Music Makes The Work Go Round

Jason Arber pities those poor souls who can't put on a pair of headphones when they want to shut out the world.

When the deadline looms and an apparently insurmountable mountain of work lies between me and the first sleep I've had in days, there's only one thing to do: slap on the headphones and crank the drum 'n' bass up to 11. Even when the sugar rush from countless chocolate bars is fading and the caffeine hits don't seem to work anymore, there's something about the pounding rhythm that provides just enough energy to get over the crest of the 4am lull.

Four in the morning is typically the lowest ebb, when the birds first decide to remind you that the day is just around the corner, and your eyelids feel like unstoppable boulders rolling down a mountainside. It's at that point that you start grumbling to yourself that the life of a designer is not as charmed as it first appeared, and perhaps if you'd become an accountant like your parents wanted, the only reason you'd be up at this time of the night would be to snort cocaine off the chest of some scantily-clad model.

Career choices aside, most designers will face at least one all-nighter in their career and if my experience is anything to go by, it's becoming increasingly common as timelines shrink and budgets are pruned while client expectations rise.

I've moaned about this kind of thing before, so to avoid repeating myself I'll talk about music instead. Look around pretty much any design studio or creative agency and you'll find most of the designers wearing headphones, lost in their own little bubbles. Creativity is often a collaborative experience, but it's also a solitary one, especially when the concept has been nailed and the production time begins. Headphones then become a way of shutting the door to the outside world, letting everyone know that you don't want to be disturbed. Indeed, I've been known to slip the headphones on and not listen to music, just because I wanted to crack on and not be a part of the general banter. Removing office distractions helps maintain focus, offsetting all the time you spend on Twitter and thinking up witty Facebook ripostes. It's easy to tell when a studio is up against a deadline when the sound of idle chat is replaced with the steady hiss of tinny sound escaping from multiple headphones.

There are others, however, who find this kind of noiseless environment maddening and anti-social. A sub-group of this tribe are the Music Fascists, the ones who want you to listen to what they are listening to. They monopolise the office stereo or turn up the speakers attached to their computer. Music Fascists believe that their taste in music is far superior to that of mere mortals, and treat you to obscure Radiohead mixes, the latest mash-ups from or playlists from esoteric Icelandic record labels.

Even if you don't normally wear headphones, you might find yourself slipping them on to avoid listening to another slab of impenetrable, bubbling electro from someone who's trying a little bit too hard to be cool and interesting. This is where the subtleties of office politics manifest themselves. Is it acceptable to turn down the speakers when they nip to the toilet? Probably. Is it okay to pour coffee into their speakers or threaten them with a broken table leg if they insist on playing the new Muse album on repeat? It's certainly a grey area. One thing's for sure: trying to separate designers from music is like trying slip a crowbar between fish and chips. In other words, it's not going to happen.