136. Music to Code to

Welcome to this episode of The Rabbit Hole, in which we pick each other’s brains about the best (and worst) music to code to. We don’t just talk music though, but podcasts too, and even the sounds of the outside world set to the tempo of a metronome. Michael feels that the easier the coding problem, the more he can handle lyrics. He’ll be forced to listen to punk rock if there is nothing else on the table, and swears by the thumping kick drums of EDM. Paradoxically, he also likes Tchaikovsky.


Will mostly pillages Mike’s famous techno playlist, but also finds the power chords and unintelligible lyrics of Mongolian-throat-singing-turned-heavy-metal group, ‘The Hu’, to be a good fit. Dave approaches the whole matter with a musician’s brain, and therefore, can’t listen to anything he actually likes while coding. We also touch on the subject of movie soundtracks, with Hans Zimmer and John Williams scores featuring heavily. If for no other reason, tune in to find out how to significantly raise your coding speed to match the beats-per-minute of your favorite EDM song.


Key Points From This Episode:


  • Sneaky ways to find out what other people are listening to without asking them directly.
  • How the difficulty level of a code problem dictates the music Michael listens to.
  • Why deep-dive podcasts are not conducive to coding, while lighthearted ones are.
  • EDM makes for good coding music, with its high energy and lack of lyrics.
  • The bpm of EDM matches the words of code Michael writes per minute!
  • The song William discovered while listening to Michael’s techno mix on Spotify while coding.
  • What makes The Hu so good.
  • William’s criteria for good coding music: high bpm, good bass, and unintelligible lyrics.
  • Different perspectives on what makes ‘good bass’.
  • Why Dave’s music taste equates to him writing only four ‘words-per-minute’.
  • The way classical music can also be good for solving code problems.
  • Where classical music would sit if placed between EDM and the sounds of the world.
  • Musician Dave’s analytical tendencies while listening to music.
  • Will brings up drone music as an antidote to listening analytically.
  • How classical movie soundtracks work well for coding.
  • Why the soundtrack to The Dark Knight is anxiety-provoking.
  • What makes Goa Trance a good choice for coding.
  • The success that Dave has had while listening to the American Primitivism genre.
  • Which kinds of jazz could be good for coding, and which wouldn’t.

Transcript for Episode 136. Music to Code to

[0:00:01.9] MN: Hello and welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developer’s podcast in fantabulous Chelsea, Manhattan. I’m your host, Michael Nunez. Our co-host today:

[0:00:09.8] DA: Dave Anderson.

[0:00:10.8] MN: And our producer:

[0:00:12.0] WJ: William Jeffries.

[0:00:12.1] MN: Today, we’re talking about – what do you currently listen to when you’re programming? A lot of people listen to music and different things and brought up an interesting conversation, you know, pre-production that we figure we need to talk about this.

[0:00:24.8] WJ: Well, I mean, I’m always wondering what other people are listening to.

[0:00:27.2] DA: Yeah, that’s true. I look to my right and I see William’s ear buds in and I look to my left, I see my other colleagues ear buds in and I’m like, “What are they listening to? What is going on in there?” But it feels a little rude. It’s private. They’re in their own place.

[0:00:44.3] WJ: Yeah, you can stalk people on Spotify because usually people have the default set. They’re playing publicly. You can stalk them.

[0:00:51.8] DA: That’s true. But then I got to be like friends with you on Facebook or Spotify through whatever means.

[0:00:58.3] WJ: Right, you got to do some digging.

[0:01:02.0] MN: Wild stalking. You could just be like, “Hey, what are you listening to?”

[0:01:05.3] DA: That’s fair. Okay, I never considered this option but you know, there’s a level of indirection I can get through to really dig in to what you’re listening to. Okay.

[0:01:13.1] WJ: You can also, you know, hack into their computer when they’re not looking.

[0:01:17.6] MN: Pawn them while you’re at it.

[0:01:19.8] WJ: Wait till they go to the bathroom.

[0:01:21.1] DA: Just tuple you unexpectedly.

[0:01:25.9] WJ: Bobby, what are you listening to, what’s on your –

[0:01:28.1] MN: No, there’s got to be like certain criteria for the things that I can listen to. First and foremost, suppose it’s like a feature that it doesn’t take a lot of energy. You used the word earlier, ‘grock’, like, you have to think really hard about how to solve this problem. If the problem is pretty light, I can listen to things with words so that includes like whether it’s you know, hip hop, rap, rock, if necessary, punk rock.

[0:01:59.5] WJ: If necessary.

[0:02:00.8] MN: If necessary. If I got to get there, I got to blast some Green Day.

[0:02:03.9] DA: I’m trying to imagine like what situation necessitates listening to The Time of Your Life?

[0:02:09.2] MN: Some nostalgia, Green Day or The Offspring but the idea that like it’s an easy task, I could listen to things with words. I think today I tried listening to a podcast. That was like “Yeah, this is not too bad. I can listen to this podcast and dive in and out because I don’t really” – I’m not listening 100% about every single word that’s happening.

[0:02:29.0] WJ: That is crazy to me.

[0:02:29.5] DA: It’s like a certain kind of podcast really. It can’t be the podcast where they’re like – they’re just taking like 40 minutes and like diving deep into a topic and there’s a thread that you have to follow, minute to minute and they’re taking you on a journey.

[0:02:41.0] MN: Right, I’m not listening to like Serial – that kind of – I’m listening to the Joe Budden Podcast.

[0:02:46.6] DA: Season two.

[0:02:47.3] MN: Yeah, I’m listening to Joe Budden Podcast. They talk nonsense about rap and stuff. I could turn that on and I realized that I could turn that on and just have it play and if I really miss something, I can go back a couple and then that’s it. If it’s something I really have to dig in deep like I need to architect this new feature from the ground up and do all sorts of stuff. Gotta be EDM. it has to be like high beats per minute. Good melody, it’s going down.

[0:03:15.2] DA: Do you know how many beats per minute because I know you’re a musician.

[0:03:18.0] MN: It’s probably like 120 maybe to 150. It has to keep my – it has to be pumping. Yeah. Loud. Noise cancelling. Don’t talk to me.

[0:03:30.0] DA: That’s like Matching your words per minute, right? 120 words per minute?

[0:03:34.4] MN: Exactly, it’s got to be like –

[0:03:40.3] WJ: So many lines of code.

[0:03:42.1] MN: I have a new one though but I’m interested in – what do you listen to William? What kind of music, depending on your situation – what are you tuning in to?

[0:03:49.4] DA: I’m so looking forward to hearing this because I’ve been wanting to ask and I’ve been so respectful. It’s a radio show and I’m not respectful, what are you listening to William?

[0:03:58.6] WJ: Bobby, I don’t think that you know this but for the past year, I have almost exclusively coded to your techno mix on Spotify.

[0:04:06.0] MN: Yeah? Oh no.

[0:04:07.5] WJ: Yeah.

[0:04:09.0] MN: I have not been growing that.

[0:04:10.1] DA: Wait. Can listeners like –

[0:04:13.1] WJ: I think it’s public playlist.

[0:04:14.5] MN: It’s a public – No, I remember, yes, you asked me. Zach has – Zach, friend of the show, had asked me like, “Yo, play something with like deep base, like something that bumps,” and I played it and it was – the name of the song is called Deeply Disturbed by Infected Mushroom.

[0:04:31.0] WJ: Infected mushroom, it’s so good. It’s such a good –

[0:04:34.3] DA: Wait.

[0:04:34.4] WJ: Such a good song to code to.

[0:04:38.1] DA: I’m missing out.

[0:04:39.0] MN: I got to put this on the shownotes. Infected mushroom.

[0:04:42.2] DA: I feel like I’m literally like –

[0:04:43.3] MN: Top five EDM’s to programming music, Infected Mushroom has to be on your playlist. If you’ve been listening to that –

[0:04:48.7] DA: Damn, I got to like pump my playlist, I got to make –

[0:04:51.3] MN: Because I’ve just been listening to like all the daily playlist that Spotify recommends for me.

[0:04:54.7] DA: Do you follow?

[0:04:57.1] WJ: I can’t get to anybody else’s daily playlist so, I mean, I could see like individual tracks if I was listening to it but I do that, I like, stick to the good stuff that Bobby’s been telling me.

[0:05:05.7] DA: You follow. It’s like okay.

[0:05:08.3] WJ: I mean, actually, today, I was listening to a band called The Hu. Which is a band that has taken traditional Mongolian throat singing and turned it into heavy metal.

[0:05:24.7] DA: What?

[0:05:24.9] WJ: it is phenomenal. My god.

[0:05:28.7] MN: I need that playlist.

[0:05:30.2] WJ: It is so good.

[0:05:33.2] MN: What is it about it that makes you like in the zone?

[0:05:37.0] DA: This resonates with like coding.

[0:05:38.7] WJ: Right, okay, my requirements when I’m listening to music while coding are similar to yours. It needs to have a high enough BPM to keep me sort of on my toes.

[0:05:48.1] DA: Yeah, keeping up with the words per minute.

[0:05:49.7] WJ: Yeah. Got to match my words per minute. I’m at like 150 easy.

[0:05:56.9] DA: The Hu fits the bill.

[0:06:00.6] WJ: Some good bass. You need something that’s like going to keep the rhythm and then you need, for me, really minimal lyrics or no lyrics or lyrics in another language that I can’t understand. These people –

[0:06:12.0] MN: Unintelligible.

[0:06:13.5] WJ: I mean, it’s literally in I don’t know whatever language –

[0:06:15.9] DA: Mongolian or something. Okay, as a bassist, I need to know what quantifies good bass. Because I have an idea of good base but I think that might be different.

[0:06:30.6] WJ: Well, so, I’m kind of curious. As a bassist, what is good base to you?

[0:06:37.1] DA: I mean like – you go first and then I’ll answer.

[0:06:39.6] WJ: You don’t want to poison the well here

[0:06:40.4] MN: There’s two instances of the bass I think for me. One is like either like the bass pedal of a drum where it’s like a huge, “boof, boof, boof,” going in with the music that keeps up with my words per minute. Yeah, 150, easy. There’s either that or there is like a bass line that I can like jam to if the song has like a good rooted, nice melody that is high performing I guess. I think that alone and then of course, there’s like intricate, like snares that can play, or like different melodies that get used. That kind of stuff.

So, as a bassist, you’re looking for like runs and riffs? Do you listen to jazz? What do you currently listening to Dave?

[0:07:26.6] DA: I mean, I don’t listen to anything. I just listen to the sound of the world around me.

[0:07:31.8] MN: What?

[0:07:32.9] WJ: What? How do you focus, that’s crazy?

[0:07:37.6] DA: I just appreciate the salesperson hitting the gong. You know, the conversation about celery cubes or something happening around me.

[0:07:46.7] MN: What’s your words per minute bro, like four?

[0:07:49.5] DA: Yeah, it’s really low, I’m really not performing. I’m not like a 10X developer I guess you would say. Just a regular 1X developer.

[0:07:59.8] MN: I got to put my playlist up on the show notes. I got to hook you up bro, it’s good stuff.

[0:08:04.8] WJ: Take you up an order of magnitude.

[0:08:07.6] DA: Exactly. A literal order of magnitude, that’s how much improvement I could do I guess if I actually listen to this playlist.

[0:08:13.5] WJ: Yeah, you go from four to 140 words per minute man.

[0:08:16.3] MN: Easy bro, easy.

[0:08:18.7] WJ: You can write so much good.

[0:08:19.6] DA: Right.

[0:08:20.5] MN: Recently though, I think I did this the day before yesterday. I don’t know why or where it came from but I suddenly wanted to listen to Tchaikovsky is the name of the composer who wrote Swan Lake. Have you seen the movie Black Swan? I think Natalie Portman is in it. It’s about like the ballet, Swan Lake.

[0:08:43.8] MN: Has a great sound track, great composer. Only reason I know that is because I fell asleep and woke up in music history in high school to remember that guy’s name. I was listening to classical music which is very interesting, the exact opposite of your 150 beats per minute to match my typing skills. But I think that when you also slow down the music, it almost –like you get immersed in your thoughts and in the thing you're trying to solve and then you can crush it just as good.

[0:09:16.1] WJ: For me, the slow stuff, particularly classical music – I usually reach for Chopin, maybe some Beethoven and for me, that’s when you have to read a lot and you need to be able to focus while you're reading.

[0:09:26.8] MN: Right.

[0:09:27.1] WJ: Because those BPM’s, those will mess me up if I’m not able to type. I got to match my words per minute. If it gets really slow, that’s like when we need to dig through the docs for a while.

[0:09:41.7] MN: That makes sense though. I was doing it because I was doing some research in code and I was like, “Oh!” I walked in. I was on the train listening to classical music and then I walked – got to my chair, still listening to classical music and two hours later I’m like, “Wow, this helped me out just now. I didn’t have to switch to my techno playlist,” as I call it. So I think that is relatively close to the sounds of the world, almost. Like I think if there is –

[0:10:08.8] DA: A bird. A sun rising.

[0:10:10.5] MN: Yeah and I think there is a bar between the sound of the world and the EDM hard techno music, I think classical is more on the left. I think so.

[0:10:19.4] DA: Yeah, I think for me the music I always listen to – I will dissect it as I am listening to it.

[0:10:27.5] WJ: This is the musicians probably.

[0:10:28.9] DA: I want to peel back the layers. I want to listen and I like things that have some interesting syncopation or polyrhythm kind of thing going on and I don’t know – when I do that I do that and then I can’t do the other thing anymore which is the typing and yeah I don’t know.

[0:10:52.1] WJ: Have you tried drone music?

[0:10:54.4] DA: Oh drone music would probably do the trick yeah.

[0:10:57.2] MN: What’s drone music?

[0:10:58.5] WJ: So I think it is for actual musicians it is interesting because it gives you some relief from the need to analyze the music. For most people –

[0:11:06.8] DA: This is impossible.

[0:11:08.0] WJ: Yeah. For most people it is extremely painfully boring and the most dull droning repetitive music possible.

[0:11:20.5] DA: No structure just like a tone.

[0:11:25.2] MN: Oh no, no, no I don’t think I could do that. Another set of classical, another set of –

[0:11:29.6] WJ: You just set a metronome.

[0:11:32.3] DA: No that wouldn’t do it.

[0:11:34.4] MN: Another set of music that I listen to is classical I guess but it is movie soundtracks. I think the one that I could do that I can actually work or do some reading. It is really good for reading. Batman Begins. That soundtrack is amazing. So good, there is a lot of like parts where there is like marching-ish or really upbeat music but it is not like insane synthesizing like techno. So that soundtrack is really good. Inception is really good too if you’re into both.

[0:12:08.1] DA: Sure if you like “bah” like that where they go “aaaaaah!!”

[0:12:13.3] MN: Yeah, exactly. I can’t listen to things – like the soundtrack I cannot listen to is The Dark Knight because there is certain parts where the movie plays, you know it is the Joker scene and all of the Joker scenes are violins playing achromatic off key and it just gets me super anxious. I get really excited like, “No, no, no, I need to change this. The Joker is here. I got to do something about it.”

[0:12:40.4] DA: I mean I don’t even remember what the soundtrack for the first movie was like Batman Begins.

[0:12:45.1] MN: Ra's al Ghul is coming to destroy Gotham because all great civilizations must fall. I saw it recently. It is a great movie soundtrack. I think John Williams, of course. If you want to listen to like Harry Potter, Superman. Like those albums are amazing and there is another person. I am going to have to Google it but you guys, I don’t know what other classical music. Do you guys have any other kind of genre of music you all listen to when you guys are deep into the coding?

[0:13:14.2] WJ: I really like to Goa Trance, a specific kind of trance and it features a lot of crescendos and so you know, you got like a low and then the beat will drop and then it will build and then it will crescendo and then –

[0:13:27.7] DA: There is like a snare drum.

[0:13:31.6] WJ: And I’m always like, you know, “All right I am going to go green like right as the song climaxes aaahhhh!”

[0:13:39.7] MN: Yeah.

[0:13:40.2] WJ: I find that that is really helpful for getting me hyped and motivated to continue pressing forward with this bug that will not disappear.

[0:13:47.4] DA: Yeah, I feel like for me like instrumental stuff would do the trick. Well I think in the past I’ve had some good success with like a genre music called American Primitivism. I can’t say it.

[0:14:02.6] WJ: Primitivization.

[0:14:03.3] DA: American Primitivism, yeah.

[0:14:05.8] MN: Well what does it entail?

[0:14:07.3] DA: It is mostly like solo acoustic guitar and just kind of arpeggiating, like not going anywhere in particular. No vocals.

[0:14:18.0] WJ: Dave with the music words, damn.

[0:14:20.7] MN: Arpeggios.

[0:14:22.2] WJ: Arpeggiation, syncopation like dropping some $10 words over here.

[0:14:26.8] MN: Yeah, I haven’t heard that since high school.

[0:14:30.7] WJ: Music theory.

[0:14:31.9] DA: You got to syncopate man.

[0:14:33.4] WJ: You do got to syncopate.

[0:14:35.3] MN: I have a question, I guess, for you, William. Do you believe, now, from the discussion we just had, music makes you feel good as you’re programming and getting work done? But does it actually do it? Like do you know like –

[0:14:49.6] WJ: Like do I actually code better when I am listening to my jams? Absolutely, 100% defo. No question about it. I think you had a question earlier about what I consider really dank base.

[0:15:03.5] DA: Oh yeah let’s go back to that please.

[0:15:06.6] WJ: So I mean I think like particularly The Hu appeals to me because it is like – I think they are probably just playing power chords but I mean it is like a really chunky thick base and it is loud and so if you have decent headset or –

[0:15:20.9] DA: It is a long base like bam-bam-bam?

[0:15:25.7] WJ: Yeah and it’s four on the floor. So, I mean, I don’t know, probably not the most interesting base. Actually for a bassist it would probably be dull.

[0:15:34.7] DA: Yeah I want that 16th note, a little bit of nudge off the beat and then, “Ah yeah that is good,” but, you know, the classics, soul, RNB and it’s like, “Nope it doesn’t work in my brain and the coding.”

[0:15:49.1] MN: I think to try RNB or jazz. I think jazz, like smooth jazz might do it.

[0:15:53.6] DA: Yeah like some Weather Channel stuff, you know. Don’t go for like Miles Davis or anything that is not –

[0:15:59.4] WJ: Yeah, John Coltrane, take five.

[0:16:01.3] DA: I mean you can give it a shot, let us know.

[0:16:03.7] WJ: I think – so we are music nubes so for us, well I don’t know I don’t speak for you. I am a music nube, so for me, these more complicated things are less disruptive.

[0:16:16.0] DA: Maybe, I mean I just spend a lot of time like thinking about it and it just – yeah I don’t know, I have trained my brain to do this thing and now I can’t un-train it.

[0:16:25.4] MN: No, I think I definitely un-trained myself when I was listening to like Tchaikovski, I was like conducting the song in the middle of me coding and I was just like, “Hmm yes! All right! Oh, big drop! There you go!” I was doing that a lot. Definitely wasn’t coding as well, definitely not a 100%. I was definitely not coding a 100% with the classical but it felt really good as I was doing it. I think that is what is important for me I guess.

[0:16:53.4] WJ: I do think language matters.

[0:16:54.6] MN: Yeah, I can’t. No, no if I listen to music that has words while I am really trying to type I would type the lyrics by accident into my coding and that is really bad.

[0:17:04.7] DA: Or name your variable is just key points from this words.

[0:17:09.3] MN: Yeah, I know that has happened too many times, yeah.

[0:17:11.4] DA: Like du-du-du-dut-du-dut-tu semicolon, equals five.

[0:17:17.2] MN: Yeah that happens to me often which is why I can’t like – if it is a hard task like nose down try to get this feature done, I cannot have words. I would just type the words out by accident.

[0:17:28.0] WJ: Yeah, [inaud]

[0:17:31.7] MN: Yeah, equals four, there you go! Yes it is. I can’t do that. But yeah I think we’ve all just explored the things that we listened to. I guess I have to put my techno playlist on the shownotes and I guess I have to hook it up a little more.

[0:17:48.4] DA: I mean I feel that you really should hook me up because I don’t know.

[0:17:51.2] MN: Fam, say no more. I got you. I will send that link right now.

[0:17:55.4] DA: If you want to be a 10X developer, don’t hold out.

[0:17:56.7] MN: Yeah, I got you.

[0:17:59.1] WJ: And if you have a playlist that you really like for programming definitely tweet @radiofreerabbit and let us know what you are listening to. We will 100% listen to your playlist for sure.

[0:18:08.2] MN: Yeah, I want to give it a go. I want to see if the jams that you all are listening to are things that I can jam to. Maybe you’ll see it in my techno playlist too. I will add ‘em in. Let’s do it.

[0:18:18.0] WJ: Yeah, I mean if you can convince me to listen to something other than Bobby’s playlist and also Mongolian throat singing heavy metal, I mean that would expand my world.

[0:18:29.4] MN: There you go.


[0:18:30.0] MN: Follow us now on Twitter @radiofreerabbit so we can keep the conversation going. Like what you hear? Give us a five star review and help developers like you find their way into The Rabbit Hole and never miss an episode. Subscribe now however you listen to your favorite podcast. On behalf of our producer extraordinaire, William Jeffries and my amazing co-host, Dave Anderson and me, your host, Michael Nunez, thanks for listening to The Rabbit Hole.



Links and Resources:

William Jeffries on Twitter

Dave Anderson on Twitter

Michael Nunez on Twitter

Green Day

The Time of Your Life

The Offspring

Serial Podcast

The Joe Budden Podcast

Deeply Disturbed

Infected Mushroom

The Hu


Swan Lake

Black Swan

Batman Begins Soundtrack

Inception Soundtrack

The Dark Knight Soundtrack

John Williams

Harry Potter Soundtrack

Superman Soundtrack

The Weather Channel

Miles Davis

John Coltrane

The Rabbit Hole on Twitter