How to create the ideal playlist for writing and editing

The author advises against rap, rock, and pop, suggesting writers stick with instrumental music. Do you agree?

Say you don’t have a private office, but you do have tight deadlines on your various communications projects, and you need to concentrate.

You also have earphones, and probably an iPod, or you can plug into your computer’s media player. There’s your solution, but it’s a solution that raises other issues.

Suppose you have eclectic musical tastes, along with an array of tasks to accomplish — editing, writing, organizing. Which genres are best suited to a communicator’s particular jobs and activities?

First, let’s dispense with the ones you probably don’t want pounding your eardrums.

Heavy metal is out; rap, ditto. They simply are too intrusive, even if you like that sort of thing. Rock and pop songs generally also have lyrics, and lyrics distract. Particular songs, especially, could be detrimental to your work.

Say you’re listening to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and after you’ve done the “Wayne’s World” head bob, you turn in your report. Your boss calls you into her office to explain why the phrase “Galileo, Galileo” is in the midst of your solicitation letter to your top clients. You can only respond by saying, “Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for meeeeeee.” And it’s downhill from there.

You probably don’t want to pop in that Hits of the ’70s CD you bought at 3 a.m. during an infomercial, when you reached the crossroads of Insomnia Avenue and Nostalgia Street.

Spending the day with “Seasons in the Sun,” “The Night Chicago Died,” and “One Tin Soldier” stuck in your head could only be counterproductive.

So, you wisely decide to stick with instrumentals.

Your extensive collection of harpsichord music might seem good in theory — it’s classical and generally airy — but after two or three short pieces you start looking for an open elevator shaft.

You have a bevy of New Age selections, too, but 15 minutes into it, you find you’ve actually levitated. Save that for later, at home. Same with the boxed set of World music you bought eight months ago — and never opened. Save that for later, too. Much, much, much later.

We’re winnowing the options.

Pure editing, especially copy editing and proofing, calls for light classical; Beethoven and Wagner would unduly influence the editing process. You’d end up slashing entire paragraphs and rewriting key phrases in all caps. You’d probably break your keyboard, too.

So, how about some of Chopin’s gentler offerings? (If you opt for the nocturnes, make sure you’re not drinking decaf.) Mozart’s piano concerti fill the bill nicely, as well. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti provide an audio cocoon that’s ideal for editing.

When you’re writing is probably the time you want smooth jazz: Vince Guaraldi, Laura Caviani, Oscar Peterson, and David Benoit are all excellent choices if you’re in a piano mindset — if you’re putting together a straight report, for example.

For more creative compositions, you’d probably want the sax’ appeal: Illinois Jacquet, Dave Koz. John Coltrane might be just too … too … well, too Coltrane for work purposes.

Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond deliver both keyboard and brass, so if you’re betwixt and between, there’s your solution. “Audrey” and “La Paloma Azul” are particular favorites.

Finally, organizing — such as filing, compiling To Do lists, rearranging stuff on your desktops (physical and computer) — might be the occasion for swing and Big Band. Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller all serve well, but if you’re entering new contacts into your cell phone, skip past “Pennsylvania 6-5000.” That would only confuse things.

You could also go with later instrumentals, from the 1950s and ’60s — Perez Prado’s “Patricia,” or the lilting “Stranger on the Shoreby clarinetist (Mr.) Acker Bilk.

Django Reinhardt? Anytime, anywhere. If you’ve never heard his rendition of “La Marseillaise,” here it is. His stuff’s probably best for composing e-mails, come to think of it.

So, did we miss any good ones? Other musical selections and suggestions are encouraged.

Rob Reinalda is the executive editor at Ragan Communications.

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