Music to Help You Concentrate: Connor’s Deep Work Playlist

May 28, 2020 | About WFC

Music has always been a passion of mine. I play the guitar, collect records, go to live shows as often as possible, and I am always on the hunt for new music, no matter the genre (and I firmly believe there is always more great music to be found).  But the music I listen to most often (e.g., James Blake, LCD Soundsystem, Wilco, Radiohead, Kurt Vile) doesn’t typically work well when I need to concentrate deeply, such as during my deep work sessions for WFC. But music is important to me, so I’ve searched for the ideal music to listen to when I need to focus.

What is deep work? As discussed in our recent blog post, “Using Deep Work to Raise the Bar in Financial Thought Leadership,” deep work is a professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit. At WFC, we have embraced the principles of deep work to improve our ability to write institutional-quality financial thought leadership as efficiently as possible, and to enable us to achieve the work/life balance that is so important to us.

Everyone has their own custom needs when it comes to the ideal setup for deep work. I have found instrumental music—and in particular ambient music—to be the best music to accompany my daily deep work sessions. Ambient music is essentially designed as background music; it can generally be defined as gentle, instrumental music with no persistent beat, and it creates a pleasant atmosphere. Think heavy on the hums, tones, and repetition, light on the vocals and traditional structure.

Below, I share a few of my top artists and albums for deep work. Pair these selections with some noise-canceling headphones and a blank wall to stare at, and you have my setup for deep work.

Music to Accompany Deep Work: Connor’s Suggestions

  • Brian Eno – Ambient 1: Music for Airports
    • There is no better way to begin your first venture into ambient music than with Brian Eno, who essentially created (and named) the genre in the 1970s. Eno, a self-described “non-musician” who went on to become one of popular music’s most influential and innovative figures, creates ambient music that seems to suspend and transcend time. His entire catalogue is ripe for deep work, but I recommend beginning with Ambient 1: Music for Airports, released in 1978. Eno described this music as equally “ignorable as it is interesting” and intended to “induce calm and a space to think.” No wonder it works so well for deep work.
  • Nils Frahm – Screws
    • Nils Frahm is a German musician, composer, and record producer who has become one of my favorite contemporary artists. He is a masterful pianist who creates beautiful instrumental music that has a bit more structure than a strict definition of ambient music would allow, but not enough structure to distract me while deeply concentrating. He is also an incredible live performer whom I highly recommend seeing in concert if you get the chance. His 2012 album Screws is a favorite, but his entire catalogue is outstanding.
  • Sufjan Stevens, Lowell Brams – Aporia
    • Sufjan Stevens is a well-known singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who has released a total of seven studio albums and been nominated for an Academy Award and a Grammy. He is best known as a creator of indie folk music, such as his acclaimed 2005 album Illinois. But his most recent release, Aporia, is a departure from his typical style. Aporia is 21 tracks and 42 minutes of futuristic and somewhat dystopian instrumental music that has become a staple for my deep work sessions. If you’re looking for a little extra momentum and tension to kick your deep work into gear, you won’t be disappointed.
  • Luke Howard – Sun, Cloud
    • I discovered Luke Howard when listening to Nils Frahm radio on Spotify. Howard is an Australian composer and pianist who shares many similarities with Frahm – they both create beautiful instrumental music that generally centers around the piano. Howard’s 2013 album Sun, Cloud is a favorite, and I particularly love the album’s sixth track, “Portrait Gallery”. Howard’s music is peaceful, relaxing, and uplifting, and it exudes a sense of calm optimism to help power extended periods of concentration.
  • Nils Frahm Radio
    • If you enjoy Frahm’s album Screws, try his Spotify radio station, which provides a great “shuffle” of Frahm’s music as well as other artists that are similar in style. I love to use Spotify radio stations like this one to discover new music. On occasion the songs can get a little off track from the deep work vibe I’m targeting, but ~90% of the time Spotify nails it.
  • Brian Eno Radio
    • Brian Eno’s Spotify radio station is a fantastic resource for ambient music. You’ll get a good variety of Eno’s tracks, which are consistent in their focus on creating a meditative and non-distracting atmosphere, as well as other songs and artists focused on ambient music. Hit shuffle and let the wandering tones ensue!

I hope many of you will give ambient instrumental music a shot the next time you need to concentrate for an extended period of time. Remember to review our other tips for deep work, and please reach out to me to let me know what you think of these artists. I am always on the hunt for new music, so I would love to hear your deep work music suggestions, too!

About the Author Connor Martin - Wentworth Financial Communications COO Connor Martin is the chief operations officer at Wentworth Financial Communications. Connor and the team of writers and editors at WFC help professionals across the financial services industry build their brands by creating investment-grade white papers, bylined articles, newsletters, blogs, social media posts, and other forms of content marketing.