Making music in the office

Picking up a thread from What are you doing with your Linnstrument?, where @jasonw22, @kisielk and I were kicking around the (im)practictallity of playing a Cello in the office, @jasonw22 wrote:

I’ve done a bit of experimenting here and I’d love to gather experiences.

Open questions to all:

Do you make music at the office? (This sort of presumes a traditional office and a business that’s not about making music but really anything goes.)

If not, why?

If so, why? And how do you make it work?

More themes welcome! :thumbsup:

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Well, I guess I don’t have much to add here since my work is mostly about making music devices :slight_smile:

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I work for Amazon AWS in Palo Alto. If the barren austerity of our work environs was merely accidental, it might be a bit horrifying. But I’ve come to appreciate that for many in the office it’s actually pretty intentional. We are doing brain work that requires intense concentration. The lack of personal effects, the bare walls, the utter disregard for anything that might be slightly humanizing, I’m realizing is a way of stating to ourselves that it’s not what’s out there that matters, it’s what’s going on in the noggin that counts.

Which is not to say that it’s an entirely healthy or desirable situation and I’d certainly appreciate some inspiration towards getting this batch of computer scientists to lighten up a bit.


Ah, but do you play cello? :wink:

Worked in one office where two of the senior guys on the flor of an open plan office had electric guitars under their desks and would pick up and play, unamplified, during the day as a means of taking a few minutes downtime. It really didn’t bother me, as it wasn’t loud enough to cover the general office noise (open plan offices is probably another thread). It also helped that on both cases others we welcome to use the instruments.


I like this idea. I expect it’d be a good way to clear one’s head but I’d have difficultly shifting focus back onto work. I’d want to riff all day.

It reminds me of a cousin who once worked in retail and would spend days learning scales on an electric guitar. He got really good at running his fingers up and down the fretboard really fast but, when he plugged into an amp at home, you could hear the notes suffered from practicing without amplification.

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I use music technology as a hook to get children interested in programming and performing (I’m science teacher most of the time - KG to 11 years of age).

Have written songs for lessons with kids, looked at live coding in sonic pi, introduced chiptune sequencer based songwriting. And noodle about on my phone/iPad to relax on my commute! Current favourite app is Chordbot on android.


I’m a psychologist at a community mental health clinic. This means that, on the one hand, I have my own, private office within the clinic but, on the other hand, a fair bit of pressure. Several times a week, usually, a patient will no-show, leaving me with an open hour; typically this is spent working on administrivia, but sometimes, either because I’m burnt on notes or because they’re done, I’ll have some time to work on music.

I’ve found that having copies of Max, Live, and all my plug-ins on my laptop allows me to dabble a bit during these moments. It’s especially helpful as a break from the emotional and/or mental intensity of psychotherapy to engage my creativity in a goalless way, like noodling about with sound design, chopping samples into clips, or working on a Max or M4L patch. I can then upload whatever products of these efforts that seem useful to a folder on a cloud drive and then download them to my main music computer at home for later application.

Very often, this in-between, “shouldless” music-making time helps me come to my next patient refreshed and inspired, and can have the added benefit of producing ideas I can work on at home.


I ‘played’ the audio precision a little bit for my colleagues when we were doing intermodulation distortion tests on a class D amp last week. Just running different harmonics next to each other in repeating sequences close-encounters style. At least got a smile from non-musician engineers who use that equipment every day…

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My work office used to have an acoustic guitar in it but I was a little self conscious about it. Though the walls are thick. And in academia, nobody really cares.

My home office is a blend of studio and workspace and ‘cave.’ My desk has a tier of shelves for my monitors and under that, controllers, mixer, MC-control, etc. Under the lip of the desk is a midi keyboard on a pullout. Behind me when I sit there is an antique drafting table that has a flip lid and a large space under for storage, now home to my Eurorack / monome / etc. Everything is chained together by USB and Midi and ADAT. So I can lift a lid, flip a switch, pull a keyboard, and my office goes from academic workspace to mothership.

The downside is I have to force myself to go do yoga etc. to get out of the chair!

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I play drums on practice pads. To be honest, I am much more productive at work when I use my breaks to practice. Our brains are meant to reset - this is my way taking my mind completely off my daily tasks.


I don’t have the means to make music at work, I work part-time in a bookshop and most of my job is in the back office dealing with web orders and commercial accounts.
What I have done often though is to set up my tascam device in the corner of the room and just let it record for a few hours. You get some great sounds, noises from the street, the beep beep sound of books being scanned into a computer, the printer making clunks and whirs and my colleagues coming and going. I have yet to weave these into a track but I will in time.

The sound of an office or workplace / space would be a good idea for Disquiet Junto one week though?



Really it’s a win-win.

Curious: do you sit at a desk in an open office? Or do you practice pads in isolation?


Thanks for sharing this!

Curious if you use a Midi controller? Do you wear headphones?

I went a step further and migrated everything to one computer. The only thing I miss out on is access to my Apollo (and other outboard bits) that sit in my studio. This simplification has probably been the single greatest enabler for the “play at work”.

Great story and a nice reminder how folks with authority can set the tone for an office. Did anyone else follow suit? Did folks feel comfortable playing the instruments?

Awesome! We should all be so lucky to have our kids taught be people like you. Kudos!

Probably another thread but this really interests me. I haven’t looked at music on the phone in a while (really since I played with eno’s bloom some years back). Nice thing to reconsider. (And folks who have good recommendations do chime in!)

I suffer from this too. To be honest even at my home studio (in a detached garage) I’m self-conscious and worry of bothering the neighbors…

It sounds like you could do something similar at work. Have you considered a “bring my monome to work day”? A space shuttle from the mothership?

Regarding self-consciousness I’ve found this is a real thing to overcome. Especially in an open-plan office. Again though I think this is largely a cultural issue. I wonder if any folks have experiences where overt expressions of creativity are at home in the office?

This is great. Field recording at work is a rich area to explore.

Can you listen to music in the back office? Simple processing of office sounds with (for example) something like @randy’s Virta might make for an awesome soundtrack. In general this is one of my favorite ways to sneak play into work — setup an aleatoric patch and let it roll while you work. Bonus points if you have a controller that exposes parameters you can occasionally tweak.

(Full disclosure: I’ve been listening to a Virta-created rolling vocoder wave all morning while I type!)


So, I’ve done both. But, as you can imagine, my colleagues preferred I do it in isolation. It was easy enough as we had vacant offices and conferences rooms. All depends on your set-up.

These seem silly, but love the idea:

My main issue is that I think it’d throw off your game.

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Right now, I just use the computer keyboard interface with Live, if I am doing something with MIDI – which is not often precisely because I don’t have a dedicated MIDI controller at the office. Mostly I work on stuff that doesn’t require that, like patching in Max or M4L or futzing with synth noises. I have been thinking about getting something like a Korg NanoKey or Akai equivalent to keep in the file drawer, but it hasn’t been a priority, I think because getting into a musical (as opposed to technical) groove is a bit too absorbing to be able to climb back out of easily to be present for patients.

And yes, I definitely use headphones for anything that makes noise.

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I used to have my home office and music studio in the same space, using the same computer. I recently split them up because I found that the process of task switching from office work to music play (close some apps, open some apps, turn on the controllers, make sure the wires are connected, get the DAW ready, etc) added just enough friction that I’d have anxiety about the right moment to do it. Am I really ready to stop working for the day? If I get into that tune am I going to want to get back to work?

Now that it’s split up between two rooms, it’s just a matter of walking in between and there’s no real “cost” to switching. Sometimes multi-tasking benefits from multiple computers.

All of this is at home though. When I’m in Palo Alto, I work at work. I just want to get it done so I can get on the train and get back home to my wife and my critters (all 18 of them!) and my home studio which is increasingly getting dialed in just so (especially since I stopped semi-tearing-it-down daily).

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Really interesting thread

[quote=“ppqq, post:1, topic:5856”]
Do you make music at the office? (This sort of presumes a traditional office and a business that’s not about making music but really anything goes.)

If not, why?

If so, why? And how do you make it work?
[/quote]I recently got a laptop and a few portable synths allowing for simple play so if I arrive early nobody cares how I use em.

However, generally speaking, no I don’t make tunes during working hrs. I work in a pretty traditional office dealing with insurance and financial services (retirement planning, annuities, etc). We always have music playing, which is great, for our own enjoyment and for visitors. I’d definitely say that our office culture is more relaxed than most in this industry.

Also multiple breaks are encouraged but are normally spent talking with my team or snacking…I can’t imagine actually making music in this setting.

I’d find it difficult to concentrate on actually producing something sonically creative w/o an uninterrupted block of time (a rarity).


Yes, the computer I’m using (almost) exclusively for music now (2010 iMac) was originally my everything-computer. When I got it, I also got an iPad to try to get a little portability, which worked within limits. I looked especially for softsynths that functioned across platforms (e.g., Crystal), but found that not to be ideal for a variety of reasons. In the end, similar to you, I found I had to alternately set-up and tear-down my academic projects or music gear in order to do anything more than the most cursory work on either.

I replaced the desktop with a Macbook Air about a year ago, specifically intending it as a work platform. This has allowed me to increasingly dedicate the iMac, which is still going strong, to being a studio hub. With the recent addition of a Push 2 as a MIDI interface (along with a standard 88-keyboard), my set up feels dialed-in in ways it was hard to imagine before.