The Sound of Music: What do you listen to when you write?

by Jaclyn McLean
Collection Services, University Library
University of Saskatchewan

Creating the right environment when you need to fully engage your brain, whether you’re reading some difficult theory, writing a research article, or learning something new, is important, and different for everyone. As a new tenure-track librarian embarking on the adventure of conducting research and writing about what I learn, I am interested in how others shape their audio environment for success. So I threw the question out to my social media networks and colleagues the last couple of weeks, and was surprised by some of the results.

First, the data:

  • 24 respondents
  • 18 of them librarians

Some people gave multiple responses, as their preferences are changeable. Here’s how the responses broke down:

  • 12 – Instrumental/classical/jazz
  • 8 – Silence
  • 6 – Music with words
  • 5 – Ambient
  • 1 – Cars, the movie

As I expected, ambient background noise or music with no words (classical, jazz, nature sounds with orchestra) were near the top, but as someone who almost constantly has some kind of music playing, I was surprised by how many people say their ideal state is silence. Clearly, this is a very personal choice, and you, dear reader, probably have your own preferences.

If you’re interested in reading more about the link between music and productivity, this ( is worth a read (and also has some great online playlists if you want to try something different). If you want to know what the New York Times thinks about listening to music while you’re working, then check this out ( If you want to see some of the research that’s been done, then this is the one for you ( In a very timely coincidence, this article about musical preferences and cognitive styles ( was published on July 22 in PLOS ONE, and the national media is already picking it up (!/blogs/2015/7/Your-musical-tastes-reveal-how-you-think-a-new-study).

My best takeaway from this informal survey is some new music to listen to as I try to find my own preferences in this new kind of work. I know what I prefer when I’m at my desk, librarianing at my usual tasks, but am not sure what my sweet spot will be during those research activities. If you, too, are looking for some new suggestions, why not try these artists/playlists recommended by some of the interesting folks I know:



And, of course, you can always try putting on the movie Cars, and seeing if it works for you too, especially if you have a toddler running around who needs distraction. What do you listen to while you’re writing or otherwise engaged in deep concentration tasks?

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.