Music is important to us here at BizDojo. Together with an espresso machine and reliable WiFi, it forms the Triangle of Awesome that is fundamental to all BizDojo coworking and innovation spaces. But, much like driving and chopping vegetables, musical taste is highly personal. Choosing music that everyone likes all the time is nearly impossible… but I promise you, if you don’t already have music playing in your workplace, it’s worth the occasional trials and tribulations to get it there.
Why Is Music So Important?
First off, a disclaimer: I have never worked in a silent office. My first salaried office job was at a radio station; before that, cafes; before that, a carriage driver surrounded by ambient noise on the street. Even in university, a silent library was never conducive to writing papers - headphones were mandatory, and usually pumped hardcore and alt-rock into my brain as I spewed out 20,000 words at a time.
Now, I’m not alone in this, but there are plenty of people who don’t work this way. Some people are distracted by music; others are distracted by its absence. And I understand why an employer might decide to play it safe, abide by conventional wisdom about concentration = silence, and avoid the iTunes wars.
A coworking space, however, is all about collaboration and creativity…. and neither of those phenomena are encouraged by silence. Music stimulates imagination and out-of-the-box thinking; it is a key player in the neurological roots of creativity. (Read more on the research behind this notion here.)
Music - or any kind of ambient noise - also encourages people to make noise themselves. Imagine how you feel starting a conversation in a library, as opposed to a cafe. From our own experience in the Dojo, people are significantly more comfortable initiating and continuing conversations with other residents when there is already music and conversational noise happening in the space.
What kind of music works best?
We’ve already covered the fact that music taste is varied and fraught, so this is the million dollar question. What do you play? While there will always be exceptions (Friday afternoons, or early mornings before anyone is in the space), here are some general rules of thumb:
The music needs to be relatively unobtrusive - it is, after all, background music. So with that in mind…
* Avoid music with huge dynamic shifts. Drastic changes in volume can be quite disruptive.
* Similar to the above, music that foregrounds the vocals - like most mainstream pop - doesn’t blend well into the background.
* Top 40 is hit or miss, due to a) the above notes and b) people tend to already be so overexposed to those songs.
The music sets the tone of the space at any given time. Sometimes you need to match the vibe, and other times you need to change it.
* A sluggish Monday morning? Go for more upbeat and get some energy going (4am Comedown or Bonobo artist radio). A chilly afternoon? Perhaps something more cozy and warm (Dojo Soul or Sola Rosa artist radio).
Remember that your coworking space’s musical choices also reflect on your residents when they’re making a business call or having a client meeting.
* Watch the profanity. Gangsta rap playlists are not a good call, but try Mellow Beats for the instrumentals.
* Keep the volume appropriate so that the music isn’t obtrusive for any client servicing.
* We have separate volume controls for the workspace and the kitchen. The kitchen, as a social area, is always louder.
Different soundtracks work for different spaces.
When we first started GridAKL, one of our Ironbank residents who regularly traveled between the two locations would come back to us complaining about the profoundly uncool music playing at Grid. At Ironbank, our default soundtracks featured the likes of Caribou, Thievery Corporation, Beach House, and Julio Bashmore. Grid was playing the Everly Brothers and all manner of 80s powerballads. I could see his point. But the thing was, Grid residents LOVED that stuff. They actively commented to our staff about how much they loved it. The takeaway? Different strokes for different folks. What works for one community might not work for another, and that’s okay.
Who Chooses It?
We run our music off of the same computers or iPads that are used to make meeting room bookings. In other words, it’s an open-source system that all our residents have access to, should they want it. In theory, anyone can get up at any time and put on any music they want. The community is left to self-correct if anything particularly inappropriate (style or content-wise) is put on.
To avoid this turning into anarchy, there are a few simple hints to keep things consistent.
* Make a note of standard volume wherever it’s primarily controlled from (i.e. on the receiver, computer keyboard, etc).
* Keep ready-made playlists easy to access. In our space, most people get up to change the music because they don’t like it, or it’s been the same thing for 4 hours - NOT because they have a specific artist or genre in mind that they want to hear. They just want something different. Having a number of saved playlists or artists close at hand for them will help you keep your music in the right vein.
* Ultimately, our staff do have a loose sort of ‘veto’ power that is very gently (and rarely) exercised. That consists of one of us - you guessed it - getting up and changing the tunes just like anyone else. Easy, right?
Where Do I Actually GET The Music?
The best option for a coworking space that’s going to have music playing literally all day for upwards of 80 people is a streaming service, hands down. Simply put: there is no music library that you or any of your staff possess that will satisfy this level of demand without becoming super repetitive.
We use both Spotify and Pandora across our three locations. Spotify is great for curated playlists - either making your own, or following others’. It does have an artist radio feature, but the algorithm isn’t amazing - it tends to be a little repetitive and not as responsive as its democratic ‘thumbs up’ and ‘thumbs down’ icons would imply. Spotify is made for your workspace if you or someone else on staff is musically knowledgeable and is willing to hunt down (or make) the best, most awesome playlists known to wo/man.
Pandora doesn’t allow you to create playlists, but has a much more diverse and accurate algorithm for artist radio. If you don’t want to have to think about what you’re playing, Pandora is for you: pick an artist that fits the vibe and you’re away.
Last.fm scrobbling is also a nice feature that allows anyone to see what you’ve been playing - this is a nice touch for residents or guests who want to know “what was that song you were playing this afternoon? You know, the one that went ‘da-da-daaaaaa-da-dum-da’?” You can direct them to your last.fm page rather than enduring the guessing game for more than 25 seconds.
One more thing: shell out for the pro versions of your streaming service. Cutting the ads is more than a worthwhile investment.
A note on licensing…
Even if you’ve paid for your music (either by download or by using a streaming service), you should check to see what the licensing requirements are in your location to play music in your workplace. In New Zealand, this is is all handled through One Music, a joint organisational initiative between APRA and Recorded Music NZ that covers both the publishing rights and the mechanical rights to play songs in NZ. Music publishing is worthy of an entirely unrelated blog post, but what you need to know about offices and licensing in NZ can be found here. The short story, though, is that if you’re playing music outside of a residential context, you probably need a license.
Does this mean everyone loves what we play 100% of the time?
Are you insane? Of course not. Headphones still pop up every once in a while, and there’s still one guy who gets up and hits ‘next’ whenever a James Blake track comes on. But if the music stops (when the playlist ends or the internet resets itself), inevitably someone notices and jumps up to hit play again.
A non-exhaustive list of a few of our go-to Spotify playlists and artist radio choices for BizDojo Ironbank:
Less Chill, More Oonst: Artists like Flume, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Recloose, Bicep, SBRKT, Nico Stojan, Disclosure.