A few months ago I wrote about my love of Brain.fm, a web app that plays music specifically designed for sleeping, studying, and relaxing. Brain.fm claims to have been created by scientists who studied brain waves and developed software that produces the best sound for activities that require focus.
I’ve been in love with Brain.fm from the second I tried it. I use it for sleeping, relaxing, and most importantly, working. While I used to listen to a Spotify rock n’ roll playlist, recently I’ve barely touched Spotify at work.
I’ve been working to the same playlist for the last two weeks and it has been, without a doubt, the most productive playlist I’ve ever listened to. I came across it by accident. I was browsing through Spotify and it presented itself like a gift from God. As soon as I hit play I knew it was the one. And my productivity and focus levels over the past 14 days have been higher than ever.
So what’s this magical playlist?
The Dark Knight Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Hans Zimmer.
I know, I know. It sounds silly. A score from a Batman movie is the most productive playlist ever? Yes. I can’t say it enough. The Dark Knight soundtrack has completely changed my work game.
So why Hans Zimmer? Why a movie score? This is why.
Instrumentals are the best music for working
Researchers from Cambridge Sound Management found that noise in general isn’t to blame when it comes to lost productivity – intelligible words are. According to their 2008 study, speech distracts most workers, especially when we’re forced to shift focus from our work to figuring out what someone is saying. The same study showed that a moderate ambient noise level can get creative juices flowing.
That’s why a lot of people listen to classical music.
But classical music is too slow and boring for me
I gave Mozart and Beethoven a shot. But they were too slow and meandering for my taste. I found myself wandering off during the music or falling asleep.
That’s when I discovered film scores.
Movie soundtracks are perfect for focusing at work
Like classical music, film scores are mostly instrumental but with more purpose. A great film score is subtle enough to run in the background of a film without distracting the audience, but while adding energy and controlling the pace.
This seemed like it’d be great music to work to. All I had to do was find the score with the perfect tempo and sound.
I started with John Williams, the most famous film composer ever
I love John Williams’ work. He composed the music for Jaws, Star Wars, E.T., Indiana Jones, and dozens of other iconic films. But the music was too recognizable and distracting. I couldn’t work with the feeling that an 18-foot shark was about to get me. Da nuh. Da nuh. Da nuh. Da nuh. Not happening.
Then I discovered Hans Zimmer… and my mind was blown
Hans Zimmer is arguably the second most famous and prolific film composer of all time (behind Williams). He’s the man behind the music for Rain Man, The Last Samurai, A League of Their Own, Cool Runnings, The Rock, Gladiator, Pirates of The Caribbean, the Batman movies, and dozens of others. He’s won Grammys, Oscars, and many other awards.
I started with the music from The Lion King
Zimmer, along with Elton John, was the brains behind every millennial’s favorite childhood movie: The Lion King. But it was too emotional to work to. Although the Lion King is the best selling movie soundtrack of all time, I just couldn’t focus on my work knowing that Mufasa died to these same sounds.
Then I tried Interstellar
It’s a great score and extremely fun to listen too, but it’s too loud and distracting to focus on work. The main instrument in Interstellar is an organ called a Harrison & Harrison from the 1920s. At the time it was invented, the Harrison & Harrison organ was one of the most complex machines in the world. Zimmer chose this organ because the sound reminded him of space afterburners. While a rocket’s engine is exciting to listen to in the theater, it isn’t great for productivity.
Next was Inception
While some critics say that Inception was Zimmer’s best work in years, I felt it was similar to EDM music and lacked a melody to help me flow through my work. Plus, I just didn’t like the movie or the music. Too nebulous for me.
After that was Pirates of The Caribbean
Another fun listen, but Pirates of the Caribbean was just as squirrelly and fidgety as Captain Jack Sparrow. This made focusing difficult. The songs jump around like a mouse scampering across a floor. Not gonna work.
So I tried Gladiator
Both critics and fans loved Zimmer’s score of Gladiator. Not only did Zimmer win an Academy Award for it, but the Gladiator soundtrack is one of the best selling soundtracks of all time. But it can be a bit dull and slow paced for work.
And then came The Dark Knight…
I loved it. Zimmer’s score is famous for its loud bass and epic melody. The pace is fast, which makes me work just as fast. The melody has a purpose and isn’t meandering, making me feel like I need to keep working. The bass is loud enough to drown out any distraction while also keeping me focused. And for lack of a better word, the songs are epic. They give me meaning. Whether I’m paying bills, filling out a spreadsheet, or writing this article… I feel like a hero.
My favorite part, though, is how each song is broken into sections. This ensures that there are no boring parts, keeping me awake and alert.
The Dark Knight is the punk rock of film scores
Zimmer claimed that when he wrote it, he was inspired by Sid Vicious from the Sex Pistols and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. Sid and Nancy were famous for cutting themselves with razors, which is why Zimmer used razors on the cello in the song “Why So Serious?”, which can be heard in the opening credits when the Joker robs a bank.
So what are you waiting for?
Here’s my favorite from the soundtrack, “Why So Serious”. Plug in your headphones, crank up the volume, and get to work.
Or just give in already and listen to the whole thing on Spotify.