Genevieve Brown relays her experiences of studying to music, and how certain genres helped her through gruelling uni deadlines.
It is 4am in a deserted university library on an unloved scientific campus. Staring at my laptop screen I suffer the realisation that I won’t be able to both sleep this night and complete my eight remaining lab reports by tomorrow’s deadline. Leaving my chemistry coursework to the last minute had almost become routine, and the few hours ahead failed to instill in me the same sense of urgency that they once had. I’d never listened to music while studying before, but I reasoned that it would be unlikely to make this bad situation worse.
I considered the genre. I had always secretly judged people who believed in background music. Music with lyrics would surely distract me – I would find myself typing adjectives into results tables or listing them as experimental variables. Classical music intimidated me, with its terminology of concertos and sonatas, and felt poncey, though my flatmate would happily work to Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Some people used film and video game soundtracks to imbue purpose into their efforts by osmosis, but removing tunes from their natural habitat seemed wrong. Techno is just too danceable.
I type the word “ambient” into Apple Music’s search bar and cue up the suggested 1978 album Ambient 1: Music for Airports by Brian Eno. The optimistic piano begins and I am immediately soothed. I am an instant fan of ambient. Whether studying or requiring respite from the sound of the modern world in my noise-cancelling headphones, I now listen to ambient classics such as Music Has the Right to Children by Boards of Canada and Selected Ambient Works, Vol. 2 by Aphex Twin. This has generated the problem of familiarity, for not all ambient music is created equal, and I am running out of albums. When every note on a playing album is known, one can become very aware of time passing during revision.
I experimented with working to jazz, but to my ears even Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue sounds too irregular to comfort, placing me on edge – perhaps better suited to a sophisticated Sunday morning coffee. Instead, word of mouth led me to a YouTube channel titled lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to. Owned by the anonymous ChilledCow, this internet radio station plays downtempo beats which wouldn’t sound out of place coming from a Nintendo Wii. A looped Miyazaki-inspired animation of a studying girl compliments the nostalgic feel of the playlist. The advantage of revising to a curated YouTube channel is that it is frequently updated – there can be no over-familiarity, and no Spotify-style circling back into genre bubbles. The channel even has its own merch, for the most die-hard fans within its 3.69 million subscribers. There are several versions of these internet radio channels, all with remarkably uniform aesthetics and sounds, and they are gaining popularity.
I am glad I joined those who study to music. I may not, in the end, have chosen to pursue chemistry as a degree subject, but I am grateful for the musical accompaniments those lab reports drove me to.