 'chill af'.

This usually means their music is:

  • Slowed down a touch
  • Has the reverb ramped up
  • Stripped back for a lo-fi vibe

It's oddly brilliant - perfect working music as it all blends seamlessly into itself.

Again this is one that I should show rather than tell:

8. Lo-fi beats & instrumentals

Instrumentals are ideal for listening to while working. Hip-hop instrumentals are even better.

For example, Electric Relaxation by A Tribe Called Quest is muy bien.

A stripped-back instrumental version is muy muy bien.

A lack of lyrics makes anything a good contender for listening to while working. Especially if you’re writing emails, or trying to read things.

There are plenty of channels putting out long lo-fi playlists, but one I keep going back to is ‘Lofi Girl’.

9. Dirty Melody Records

This blog attracts designers and illustrators, so most of you will have heard of McBess. Or at least seen his work.

This guy.

Slightly fewer of you will have heard of The Dead Pirates, his garage-punk band. Or McBaise, his abstract chill-rock project.

They are signed with Dirty Melody Records, a label that represents 13 psychedelic, nostalgic artsy types. And you know what? You can’t go wrong with any of them.

Videos
Making music and disappointing our parents since 2010. Well actually long before that, but it’s only in 2010 that illustrator, musician and misanthrope Mcbess put a name to this label and thus legitimised our absolute waste of potentials, for your invaluable enjoyment.

10. My Analog Journal

This is one of the latest Youtube channels I tripped over, and it has a pretty constant rotation.

Each video lasts roughly an hour and features London-based Zag Erlat and his cronies sniffing about in big crates of old records.

It's very much a 'B-sides and rarities' vibe which means you're unlikely to know much of what they are playing.

Perfect for when you need to dial into some work and not have any distractions.

What are you listening to?

Eventually, I'll run dry with these and need some more obscure stuff.

Like three hours of Gregorian chanting or the sound of my neighbour strimming her edges.

I’d love to hear what your breaks from Spotify sound like, so be a lamb and leave a comment below.

Or tweet them at me like these people have:

If you've found this post useful, let me know in the comments below. What are your thoughts? Do you agree? Or do you disagree so swimmingly you want to fill up a bucket with 2 litres of spit and slosh it near me? Please don't do that.

For more Productivity stuff, click here, and for Inspiration stuff, click here. If you liked this piece, you'd probably be interested in this one about useful Google Chrome extensions, so go there next.

Remember to keep sitting down on Zoom - nobody wants to see your Speedos; I'll catch up with you in the next one.

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