How to make the perfect soundtrack for your life

playlistPlanning weddings can be stressful, and one of the most fraught parts of planning my own recent wedding was choosing which song would play during our first dance. (We eventually went with “Razor Love” by Neil Young). 

That’s because music is important. Even in much lower stakes scenarios than weddings, music simultaneously sets the mood and communicates the significance of whatever’s happening. The wrong music can make a task impossible — imagine trying to fall asleep to heavy metal — while the right song at the right time can make a moment magical and a party come alive.

So that all said, how should you go about DJing your day? How should your soundtrack change to suit all of your diverse activities?

Waking up

In my own life, I’m what’s not always affectionately referred to as a “morning person.” I generally greet the day with a smile on my face (so long as I have a cup of coffee in hand). But I still need an extra burst of emotional energy to get going. Lucky for us, Cambridge psychologist David Greenberg recently teamed up with Spotify to create a morning wake-up master playlist. According to the science, morning music should have a few specific qualities:

  1. A solid beat that emphasizes the second and fourth beats in every measure
  2. A dynamic that starts off more sedate but builds
  3. Positivity. Positive lyrics and a bright, happy sound

Recommendations: “A Lovely Day” by Bill Withers; “Come and Get It” by John Newman

Working out

Never is the importance of your daily soundtrack more obvious than when you’re working out. And while workout jams might require the same emphasis on the beat that your morning music does, things can get a little more aggressive with your workout. The music for your run or weight training doesn’t have to necessarily be so sunny or happy.

In fact, according to a master workout playlist of everyone’s favorite workout songs on Spotify compiled by Billboard and The Echo Nest, harder and heavier songs by The Dropkick Murphys and Metallica made the cut. And while “aggro” might be great for some workouts, I also think there’s something to be said for a steady beat and unobtrusive melodies that allow you to empty your mind and enter something like a meditative state. At least, that’s the kind of music that helps me on longer runs. I think I’d burn out with Metallica after the first mile.

Recommendations: “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath (aggressive); “Panorama Suite” by Max Essa (chill)

On the job

Work music is probably the most difficult to pin down simply because work habits are so unique and variable. For instance, The Workplace Doctors detail two, seemingly conflicting studies — one saying that listening to music makes workers more productive and another saying that we’re better off working in silence.

There does seem to be consensus that music with sung lyrics is more distracting that instrumentals or noise. This is something I can definitely attest to from personal experience. If I listen to songs that I enjoy actively listening to, it distracts me from my work. I just end up singing along. But total silence distracts me also, just by making me hyper-aware of all the little non-musical noises happening around me. And so my Goldilocks “just right” medium happens to be music that I can tune out and that fades into the background like wallpaper. For me, that’s ambient music. For you, it could be classical. Or you might do better with white noise.

Recommendations: “Spring” by Vivaldi (classical); “Thursday Afternoon” by Brian Eno (ambient)

Winding down

And of course, once your day is through, you might need the right music to fall asleep to. Not everyone does. (Count yourself lucky if you don’t.) I have a white noise machine at home and when I travel I make sure to set up my laptop or phone to play white noise as I fall asleep. Noise generators work by masking sound though it’s technically not music.

According to neuroscientists, if you want to listen to songs that help you fall asleep, listen to gentle tunes (obviously) whose cadence resembles a heartbeat. A few songs might immediately come to mind, but if not, don’t worry, scientists at the British Academy of Sound Therapy have already fingered the absolutely most relaxing songs to fall asleep to.

Recommendations: “Weightless” by Marconi Union; Online Tone Generator (white noise)

If someone were ambitious enough, they could theoretically make a single playlist for their entire day (and night). But what would they listen to while they were organizing it?

What are your favorite songs for each part of your day? Email us and let us know!


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