Creative Sounds

Published:  June 17, 2010
Creative Sounds

My last blog post on creative space delved into the visual aspects of the environment in which designers and artists surround themselves. Of course there is also the aural environment. It is probably a safe bet to say most designers/artists use some form of aural stimuli to aid the creative process. This mostly comes in the form of music.

It also comes down to personal taste, as some people can’t stand sound when they need to concentrate. Depending on the conditions and the work undertaken, there will be many variations.

Of course, it is fine to put music on because you think it helps your creativity. However, what exactly are you feeding your ears? Is it talkback radio, heavy metal, classical, tribal music, pop, reggae or even Brian Eno? Again, it will come down to personal taste. Each genre/style will evoke a different thought, similar to working in different environments.

A few years ago I teamed up with other designers and undertook some research into this area. We asked participants to match sounds with colours, pictures and emotions to come up with some mood boards. The results were interesting, but somewhat expected.

Several studies have been done to measure the emotional impact of music/sound. In particular an American study investigated changes in tension, mood and mental clarity. It found that ‘designer music’ (music made specifically to affect the listener on a physiologic or psychologic level, or both) increased caring, relaxation, mental clarity, and vigor. There were also significant decreases in hostility, fatigue, sadness and tension. Grunge music achieved the opposite results and New Age and classical were mixed. Overall designer music was the most successful genre to increase positive feelings and decrease negativity.

Based on these results it suggests that we should all listen to designer music, however different genres evoke different feelings. For example, if I need to design something sad or dark, sounds that have these tones will most likely suit/appeal to me best.

All Images Copyright Motherbird

All Images Copyright Motherbird

As for me, I don’t necessarily listen to my favourite music when being creative, as I don’t think it brings out the correct emotion or energy required for creative thinking. I often feel the music without lyrics or with foreign lyrics helps concentration, as there is one less thing to concentrate on. I also believe that listening to music you have never heard before aids the creative process as it brings something new to the table, otherwise you constantly know what the next sound is going to be. Ambient sounds like that in a Brian Eno track mentally take the listener to a new place. Whereas Artists like Beirut, Sigur Rós or Amadou and Mariam make the listener feel as though they physically in a foreign place. The radio is also a common form of aural stimuli, although it jumps all over the place between songs.

Having said what I prefer, I believe it comes down to personal taste, and what inspires us all. While death metal or hip-hop fail to inspire me, there is no reason why they won’t encourage creative thinking in another. However music that fosters positive thought, will certainly aid any creative thinking. Music is also situationally dependant and should be modified given the task at hand.

Do you shuffle your songs or listen to an album in its entirety?

Feel free to list your favourite artists, albums, genres or mediums that you listen to when working.

Jack Mussett is a Creative Director at Melbourne based design studio Motherbird.

10 Responses

  1. Great article! My t-shirts designs always reflect what I was listening at the time I am designing! I tend to shuffle my songs and if a song gives me an idea, I put on that album.

  2. dazz77

    Fever Ray and Royksopp at the moment. Atmospheric stuff.

  3. Nathan Dennys

    Boards of Canada, Royksopp, Swayzak etc. If the music’s too busy I cant focus on anything. Has to be some form of auditory stimulus in the background though.

  4. Michelle Grice

    right now…John Mayer

  5. Great stuff.
    Here is a list of some artists that get a regular gig at our studio, great creative thinking music.
    Massive Attack, Royksopp, Amadou and Mariam, Moby, Air, Beirut, Broken Bells, Calexico, DoF, Goldfrapp, Moloko, Gotye, Elbow, Mr. Scruff, Nightmares On Wax, Radiohead, m83 and sometimes Pendulum to get into gear.

  6. It’s not music, but I do enjoy listening to podcasts on the way to DesktopHQ. Currently I’m listening weekly to: Monocle Culture, Monocle Design, ABC’s By Design, NPR: Pop Culture Podcast and Media Watch Vodcast – because my telly does not get ABC too well :[. Any other suggestions appreciated!

  7. cut and paste

    great piece jack!

    depending on mood see the below.

  8. Jess

    Gus Pony — with ‘Crumbs’

    ” Tales of scams, local crimes, dodgy shop keepers, tea with his Nan, and being sick on night buses. (Gus sums up his style as being ‘mystical monotone – not singing’) “

  9. For me it all depends on where I’m at in a design. If I’m right at the beginning, the concept stage, I’ll play the music that is inspiring me at the present time. However, if I’m at “nuts and bolts” stage of building the site, I’ll shuffle through a large array of music as it’s all about keeping me entertained while I attempt to bring the concept to life :)

    Right now, I’m listening to moloko: Statues :)

  10. DW

    I’ve always got music on, I can’t work without it. I like o listen to triple j whilst working, because I can keep up to date with new artists that I may like and still learn about whats goin on, while at work… i think its great!

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