Philly Biz Leaders Listen to This Type of Music to Boost Productivity

From country songs to Meek Mill albums, here's what helps them stay on the mark.

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Music may be ingrained in our modern-day work habits, but is what you’re listening to actually making you productive or even more creative? Studies seem to agree that the music makes listeners productive when it’s “funky, but not too funky, for people to like it enough to make them want to dance.” We asked Philly business leaders to weigh in with their experiences using music to focus. Below they explain what they listen to and when. Their choices might inspire you to rethink the tunes you funnel into your ears at work.

I fully embrace the concept that music facilitates productivity. I would describe my “get it done” playlist as multi-disciplinary, energetic, and positive. I spent the last few years developing my own Spotify list to be used in the office, on the plane, or at the 12th and Walnut Starbucks where I frequently escape for a caffeine break. – Karen E. Knudsen PhD, director of Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson

I tend to listen to Jazz when I am reading or doing research. Some of my favorites are Sun Ra, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Theo Croker, John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef, Hank Mobley, Kamasi Washington or Terrence Martin. Prior to panels, public engagements, meetings or presentations I am listening to Phonte, Black Thought, Nina Simone, Jill Scott, Meek Mill, Kendrick Lamar, Kool G Rap, Rakim, the last poets, Gill Scott Heron, Jay Electronica, or Nas. – Tayyib Smith, co-founder of Little Giant Creative and The Institute of Hip Hop Entrepreneurship

I like to listen to music with lyrics or a vibe that makes me feel moved or motivated. I’m pretty versatile, so there are times when I might listen to heavy metal, hip-hop, R&B or even folk music. Not a lot of people know this, but I studied voice for many years and I have a very deep appreciation for many genres of music. You’ve got to find what works for you in the moment. When all else fails, I almost always revert to classical or lo-fi jazz channels on YouTube. – Liz Brown, co-CEO and Head of Design at Webjunto

When I do listen to music it’s either country, depending on the work, or, if I really need to concentrate, classical music. – Larry R. Kaiser, president and CEO; dean of the Medical School at Temple University Health System

Sublime’s self-titled album features the band’s unique reggae rock style, which is perfect background music for plowing through emails or tackling a spreadsheet. Tupac’s “All Eyez on Me” because it’s common to feel boxed in on days that you’re swarmed with meetings, phone calls and deadlines. “All Eyez on Me” is the perfect album to help you break out and retake control of your day. As a busy professional, sometimes you need to rock out to Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and some grunge to blow off steam. This album is great to listen to for anyone in a high-pressure job.
The spark of nostalgia I get from this music can have a powerful impact on my mood and mindset, boosting my motivation to take on a given task. This applies to tasks ranging from doing laundry to tackling a 10-page business proposal. – Brian Hart, founder & president of Flackable

The great artists write and compose music that is designed to motivate and inspire. Hip-hop as a genre started with story tellers; people who, during one song, can explain a struggle and celebrate a victory. In business and as an entrepreneur we all have hurdles and face obstacles. Hearing the success stories of others can be fuel for regaining your focus. – Ebonie S. Dukes, executive producer at MyNEWPhilly

I think these albums and artists on my playlist help me get focused because they comfort me. I could have a strong six hours of work ahead of me, with anxiety building, but when I throw on Shy Girls’ “Under Attack” (a record I’ve heard a million times), it immediately puts me in a place of familiarity. It reminds me that “I’ve been here before, and I’ve gotten through similar workloads.” To me, its just about the same as a basketball player who does the same routine before shooting free throws each time. The muscle memory (or mental memory in this case) kicks in and takes over. The second reason I believe that music helps me focus is because it takes up just enough of my attention to keep me focused. It sounds like an oxymoron but I think the trick is that focusing on something subconsciously allows a more intense focus on the conscious task. When you’re solving a problem that requires critical thinking and get stuck, your brain can tune out from the problem for a moment, focus on the music, and create just enough mental space for new ideas and connections to be formed. When you are able to do this mental focus shift subconsciously, that’s when flow happens; and it’s all about flow. – Will Toms, co-founder, Head of Strategy at REC Philly

I usually have a mix of songs to choose from. However, if I have to choose one album, I recommend “Graduation” by Kanye West. The lyrics and beats provide additional motivation to push through a specific task or deadline. Perfect for when I get a mental block or just need some inspiration.
Kiera Smalls, Executive Director at Philly Startup Leaders