233. What do you listen to when programming?

In today’s episode of The Rabbit Hole, we pose the question: what do you listen to when you are programming? Co-hosts, Micheal Nunez and Sophie Creutz, and returning guest, Raymond Lam, discuss their favorite tunes for different situations; from smooth jazz for solo coding and ambient noise for focusing on the problem at hand to soundtracks for reading and classical piano for relaxing. We also give you the opportunity to share the music that pumps you up while programming on our collaborative Spotify playlist, so stay tuned to find out more!


Key Points From This Episode:

  • Sophie shares her go-to music for programming: lo-fi.
  • Why it’s generally useful for the music you listen to not to have lyrics.
  • Why Raymond prefers the smooth sounds of bossa nova jazz when he is solo coding.
  • While it changes for Michael depending on the situation, he gravitates towards EDM.
  • Different situations that call for different music: why Raymond chooses ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams for successful PR merges.
  • How ambient noise like the sound of waves helps Sophie focus on the problem at hand.
  • Why Michael likes to listen to soundtracks by the likes of Hans Zimmer while reading.
  • Which music Raymond finds the most relaxing, including Mozart and Chopin.
  • Where to find our collaborative Spotify playlist.
  • And much more!


Transcript for Episode 233. What do you listen to when programming?


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

[0:00:10.7] MN: Sophie Creutz.

[0:00:11.9] MN: And our returning guest.

[0:00:14.2] DA: Raymond Lam.

[0:00:16.3] MN: Today, we have the question, what do you listen to when you’re programming?

[0:00:23.0] SC: So many things.

[0:00:24.3] MN: So many things. This is a callback to episode 136, Music to Code To, and I think it’s a great conversation to have with newer folks on the podcast to kind of figure out what are some of the smooth tunes you all listen to. Sophie, you want to kick us off with the – start us off with the playlist you have in mind or type of music that you listen to.

[0:00:45.8] SC: Oh gosh, well, I would say that when I am programming, there’s a specific kind of thing that I gravitate to and that’s lo-fi.

[0:00:54.8] MN: Okay, tell the kids what lo-fi is, for those who may not know.

[0:00:57.3] SC: I would describe lo-fi as instrumental tracks. There’s generally not a vocal part and they’re also generally is some kind of consistent beat that goes along with it. I find that useful because there isn’t the potentially distracting element of words but there is a rhythm, so it’s got – it sort of like, keeps you go and that sense of rhythm.

[0:01:26.3] MN: Yes, there’s like – there’s different types of lo-fi, yeah?

[0:01:29.9] SC: Yeah. I mean, there seem to be a lot of variations which is interesting because then you get into all these clever creative names for the new genre. You get chill hop, you get jazz hop, you get chill step. I’ve even seen coder-fi or something like that which was kind of intriguing.

[0:01:50.7] MN: Yeah, I ran into a lo-fi hip-hop playlist on Spotify and I’m going to be honest folks, lo-fi hip-hop gives me anxiety.

[0:01:59.9] SC: Oh no.

[0:02:00.8] RL: Why?

[0:02:02.8] MN: I have no idea why. One would think, you know, it’s chill and you're just grooving and there’s a snare and drum in the background and I don’t think this happened when I was programming but it happened when I went supermarket shopping and tried to do that as chill as possible and for whatever reason, I couldn’t find the bread or something and then it just drove me nuts that I had this thing that was trying to get me to chill when I was starting to get anxious.

I think I resolved that I could come back to the lo-fi hip-hop setting and it’s not as anxiety-inducing as I once felt before but that is pretty good music in the background, right? You mentioned no or low lyrics, you don’t want the lyrics to disturb you or anything like that and I think the lo-fi definitely helps in that regard. Raymond, do you have any particular type of genre of music that you listen to?

[0:02:58.5] RL: I do actually. When I just solo code, alone, I like to listen bossa nova instrumentals or bossa nova jazz.

[0:03:08.8] SC: Nice.

[0:03:10.2] MN: Oh nice.

[0:03:11.6] RL: Yeah, it’s like, whenever you go to a hotel, it’s the lounge music that they put on to make you relax and you just lie there and you just chill.

[0:03:20.9] MN: Nice, so you’re like, chilling while working at a hotel resort in your office in your ears.

[0:03:29.2] RL: Yes, exactly because I’m in Chicago and I’m not at the resort right now at the winter time.

[0:03:36.5] MN: Yeah, no. I hear Chicago in the winter time is pretty cold.

[0:03:40.0] RL: Yeah.

[0:03:41.4] MN: For sure. Yeah, for me, it changes depending on the situation but I normally gravitate to my EDM, drum and bass. I think we mentioned in the previous episode about the different artists that I listen to but it’s pretty heavy on the no vocals, high BPM, get the people going if you will, especially when I’m in deep thought, if I need to figure out this hairy function that I need to refactor or to optimize or something like that.

I definitely can get lost and in the zone when I’m listening to some EDM music. Then we’ll talk about other situations, I think I’ve mentioned it before in the previous episode as well. If it’s something that I know that I can get by that I have a clear understanding of what I’m about to type or about to do, I can listen to music with a little bit more lyrics in it.

A lot of hip-hop music that I grew up with, I can definitely do that. My problem is, if I’m in deep thought and I’m listening to things with lyrics, I will accidentally type the words out. That’s always a problem.

[0:04:52.1] RL: I think I’ve done the same thing as well. 

[0:04:53.9] MN: Yeah, so it’s like that. I mean, I imagine that’s why bossa nova works and lo-fi chill-hop works because there’s less lyrics that you're less likely to type into. Raymond, are there different situations that come up that play different music for you?

[0:05:07.9] RL: Yeah, sometimes I just don’t listen to music when I’m looking at a really hairy function. I just turn it – I got to turn that off to focus, to find a bug. Sometimes, even if I have to refactor a big function, then I’d really need to just focus and music is just a hindrance, another layer of overhead for me.

[0:05:29.2] MN: Yeah.

[0:05:30.3] RL: I just sometimes turn it off but I do have celebratory music playlist whenever a successful PR has merged domain or master, that’s when I like to listen to that but I’m not sure if my team likes it.

[0:05:45.3] MN: Wait, what is that, is it like marching music or?

[0:05:48.6] RL: No, it’s like, ‘Happy’, that music, you know?

[0:05:52.4] MN: Okay, yes.

[0:05:53.9] RL: Pharrell Williams.

[0:05:56.2] SC: I love that song.

[0:05:58.6] MN: ‘Happy’ is a good song. That is a good PR merge song. I imagine if that was – if we were in the office and anytime it gets merged in, it’s like. “It might be crazy what I’m about to say,” right? That would be hilarious, that would be a great song to have merged in.

[0:06:15.1] RL: Exactly.

[0:06:16.0] MN: Sophie, do you have any different situations that will call for a different music?

[0:06:19.7] SC: Yeah, that’s a good question. I was just thinking, the situation that Raymond described where you are looking at something super hairy, you got to focus-focus-focus-focus in, what I do sometimes in situations like that is that I choose a completely ambient sound, such as the sound of a creak flowing or the sound of waves or the sound of rain or the sound of a thunderstorm. 

Things like that. I’ll listen to that if I need something that definitely won’t distract me but will potentially help me focus in on the problem that I am looking at rather than on distractions from the outside world but although now I am kind of wondering what it might be like if I put on something like ‘Eye of the Tiger’ when I am about to try and solve a really difficult problem. 

[0:07:10.7] MN: Yeah. Sophie, that reminds me at the beginning of the pandemic where everyone was locked in, I really missed the commute, the train ride commute in New York City and someone had shared a playlist – it wasn’t a playlist. It was actually one long audio clip of someone riding the train from one stop to the last stop and it was – so, for some strange reason, I used to play that. 

To kind of throw off the different playlist that I had, I would just throw on that particular thing as like, “Oh, next stop Decomp Avenue, stand clear of the closing door.” It was just like so weird for me to like call back to that commute time, so it’s cool to hear that like the ambient noise is a thing that you would tune into as well to kind of switch it up. 

[0:08:08.4] SC: Yes, something that could be really comforting. I heard tell that people also would listen to like recordings of the interior of a coffee shop or even recordings of typical office sounds like staplers and copy machines and people typing and things like that. 

[0:08:26.4] MN: Yeah, I think the funniest thing about that audio clip of the train ride is that somewhere in the audio, you can hear someone scream, which is like a New York call of like, “Yo, hold that door, hold the door,” so that the person will get in, and it’s just great music. It’s so real life. 

[0:08:46.5] SC: It’s so real. 

[0:08:47.2] MN: I’ll see if I could put it in the show notes for sure because it is pretty funny and if you’re into ambient music that would definitely help you feel like you’re in New York City. 

[0:08:57.2] SC: That’s pretty cool, yeah. 

[0:08:58.1] MN: On a train but you’re safe because you are still able to use the computer and you don’t have to worry about show time or anything of that nature. 

[0:09:06.4] SC: Yeah, for sure. 

[0:09:08.0] MN: I think the last playlist I’ve mentioned before in time has to do with reading. For me, it’s like oftentimes of that to look at programming text or whatever. I think the current – I am re-reading Clean Code because I have it here on my desk. I definitely love to listen to a music soundtrack.

[0:09:28.9] SC: Oh nice, yeah. 

[0:09:30.7] MN: I definitely gravitate towards Hans Zimmer. 

[0:09:35.2] SC: So good.

[0:09:36.0] MN: [Inaudible 0:09:36] is really good music to study and you just have it really low enough where you can hear it but like not get in the way of the words you’re trying to read, which works for me. 

[0:09:47.7] SC: There is some awesome soundtracks out there for sure. Hans Zimmer I think also did Pirates of the Caribbean maybe awhile back. 

[0:09:54.1] MN: Yeah, he’s done a whole lot of good stuff but he’s done Pirates for sure. That’s a fun fact that I know for some reason but I know he’s done the Batman trilogy and Pirates, which is a pretty good soundtrack all together. 

[0:10:06.5] SC: Yeah. Do you have any soundtracks you really dig Raymond?

[0:10:09.9] RL: Well, if you’re talking about soundtracks, I listen to classical music for soundtracks like Mozart and Chopin. 

[0:10:20.9] MN: Oh, yes. 

[0:10:23.1] RL: ‘Fantasy Impromptu’ just gets me, yeah. 

[0:10:26.9] MN: It gets you chilling or it gets you in the zone? Are you able to program? Are you able to cruise?

[0:10:32.4] RL: I think this is what I would listen when I’m on my break more because I just need to get out of context sometimes just to relax. Chopin and his piano, man, that’s my thing when I need to relax. 

[0:10:45.7] MN: Nice. Well, that’s awesome. 

[0:10:47.3] SC: If you dig piano music, you might also dig Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky. 

[0:10:52.2] RL: Rachmaninoff? Oh, yeah they are very good. 

[0:10:55.5] SC: Yeah. 

[0:10:56.3] RL: But in order to play those types of music, you need really big hands. 

[0:11:00.2] SC: This is true, unless you have a really small piano. 

[0:11:07.7] MN: I can let you borrow the one that I’ll get for Gio and we’ll use that one and then we’ll figure that out. Awesome, one thing that I’ll ensure this time around, we’re trying to collect all the playlists that we just mentioned and you know, put that into the show notes and everyone can listen to the cool playlists that we currently listen to. If you ever had the chance, check out episode 136, Music to Code To, where we dive deep into the different playlists that both Dave Anderson and William Jeffries listened to at the time when we did the recording. 

[0:11:38.5] SC: I think we’d love also to hear from the community about what all you all out there are hearing. 

[0:11:45.0] MN: I don’t know, I’m afraid to like make a public playlist and then see what kind of crazy stuff gets added into it but I’ll be willing to try that. 

[0:11:53.0] RL: We should just make a Bobby Spotify playlist for everybody. 

[0:11:57.0] MN: Yeah, I’ll make a Bobby’s Programming Spotify playlist, put that in the show notes and I’ll ask people to add it and it’s going to go crazy and people are going to put Smash Mouth in there and all sorts of crazy songs. 

[0:12:14.3] SC: Smash Mouth. 

[0:12:15.1] MN: I’ll do my best to get that set up and I hope to see people’s addition to the music too. 


[0:12:20.8] 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:

Episode 136: Music to Code To

Flow State Collaborative Playlist

The Rabbit Hole on Twitter


Michael Nunez on LinkedIn

Michael Nunez on Twitter

David Anderson on LinkedIn

David Anderson on Twitter

William Jeffries on LinkedIn

William Jeffries on Twitter