What do You Listen to While You Work?

As I’ve mentioned in past articles, my dad is an artist. When I was growing up, dad didn’t go off to work like most other kids’ dads, instead he went into the studio every day to paint. I remember dad working long hours in the studio, and you could always count on there being something playing on the radio while he was painting.

Dad has eclectic listening habits, so you might hear anything from the local classical music station, rock ‘n roll, country music, talk shows (of every variety, including some pretty strange stuff at night on the AM dial), National Public Radio or something from his record collection. I can’t even begin to imagine him at work without some sort of audio playing.

I suppose it was inevitable that I would pick up some of the habit. I love a wide variety of music thanks to the range of genres I was introduced to when I hung out in dad’s studio. I especially love classical music and am a big supporter of public classical radio, and I know this is a direct result of listening to the classical music stations in both Idaho, where we lived until I was thirteen, and summered after that, and Arizona, where we began spending the winters in 1987.

It’s almost hard for me to concentrate without music, and I know this is true of many artists. It’s a bit different for me than for an artist because music is really only in the background in the gallery.  When I’m working in my office, however, I often have on headphones. Because I’m typically working on advertising, crunching numbers or writing, I can’t listen to music or other audio that demands attention. News and talk are out, and anything that is highly focused on vocal performance are mostly banned because they slow me down and distract. Instead I listen to classical music or instrumental movie soundtracks. I particularly love Bach, Beethoven and Handel, and scores by Hans Zimmer, Trent Reznor and Philip Glass.

Listening to music helps me maintain my focus on the task at hand, preventing my mind from wandering, while at the same time blocking out potential distractions.

Which leads me to today’s question: What do you listen to while you are in the studio? What have you found to be the most effective audio to accompany your working habits? Are there some things you can’t listen to while working? Share your strategy and a sample of your playlist in the comments below.

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.


  1. Classical. Depending on whether I’m blocking in or creating fine details the range of music can be from full symphonies to delicate instrumentalist solos. Yes, I agree for all the reasons you stated above.

  2. I stream my favorite station on Pandora, Calexico and Iron and Wine, one I created for myself after discovering their collaborative album from 2004 or so. Broadcast it to stereo Sonos in my studio, adjust the volume and I’m set for the session! Yep, I listen to the free version and the ads don’t annoy me, those guys have to make their money, too! BTW, thanks for all the information you share! Been a great help.

    1. I love classic rock and roll, rhythm and blues and love the eclectic mix of Radio Paradise. But there are times when snow is falling gently around my studio and I can see the mountains of the Wasatch range that I am simply quiet…

      1. Radio Paradise?! Wow, my go-to everyday station. When it gets too eclectic, I do Pandora. I was stretching canvases to “Ben Watt Radio,” best known as one half of the duo Everything but the Girl. My 1st time stretching so a good constant beat was needed.

  3. If I need to concentrate on designing it is either silent or classical. If I am painting big I love Keb’ Mo and Taj Mahal. I would like to try out podcasts. I know a lot of artists listen to them. Any suggestions?

  4. Your interactive posts are always a delight. Thanks for asking!
    Music is critical to my process, as it keeps the momentum flowing, keeps me focused, and is a great pain reliever!
    I have no cartilage in my shoulders, so movements are typically painful. Since I refuse to take medication for that, the music works its magic and I’m able to work on large pieces with sweeping strokes to the likes of Billy Strings, String Cheese Incident, BB King, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Taj Mahal – yikes!! The list is endless!! Art and music are my jam!❤️

  5. I love rock and roll. Right now, Joe Cocker is on Pandora via Sonos. ACDC, the Stones, 3 Dog Night stations all get a listen. If I’m feeling dreamy, I go with Sade. At night it’s jazz, man. Coltrane, Brubeck, Mingus, Charlie Parker – they all get a listen.

  6. I have several playlists of favorite songs and music on Spotify, – instrumental, soul touching, country classics, soft rock, oldies, etc. so it might depend on my mood at the time when I select one but because I am familiar with the music and love what I’m listening to, it takes me even more into what I call my happy place and relaxes me while energizing me at the same time. My happiest time is the time I am painting and focused on my art, .and I enjoy it even more when I have music playing.

  7. My favorite Pandora stations I’ve built are Celtic music, then there’s James Taylor and classical guitarist Christopher Parkening. The familiarity of this music helps me concentrate and most of all lifts my mood!

  8. I listen to audiobooks while working on my fiber art. I also like to listen to groups like Pink Floyd, Supertramp, the Beatles, I could go on and on, but the audiobooks seem to fill the bill. Stephen King is a big inspiration. I think this is because he leaves so many things to the imagination, which fires up the right brain!

  9. Classic rock, some newer rock, classical, Celtic, traditional Japanese, traditional east Indian, Native American, and so much more. It’s so much fun getting lost in the work while listening to music. It’s so relaxing and fulfilling. There isn’t a whole lot that can stack up next to it when I get into those meditative states while working. The hours just fly by.

  10. I have an eclectic taste in music: Classical, Americana, Flamenco, movie scores, ethnic and more (for instance Beethoven, Benedetti & Svoboda, Civil Wars to Elephant Revival, Hans Zimmer, Rokia and more) . I generally create a Pandora station that reflects my mood. Currently its Hudost.

  11. The sound of silence. I know that the majority of artists play music while working, but I find that it interrupts the process. I can get totally carried away, especially by classical or opera, isolating each instrument and enjoying each musicians’ amazing performance. I also think the players and vocalists should be given my full attention for their years of dedication. No, I have so much going on in my head when I work that I need to focus on that alone. And it is such a pleasure to pry out some minutes to enjoy some peace.

    1. I agree sea dean. I love the sound of silence. That’s what I listen to when I paint. I’m “in the moment.” I don’t know (or care) what time it is. I’m just one with the canvas, paint and brushes. Best place to be.

  12. Great question! I don’t necessarily listen to the same music when I’m painting that I listen to when just wanting to enjoy the music. Typically, while painting, I will listen to classical (Beethoven, Mozart, Handel, Grieg, Vivaldi, etc.) or Trance/Electronica or what I call Ear Pudding. Ear Pudding is the New Age type music from the late 1980’s and 1990’s. Basically I prefer no lyrics because I don’t want any mental distractions. The big exceptions to the no lyric rule for me is Pink Floyd and the Moody Blues.

    Between the music and escaping into painting, time just flies.

  13. I listen to audio books. I work in egg tempera, which is pretty labor-intensive and meditative. An 18 x 24″ piece can take 4 to 5 months of working 25 – 30 hours per week. Sometimes I go through 4 novels per week, filling in with music ranging from Bach, to blues, to medieval chant and polyphony. Lately, I’ve been trying just silence.

    1. Hello Eileen. I had to go and look at your beautiful work. Very magical and I love the softness throughout, a feeling of peace comes through. How lovely to have such long meditative projects.
      Judith Madsen.

  14. Vangelis, Ferde Grofe, New Age, opera in a foreign language, or classical, picking the mood (Mendelssohn, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Beethoven – esp. violin concertos)….but nothing with words I understand to derail me. Most of the time, though, if my husband is up, it has to be headphones if anything, because he’s hard of hearing. I don’t mind the silence.

    1. I listen to a lot of Jazz, pop, and rock. Because I am a Boomer, the Beatles. Also James Taylor , Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Judy Collins, Carole King . I do sometimes listen to YouTube playlists.

  15. Sometimes I need silence to get through a decision about a part of the painting. Once on the canvas I have an eclectic mix of music- rock, blues, classical, international, Celtic, movie and tv scores, broadway music. I also have my muse Jimmy Buffet whose songwriting and wonderful music inspires me. I am a storyteller with my work as is he so it is a good match. Each of my paintings will have a song that attaches to it during the painting process and I will usually listen to that song multiple times during the course of the creation. Can not explain this one as it just happens. Would be hard to work without the help of all those talented musicians out there!

  16. In a delightful 1-month carving gig on north Galiano Island many years ago, I listened to nature in my makeshift outdoor studio. Best of all were the eagles screaming in the trees around me. Soon I’ll move outside from listening to CBC radio and Cortes Cooperative Radio to listening to nature in my outside carving studio again. Give me a choice and I’ll take nature every time.

  17. I listen to classical music set to thunder storms. Plus the flute music of Maribal, and other American Indian flute and drum music. They are recordings that I have purchased.

  18. Mostly Alternative Music such as Tool, Filter, Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson etc. But I
    Like Classic Rock and Pop music, can even tolerate some Country Music. I pretty much have music playing all day even when I’m not in the studio.

  19. I don’t always want sound when I’m working. When I do it’s Classical, mostly.. Puccini Without Words, the Three Tenors. Possibly Irish melodies from The Chieftains or The Clancy Brothers. Some Country. But never Rock or such.

  20. i listen to art juice podcast or other art-related podcasts or ted talks. i used to listen to music particularly like the pet shop boys!

  21. I need to listen to something that takes my brain OFF my art, so I can create with my heart instead. Ever notice that you do your best doodles while talking on the phone? For me, it’s the same with artwork. While my mind is occupied, I react intuitively, not over thinking where my next brush stroke is going to go.

    My favorite things to listen to are art podcasts and there are many, and each is unique and inspiring in its own way. Nothing like being motivated to work by listening to an artist share his or her journey to success. If you do a search for “art podcasts” you will find quite a number of them. Feel free to contact me and I will share my favorites.

    I also love audio books of all kinds. They really take my mind away and allow me to freely work without the interference of doubting my instincts. Choose your favorite “read” and take yourself away!

    Happy listening!

  22. Satie, Ravel, Phillip Glass, Debussy for periods of quiet work. Surf Music (the Ventures, the Mermen, Dick Dale, Man or Astro Man) when I want to crank out some intense work.

  23. Thank you for such a great topic. More resources. You said it though. I usually listen to piano or guitar music with some happy beat music when I’m feeling joyful. I’m going to try the podcasts of history art.
    Great topic.

  24. classical for serious concentration
    Belly dancing and bubble gum chewing when I want to get the creative juices really flowing!

  25. I do not read newspapers or watch TV, so I use painting and studio time to get my news from National Public Radio. I consider Terry Gross, Scott Simon, Steve Inskeep and Rachel Martin to be my friends and my sources of inspiration and information.

  26. When I’m painting or burning, I listen to audiobooks. For me, it’s the perfect way to combine two things I love, reading and art. Some of my favourite authors are Jean Grainger, Steve Higgs and Chelsea Thomas. If I put some serious hours in the studio, I can complete a book in two days. However, if I’m on the computer, whether it’s book work or marketing, I use classical music. I particularly enjoy Mozart and Rimsky-Korsakov. But it definitely needs to be something without words.

  27. What a question! I have both music and visual art as practices. Music is the secondary expression but it informs a loy of my art work. What I was trained in and listen to mostly is classical music. I have a rwal interest in new music since that’s what I wrote mostly.
    My listening skills tend to be very different from most, I can sense and appreciate form. (clasical music generally holds more variety in that regard).
    I can’t have music on as background, because for me there is no “background” so mostly it’s silence unless I’m working on a particular visual transcription, and then I live with that piece. HThe trick is to get it into the “mind’s ear” where it can subliminally influence the visual expression(s).

  28. Minimalist classical music is great for me. Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Arvo Part, Michael Nyman, Max Richter, Brian Eno, and so on. It has great rhythms that help me keep my pace.

    1. Blues is part of my listening Dorthy, as well as light jazz, world music, songwriter/singers, almost anything really. I also like listening to Podcasts (like Red Dot Podcast) and to Audio Books as well, except when I am into analysis of my painting or during compositing/creating ideas for a painting. During those times I listen to instrumental music or nothing at all when I really need to focus. I like listening to fast moving music when I really need to cover some canvas, such as for backgrounds.

  29. I listen to music that ignites my soul. Andrea Bocelli, and Pia radio station on Pandora are two of my favorites. Their music helps me to get in the zone where spirit takes over and what I am creating comes through me.

  30. I love classic compositions, from the Romantic Period. Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Greig, Sebelius and Rachmaninoff . So inspiring to me, as I paint scenes from the Mountain west . SOmetimes some good old Grateful Dead ,Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, etc. I listen to a lot of NPR as well.

  31. Any genre as long as NO WORDS. Otherwise I sing along, if only in my head….and my singular focus is lost. I know many can proceed on a semi auto-pilot with a beautiful lose style. For me, every animal hair or feather and resulting shadow is deliberate.
    Aughhhh! No sing alongs

    1. Classical music is the only acceptable music in the studio while I’m working. When Pop or any other music with a strong rhythm or solid beat is on, my body involuntarily moves to the beat and the result is very visible on the canvas. Gentle looking faces become Picassoesque from his deconstructive period and bodies look like the machines of WAR OF THE WORLDS.

  32. I listen to Leon Bridges radio on Pandora. With the help of my “likes” and “dislikes” I’ve created an eclectic station of somewhat upbeat bluesy jazzy tunes.

  33. While I paint, I listen to BEST SMOOTH JAZZ, hosted by Rod Lucas from Great Britain. Folks from around the World phone-in to say how much they enjoy Rod’s selection of music — available 24 hours a day via YouTube.

  34. My choice depends on several variables — what kind of piece I’m creating, the mood I’m in, and the weather — yes, the weather. When we have weeks of dreary gray days, I need fun, upbeat music. I sometimes stream musicals and sing along, or Disney movies and enjoy listening even if I can’t watch. And some days, I want total silence, which I can get once hubby goes off to work. I love silence. Otherwise, I love all kinds of music, so I have one playlist on my tablet that has 5000 songs from a very eclectic mix. Bring it all on!

  35. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, country, punk, 80’s and 90’s British, there used to be a great Virgin Radio that came out of the UK but was changed when I Heart Radio happened so I have lost touch. If anyone knows of a great British channel, even if it is top 20, let me know!

  36. Classical: J.S. Bach, Paganini, Igor Stravinsky.

    Jazz: Miles Davis, Le Chat Lunatique, Django Reinhardt.

    Flamenco: Carlos Montoya, Andres Sergovia, Paco de Lucia, Soundtrack to any Tony Gatlif movie.

    Blues: Son House, Bukka White, R.L. Burnside, Howlin Wolf, Blind Willie Johnson, Leadbelly.

    Industrial: Front 242, Kraftwerk, KMFDM, Skinny Puppy, Ministry.

    History podcasts: History of the World Podcast, Hardcore History, Fall of Civilizations Podcast.

  37. I was surprised not too many mentioned Country Music. (My art focuses a lot on Rodeo and Country scenes so COUNTRY IS DEFINITELY ON MY HITLIST. XM Radio from Willy’s Road House to Garth Brooks and everything in between. Sometimes louder than it should be depending on the excitement I am putting into my Artwork. I do like all kinds of music, but for painting and leisure..it’s got to be Country. Thanks.

  38. Fascinating, varied answers! Great question! I not only listen to, but also sing along with, in harmony, the same CD over and over, whatever it might be – on shuffle and repeat. Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Tom Paxton, Jesse Winchester, Beatles, Bobby McFerrin, Simon & Garfunkel, Paul Simon (one painting brings back Graceland – was working in a friend’s studio, and that’s what she was listening to, which introduced me to it)…

  39. I too have an eclectic musical taste. English lyrics distract me while I work so I like to listen to International music on Pandora: World Beat radio, Budda-Bar (euro-lounge music)
    Karunesh Radio (Indian; contemporary ethereal sound), Lijadu Sisters Radio (Contemporary African) Tito Puente Radio, Latin Jazz, Portuguese Rhythms/Salsa Music. Chill Wave Radio. I find foreign instrumental music/lyrics help me get into the zone and unknown areas while work.

  40. Love this question and truly enjoyed reading all the different genres that the different artists on your blog listen to while painting. For me, I love singing to music while I paint and enjoy Contemporary Christian music. It uplifts me and makes forget about any problems from the day that I might have been experiencing. As I say on my site . . . “sing baby sing”!

  41. Joni Mitchell!!! As a painter, her lyrics create imagery and her jazz influences always push the music beyond pretty melodies.

    Yanni…I see color and movement/brushstrokes when I listen to him.

    Fast paced piano instrumentals or Tim Weisberg flute.

    or, if my mood moves me…Neil Diamond, Lyle Lovett, John Denver, James Taylor, Dan Fogelberg, Eric Clapton, Joan Baez, Talking Heads, Native American music, Peruvian/Andes music, Hootie & the Blowfish, Carlos Santana, Suzanne Ciani, any number of CDs I have purchased from local artists I have heard at art walks or festivals

  42. My tastes are very broad; the thing that seems important is to choose a soundtrack for each piece while I’m working on it. Usually it’s one song; my painting The Zorya used a 3-episode math-based documentary called The Code by Marcus Du Sautoy. My most recent painting, Sundogs, included a large chunk of the Lowen & Navarro catalogue – there’s a many-layered story to that. One part of the story is an actual work of fiction I’m posting on my blog serially; the painting is a character in the story. I had a *lot* of creativity going on at once there!

  43. A wide range from choral, classical, Italian opera, jazz, native flute, bossa nova, etc. But for the most part, no discernible English-language words, no talk and no news. These things seem to activate a different part of my brain and make it more difficult to focus on visual matters. But always some music in the studio. No music when working plein air, I want to hear the things I’m painting.

  44. Classical is my choice, working or not. I like it that the music melts into the background and adds to my mental process. Rock or Blues are other favorites but not while I’m painting. They demand too much of my attention. So classical or contmporary classical works best for me.

  45. History and True Crime Podcasts when I’m mass-producing blocks. Alternative, Rock, Instrumental, Jazz, or Folk when I’m designing or writing. My music usually reflects the mood I want to be in.

  46. I usually start with Classical in my five CD changer (yes, I still use CD’s, lol) to get me started. It clears my head while I have that first cup of coffee and start to study what’s on my easel, planning the strokes and what I need to fix/work on. But I always have something with powerful vocals on next to stir up emotions while I’m working. I have different mixed CD’s sorted by language. Edith Piaf, Zaz, Coeur de Pirate are a few of the French, but I also have Italian, Russian, Brazilian, etc. Then of course it depends on the time of year, subject of the work, mood. When I work at night, I prefer something lonely like Kid Koala or some CD’s I have of solo Japanese woodwinds. I tend to listen to a lot of harpsichord in October (I love Halloween), Tchaikovsky in December, etc. However, every once in a while I’m in the mood for complete silence while I work.

  47. Classical, western, and 60’s work for me. And on a break, I will play my guitar. Something about live vibration stirs up new stuff. As a poet, sometimes a new one comes into the scene and I get to writing.
    It’s all creativity, and feeds y soul.

  48. I listen to Phoenix local classical music station 89.5– KBAC. The quiet of no music doesn’t suit me.

  49. I am a carver/sculptor up in the Sierras in California

    …sometimes listen to music cd’s I have made with favorite songs but because I grew up in the late 50’s with all the old sci fi films…I love to listen to them while working and radio talk shows…like Tom Sullivan
    and Armstrong and Ghetti in the morning…

    My mom used to take me to see all the old films, Sci Fi like “Them”, ‘ Tarantula”, Mole People, It came from Outer Space, etc and all of the old Universal films..because I loved them….so it is part of my past….

    Besides the sci fi and horror films also listen to movies like Jaws, The old Untouchable series with Robert Stack, Sea Hunt., Rifleman, along with some current dramas……these are really neat too..

    I listen to dvd’s/ old vhs tapes …just the sound, not the picture….can’t do both while carving

    hours go by…everybody is different but for me it really puts me in a great carving state

    I visualize all the scenes while the movie is playing on audio only

    …it is amazing to listen because sometimes you find actor lines messed up and back when they filmed those movies… they just let it go to save $

    anyway if you have some old vhs tapes of movies you liked, and they still work, try listening to some while working…you will be surprised how you will remember scenes while the film is playing

  50. Actually, I’m in awe of the majority of respondents who are adept at focusing on two things at once. The few times I play music while actually painting in the studio, it’s instrumental harp, classical, or gospel. Love many of the other works mentioned, just not when I’m painting…thinking intensely about and enjoying the physical act of painting is a vacation for me. Music is most enjoyable when I’m framing, reading or toning canvases…not while painting.

  51. I owned a record store for 33 years but when I paint I do not listen to any music at all. I prefer nothing influencing what I paint. No pets or people either. The exception would be if I am painting a musician or something inspired by a certain piece of music.

  52. I’m with you, sea dean. When I paint, music or wine are disturbing me, I can’t concentrate. Silence is the best.
    I’m very glad that I’m not alone.

  53. Usually “chill” genre ,hour long You Tube music videos, for some reason powerfully, mysteriously fuels my productivity.
    I believe its the seamless end from one cut to the next one that really account for my appreciation for anyone selection in the mix.
    20% of time is almost any and all other forms.

  54. Typically some sort of “trance” music, rhythmic and repetitive, something that’s there without capturing my attention. I like things with some kind of drone going on. I’m particularly fond of the Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane and El-Hadra the Mystic Dance [Klaus Wiese].

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