Music To Feed Your Soul During Crucial Design Moments

AUTHOR’S NOTE: At points, I wanted to add more/subtract songs from this list, but somehow I just couldn’t do it. I know there are multiple songs by the same artists, but there’s just something about this list that feels special when played together. Each song offers up something different. While this list is aimed at designers, it can be applied to any field of creativity: painting, sculpting, graphic design, writing, web development, you name it. Take what you can!

Many designers I know love to listen to music while they work, as opposed to the age-old saying “whistle while you work” (which could possibly be the most annoying thing ever). And why not? Music feeds the soul. You might recognize this quote from a certain famous English guy named Bill:

“If music be the food of the soul, play on.”

We all listen to different kinds of music while we design/study/travel: classical, jazz, techno, the list goes on seemingly forever. Depending on your mood, today could be a DJ Jordan Waeles marathon, tomorrow you could be jamming to some Chaupin. Of course, not all music is good during the design process – typically, anything with lyrics is considered bad for multi-tasking (it requires certain neural pathways to fight with each other for processor power, essentially).

But what about those truly crucial moments? The ones when you need the most inspiration, when you’re almost at the finish line and just need to hunker down and focus? We all get writer’s/designer’s block at some point, after all. Not to mention the moment you realize you just accidentally re-created the same design from a client you worked with over 2 years ago. What do you listen to in those moments?

For me, I try to listen to truly moody music. Heavy on the bass, not totally new-agey of course, but still very instrumental. And on that note I give you today’s post, “8 Songs.” Not all of these songs are the type that your parents are likely to listen to (as you can see, I’ve included some Coldplay and M83 to ensure that), but a few of them certainly do hold down the “new age” formula pretty well.

Don’t feel obligated to listen to any of these songs, as we all have our own tastes. But I believe in the saying that “variety is the spice of life” and, as such, would encourage you to at least taste a few of these delectable dishes.

SUGGESTION: Try listening to these with your eyes closed for at least a few seconds, if even but for just a fleeting glimpse of sheer calm. I guarantee you will drift away into your own creative zone perfectly after listening to at least one of these songs. Any & all of these songs can be found on iTunes, if not or Pandora.

So kick back, turn up your speakers/headphones, crank the bass, and just fall into yourself…

8 Songs

(in no particular order)

#1 – Andrew Bird – Yawny at the Apocalypse

Known for recording in the tundra of Minnesota, Andrew Bird sets the tone for his music quite ecstatically. It’s not easily categorized or pin-pointed, and you can definitely catch glimpses of his Illinois-birthright/Midwest elements in his music.

Yawny at the Apocalypse is one of those songs you’d expect to see in the next Danny Boyle film (director of Trainspotting, The Beach, 28 Days Later, Requiem for a Dream, and Sunshine).

YOU MIGHT FEEL: like you’re actually sitting on a hillside eating crackers enjoying your last moments while watching the sun burst into a supernova. It’s a foreign but warming feeling, and I welcome it.

#2 – Coldplay – Death and All His Friends

Coldplay. What more needs to be said about them? Chris Martin has managed to bring back the awesomeness of moving, unique lyrics (though some argue he stole certain aspects from Radiohead). Regardless, Coldplay evokes feelings in many of us reminiscent of childhood, even though it’s very much mature music.

While Death and All His Friends starts off as a fairly cookie cutter Coldplay piece with slide flashbacks to Parachutes, it touches on the now-overused outro-being-the-same-as-the-intro-so-it-seems-like-the-album-plays-forever mentality. Of course, what makes it different is the extension along the original intro, not to mention the ambiance is greatly enhanced leading away from lyrics like “And in the end, we lie awake and dream of making our escape.” Slimey, yet satisfying.

YOU MIGHT FEEL: like you’re watching Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. Then again, those thoughts can quickly turn into feelings for the oh-so-talented Scarlet Johansson, so be careful!

#3 – M83 – You, Appearing

If you haven’t heard M83 before, now is the time to start. If you’re a fan of music at all, this group will inspire you outside of your normal “maxima inspiratio” as I’ve come to call it.

You, Appearing is the kick-off to M83’s album Saturdays = Youth, and boy does it have strong calf muscles. The first atonal pitches of the melody reminisce of a trippy acid lunge. On the other hand, it quickly evolves into something amorphous, which is strange given its repetitious nature.

YOU MIGHT FEEL: as though your soul just landed in your body. When the lyrics finally kick in, if you have your sound turned up, it will knock your teeth into your spleen and you’ll never be happier.

#4 – M83 – Skin Of The Night

Skin Of The Night is the 3nd track of Saturdays = Youth. Strangely enough, it builds completely on the sternum-vibrating You, Appearing, as opposed to the 2nd track Kim & Jessie (and this is A-OK, since Kim & Jessie sounds more like a keyboarder’s wet dream from the 1980s).

YOU MIGHT FEEL: like you need to move to Belgium. Or France. Anywhere but a country that blasts Hank Williams, Jr. before Monday Night Football. Ignorant swine! (I’m proud to be an American, don’t you worry).


I always used to give my roommate crap for listening to this track because it sounds eerily similar to a track from the Mortal Kombat movie. Don’t ask me how I remembered that in the first place.

#5 – M83 – Midnight Souls Still Remain

The close-out track on Saturdays = Youth is the closest song to new age you’ll find on this list, both in its ridiculously repetitive nature and it’s 11-minute runtime. Then again, it’s also one of the most moving pieces of cochlear erotica you’ll ever experience.

YOU MIGHT FEEL: a little overwhelmed by the saying “less is more.” I can’t tell if this track changes keys, or tempos, or anything. But it’s not frustrating at all, it’s welcoming and you’ll find yourself putting this track on repeat just to get another glorious 11 minutes out of it.

#6 – Carly Commando – Everyday

Recognize this song? Then you watch the NBA! First popularized by the Youtube video “Everyday Noah” where a man takes a picture of himself every day for 6 years (I highly recommend you watch it), Carly Commando is actually a friend of Noah’s who was commissioned to write the song purely for the Youtube video. Interestingly enough, Carly says she can’t read music, but I don’t think any of us care after listening to something this beautiful. Of course, somebody from the NBA agrees because they say the video, got in touch with Carly, and ended up using her song in just about every single one of their “Where Amazing Happens” ads during the NBA Playoffs this year.

Everyday is something out of madness, it plays like a classical piano piece but acts very modern. There is enough harmonious movement in this song to make you go crazy, but like the Joker at least you’ll be smiling the whole way.

YOU MIGHT FEEL: completely at peace, and completely motivated at the same time.

#7 – Sigur Ros – Ara Batur

Sigur Ros deserves no introduction to most people. Their one-of-a-kind (literally) sound cannot be found anywhere else, and they are undoubtedly one of the very few bands most people would pay hundreds of dollars to see in concert, even if they played in a dumpster while it was raining on New Year’s Eve. If you do actually need an intro, just read their Wikipedia page and get prepared to be amazed.

Coming in at 9 minutes long, Ara Batur takes place in the middle of Sigur Ros’ newest album Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust, moving the album from the newer, happier, more uplifting sound it manages to achieve (on purpose, and completely unlike any other Sigur Ros venture) back to something more akin to what we’re used to. That said, it doesn’t disappoint, not one bit. Choirs, especially youth choirs, are significantly overplayed in music to achieve a more grandiose sound; however, Sigur Ros pulls it off beautifully in the latter half of this epic track. Don’t you dare skip the 2nd half of this song, as I’m fairly certain that’s punishable by death in at least 38 countries.

YOU MIGHT FEEL: like it’s time to do something meaningful with your life. Don’t worry, that’s perfectly normal.

#8 – Sigur Ros – All Alright

Finally, All Alright is fittingly the final track of Sigur Ros’ newest album Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust. With little else besides the lead singer’s touching falsetto voice, minimalist strings, and barely enough piano to fit onto one page of sheet music, All Alright is easily not the most moving piece on this list (leave that to the earlier tracks). No, All Alright is something you’d want to listen to in your final, sweeping brushstrokes. As you append that last period and hand off your sweetheart of a design to the client, this track offers enough music to keep you moving but enough silence to let you focus on your closing touches.

YOU MIGHT FEEL: that it’s high-time you finish your latest project. Go ahead and do that, I’ll be waiting here for you when you get back.

About The Author

Tyler Hayes is a Minneapolis, MN-based freelance graphic artist, web designer, and serial entrepreneur.  Tyler offers up helpful freelance advice and chronicles his own entrepreneurial ventures.


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