It’s sometimes unnerving how much ‘music’ has me in its clutches, and purely at its bidding: often, I won’t know how much of a ‘low’ mood I’ve been feeling until I listen to something that delivers a ‘hit’ of pure energy (Exhibit A) or nostalgia (Exhibit B), that I’m mentally put into ‘overdrive’ and gain access to some unknown, hidden source of vitality with which to, at least for the duration of that song or record, overcome (almost) any obstacle. In this vein, I’ve at least learned a few tips about what tunes to put on when I’m struggling with work; of which I’ve provided a brief run-down of here:
1. Fixing Matlab and Shit
Coding is one of the key parts of many PhDs, primarily those in the sciences. However, sometimes you’re forced to use Matlab or something equally painful, and therefore writing, fixing or debugging code can often be a drag. Sticking on some sort of electronic/dance music usually helps; delivering a shot of both energy and mindlessness that kind of lets you see ‘through’ the code to see the inner workings of Matlab rather than the numbers, letters and symbols presented onscreen. Kind of like the Matrix, except it’s still Matlab we’re dealing with so you still have to put up with the constant desire to headdesk when your code fails for NO APPARENT REASON. But hey, at least you’ll have a better soundtrack to do it to, yeah?
2. Getting Shit Done
Sometimes, you just need a kick up the backside to get you going, or it’s getting towards the end of the day and you’re starting to slack off a bit. Well, thankfully, a man was placed on this Earth to help solve just that problem. His name is Andrew W.K. For a 35-minute burst of pure motivation, insert I Get Wet into your CD drive, push ‘play’ and let the productivity commence. WHEN IT’S TIME TO RESEARCH WE WILL RESEARCH HARD
3. Getting Inspired and Shit
Sometimes we all need some sort of muse with which to dig into our inner psyche and bring forth creativity, inspiration and ideas. Anyway, it turns out that my musical muse is Ke$ha. A slight disappointment, since it could so easily have been someone with an actual modicum of musical talent, but we all play the hands we’re dealt and instead of fighting it, I’ve come to embrace it. Animal/Cannibal is supremely glorious piece of work (essentially the I Get Wet of this decade), elevating me to a higher level of knowledge and reasoning, and while it continues to do so, I will feel no shame at bopping along to her white-trash, catchy slut-o-rama. Long may it reign.
4. Kicking Writer’s Block in the Face and Shit
Writing up research work is an essential part of being an academic. Getting gob-smacking results is all very well unless you’re able to communicate that to the general public or the rest of your field, and thus putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard is essential. It can be a miserable business sometimes though, when you can’t figure out what to say, how to say or why. I find that progressive metal is a delicious solution to this conundrum; offering a sense of elevated intellect and distinguished literary ability that is largely absent from, say, the works of Sir Snoop of Dogg-shire. Let it wash over you , and you’ll absorb complex time-signatures, lyrics and musical interludes almost by osmosis and as a result, see your written work flourish into a burgeoning manuscript of academic prowess. See, it works.
5. Calculating Shit with Maths and Stuff
The basis of most science is, somewhere, based on some sort of theory or set of equations which hope to explain the physical world in terms of a variety of numbers and letters. Often, calculating those numbers or deriving that set of formulae is boring as hell, and some sort of external energy drip is required to keep you on mission. Step in Anamanaguchi with the 16-bit chiptune punk, and the superlative Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game original soundtrack. Suddenly, maths is made of brightly-coloured pixels, chirpy sound effects and SPEED RUNS. So, plug in your controller, give the cartridge a blow and press UP, UP, DOWN, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT, A, B to Falcon Punch those equations into touch.
6. Getting Shit in Just Before the Deadline
Despite best efforts, a lot of things which are produced to a deadline (abstract/paper for a conference, research proposal, getting stuff ready for a supervisor meeting) are often only finished and sent off seconds before their actually due, and there is an important lesson to be learnt about how to get it all done on time and not end up in a mad panic. Something calming, soothing but upbeat is the order of the day, and you can do a lot worse that drinking in the swirling, dream-like qualities of lo-fi, acoustic/electronic indie-pop. I recently discovered Gregory and the Hawk, whose floating melodies helped dispatch a journal paper right near the deadline whilst keeping me safe from full-blown insanity; may she rescue your mind from oblivion, too.
7. Crying and Shit When Things Inevitably Go Wrong
Okay, so you’re doing a PhD. Things will inevitably go wrong; that’s, like, programmed into the DNA of the PhD process. Quite possibly, like in my case, things will go horribly, horribly wrong and you’ll have to re-do months of work or start again from scratch. This can be seriously harrowing, and lead to severe doubts of depression and anxiety that are probably not great for the mental well-being of any sane person, let alone someone who was unstable enough (at least at some point) to think that doing a PhD would be an enjoyable thing to do. What’s the musical remedy for this, then?
Power metal. And lots of it.
Think about it, it’s like the perfect cure: catchy melodies, uplifting lyrics, powerful vocals; it’s pretty much just Katy Perry with bearded men, leather codpieces and songs about dragons. And if that’s not something to instantly warm the soul and make you forget about your plethora of research problems, then I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.