I’m pretty lucky. I have a good job. And most days, I get to listen to the music I want to while I work. That wasn’t always the case, however.
Back when I was a teenager, working at a grocery store, I was at the mercy of whatever music got pumped in through the speakers to help people shop. The soft rock and r&b tunes of the day were never my thing, but thankfully the hustle and bustle of a supermarket tends to drown out any music anyway.
When I worked for a shipping company, RPS, after that, there was no possibility of music. The plant was too loud, and you were not allowed to bring in electronics anyway. It was a “secure facility.” It made sense, since we did ship electronics and CDs, but it still kind of sucked. My six hour shift would have gone a lot faster, otherwise.
When I first started working a factory job in Bowling Green, it was also a very loud environment. However, we were allowed to bring in boom boxes, and usually whoever was on the press got to pick the music for the next two hours. It was hard to hear it, even if you turned it all the way up, but it was still something. Since I and most of my co-workers listened to metal and nu-metal most of the time, it was a little easier to get it loud enough to hear over the noise of the machines, but you could almost never hear the lyrics.
When I moved to Columbus, my first job was as a night stock for a department store. We were locked in from 11pm to 8am, so we never had to deal with customers, except during the holiday season when the store was open later. They kept the music playing through the night, and for a while I put up with it. But there’s only so much soft rock and adult alternative one person can take. You may never notice the music in a store, but if you’re there for eight hours five days a week, I guarantee you’ll begin to hate it. Most store music loops about every six hours. You were pretty much assured to hear the same songs every night, and some songs twice. After a while, our boss started letting us bring portable CD players in, and that was much better. I could listen to what I wanted finally, and the nights went a lot faster. When I transferred to the day shift as a department supervisor, I was returned to the crappy music I had been avoiding for months with my headphones.
I had eight more years of retail work, during which I never got to listen to the music I wanted to at work. Sure, there were a couple of songs that I enjoyed, and a few that I didn’t mind, but the majority were for the customers, not me. I understood why, but it did make the days go a little longer.
Eventually, I was finally able to make my career switch to IT. When I started, I had my own office, out of earshot of the rest of the team. For the first few weeks, I was content with the silence. No music was much preferable to music I disliked. Eventually I caved. I had a new smart phone, and I had just discovered Pandora. For as long as I was in that office, I would listen to music through my phone on Pandora. I discovered a lot of music that way, but I also discovered that I liked curating my music more than working. I spent too much time concerned with what was playing than I did with getting my job done. I eventually moved out into a corner desk with the other engineers, and stopped listening to music. I got a lot more done after that.
In my next job, I started off in an office with two other people, including my boss. There was really no possibility of music in that environment. However, when we moved to a new building, I was once again alone in my own office. By this time, I had set up my home NAS, and had access to it from my computer at work. I would download some of my music to my local computer, and listen to that until I got bored with it. Then I would delete it, and download some other music. I noticed, though, that I was falling into the same trap as before. I spent more time focused on the music than my work, and the work suffered for it. It didn’t help that I hated my job at that point. But hate my job or love my job, I always want to be good at it. So I had to give up my music habits, in the hopes of getting some real work done.
I needed something, though. It was a secluded office that no one came to. I was so far back in it that I couldn’t even say hello to people passing by. It was too damn quiet, and now the silence was affecting my work. It was then that I struck upon an idea, one that I’ve used since then.
I have a significant library of video game music. I have music from all sorts of games. Most of it is from games I’ve played. Some of it is just from games that I own. All told, at this time, I have over 40gb of music from games. It’s about 9000 or so different tracks. I’m sure there are people who have larger collections than I, but I haven’t met them. I also enjoy listening to it quite a bit. Some of it is from nostalgia for the game. Some of it is just because it’s actually some well composed music. Almost none of it has lyrics, or other intrusive elements that I found distracting when I was listening to other music. I wouldn’t fall into the traps from before, like the desire to sing or hum along, or at the very least mouth the words. I wouldn’t feel the need to hear “that one song that I am reminded of because I heard this other song,” a common problem from before. This music was designed to be in the background.
So I downloaded a bunch of it onto my computer and started listening to it daily. Every now and again, I would add a new album or remove an album I found myself skipping too often, but for the most part I no longer had the desire to play DJ for eight hours a day.
At my current job, I still do this. I don’t have my headphones on all day, since conversation with my teammates is an important part of my day to day, but when I need to really buckle down and focus on a problem, the headphones go on and I turn on my tunes. I think it works well. Listening to these themes of battle or tracks that played while you’re little character wanders the overland map between towns while troubleshooting a network connectivity issue or configuring a VPN is surprisingly fulfilling. It gives it all a little more epic feel. I’m not just trying to work on this firewall, I am now in a climactic struggle with this firewall for the fate of my land and my people. I am no longer just building a VMware host server, I am constructing a weapon that could be the difference in my quest for justice. I’ve taken mundane task like user creation and port tagging a switch and turned them into quest markers. Now my end goals seem more focused and noble. There’s a story behind it, there’s a reason for it. It’s not just my job anymore. It’s a game.
Video game music is my go-to music for work. I’ve tried spicing it up with other music, mostly stuff without lyrics like Beats Antique or Deadmau5, but I always come back to video game music. It works for me.