Music to get you into the coding groove

Music to Code By is a new album created by a developer specifically for use as background music when writing software

A programmer with headphones on at his desk working
Credit: Alper Çuğun

If you’re a software developer and you like, or need, to listen to music when you write code, you have lots of options these days. Aside from whatever MP3s (or CDs, cassettes, LPs or 8-track tapes) you may have handy, services like Pandora, Spotify, and YouTube can give you access to an almost unlimited library of artists, genres, playlists, and stations to get you into the zone. But none of that music, though, was specifically created to be listened to in the background while someone programs - until now.

Carl Franklin, a professional musician and software developer, recently wrote, produced and released an album titled Music to Code By. He funded the album with a successful Kickstarter campaign that he ran last summer. Music to Code By consists of three tracks, each 25 minutes long so they fit in with the Pomodoro Technique that some developers (and others) use to manage their time. The album is currently available to download for $18, or you can order a CD version (and also have access to the download) for $20.

Intrigued by this meshing of music and coding, I contacted Franklin to find out more about his background and process. Franklin has been coding for over 30 years, since he first got his hands on a TRS-80 model IV. He currently spends about half his time as an independent developer and also hosts a popular podcast for developers called .NET Rocks!. He’s studied and played music since the age of 5 and now produces music out of his own recording facility, Pwop Studios.

I asked Franklin about the connection between making music and writing software, and whether one helps with the other. He felt the two have more in common than most people probably realize. “I can see how certain aspects of music - notation, practicing, expression, etc. - are all means of manipulating abstractions, much like language and very much like software development.”

The album, on which Franklin did all the performing, took him a little over 5 months to complete. What was the biggest challenge of writing music for people to code by, I asked? “The biggest challenge was dialing back my instinct to make real music. This had to fade into the background. It couldn't distract the listener, but it couldn't be boring either. That was a particular challenge that I think most musicians would have found maddening,” Franklin told me.

The album has been a hit with developers, starting with the crowdfunding campaign that exceeded Franklin’s original goal, and was downloaded more than 100 times in its first week of availability. Some have also found it to be good music to listen to beyond just when you’re coding. “Using it for coding is great, but the reality is you can use this type of music when doing any task that requires focus,” Franklin said. “One customer told me I should take the same album and re-brand it ‘Music to Grow By’ because of the calming effect it had on his newborn babies.”

In fact, the reception has been so good, Franklin has plans to release an app called Music to Flow By that will allow users to create playlists of their favorite “flow” music and will include a timer for people who use Pomodoro. It will also have an API to allow developers make plugins to do things like send “do not disturb” messages in response to text and email when you’re working.

Of course, Franklin also plans to release more music specifically designed to code by. He says his goal is to release one such new track per month, which you’ll be able to purchase through his app or website. Franklin is happy this project has, well, struck a chord with people but also noted, “It's counter-intuitive to me that my most lucrative music project ends up being music that people like best when they aren't listening to it.”

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