The Startup Soundtrack
I wanted to organize this by theme, based on the ups and downs of the entrepreneurial journey. Sometimes described as an emotional rollercoaster, it’s safe to say it has its ups and downs. I tried to think of how I personally use music in different ways and came up with three scenarios, which seem to be rather cyclical as the years roll by.
1. Creative moments of madness
It could be writing, it could be coding. If you’re in the mood of creating something special, these should get your juices flowing with a cocktail of raw passion mixed with visions of grandeur.
Piano Concerto №2, Sergei Rachmaninoff
For concentrated work, some music can be too melodic, that it overtakes your thoughts. Of course, this is highly personal, but for me, Rachmaninoff is just right. It’s like if classical music was written as Jazz. It’s chaotic, unpredictable, and hence gives me tremendous energy that can at times produce a frenzy of creative outputs. Other good ones are Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto №3, and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony №2.
Kind Of Blue, Miles Davis
Many kinds of Jazz can be just too much… well Jazz, for work, but I find the peaceful, sentimental notes of Miles Davis to be perfect for focus. It genuinely is a rare kind of music that you can say represents a mood, or a place, or a moment. It always takes you to a place. I sometimes set Flamenco Sketches on repeat for hours. Because of the unpredictable structure, you may not even notice it’s on loop. If you want something more upbeat, try some classic big band Jazz from Duke Ellington. If you don’t mind lyrics in the background, there’s nothing quite like the powerful melancholy moods from Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong.
It’s rare I can listen to anything with lyrics during really deep work like coding or problem-solving, but then again, a lot of creative work goes into more mundane things like creating slides. I’ve probably created at least one slide for every day of running a startup. For those kinds of things, uplifting EDM does the job to get me into a constructive, positive energy. I’ve got lots of Zedd in my playlist, like Follow You Down and Find You.
“Tired of seeing in black and white.” — Zedd
Touch It / Technologic, Daft Punk
Daft Punk is an old favorite, and a lot of their material works well. Honorable mention: Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger — The Neptunes Remix.
“Buy it, use it, break it, fix it, trash it, change it, melt — upgrade it.” — Daft Punk
2. Moments of self-doubt
These are many! Sadly, that’s the reality of most startups. In between the press releases and awards, there’s a lot of pain. Not all bad per se, but just a lot of uncertainty that makes you question your life choices.
Since a teenager, for me, in darker times, I actually prefer to momentarily wallow in the muds of melancholy. Rather than try to fake a smile, and just get over it, I go to the place where you can look yourself in the mirror and really check yourself. So far, I’ve always come out of that acknowledging it’s not as bad as I thought. So here’s an appropriate mixtape for the desperate entrepreneur!
Make Your Own Kind Of Music, Cassie Elliot
This one has kept me company in some really tough moments. When you feel you’ve done so much, and have nothing to show for it. When you question yourself, whether you can actually do something worthwhile. Especially when the “no’s” start to pile up, you need to just… make your own kind of music.
“Make your own kind of music. Even if nobody else sings along.” — Cassie Elliot
Don’t Panic, Coldplay
This whole album feels like an old sweater. It’s super melancholy, quite sad even, but I also find it tremendously comforting. It’s the kind of song you listen to in the worst moment, then move on quickly and don’t listen again for months to avoid recreating those down moments unnecessarily!
“All that I know, there’s nothing here to run from, ’cause yeah, everybody here’s got somebody to lean on.” — Coldplay
Home (Knee Deep Club Mix), Julie McKnight
Most EDM tends to be a little superficial, or corny. This is no exception, but heck it still hits home. It’s an example of House music that I spent most of my college days partying to, so the nostalgia factor is maximized. I’ve been listening to this song for a decade, at least. It’s a nice pick-me-up when I need something to affirm my debatable life choices of becoming an entrepreneur.
“Though I may walk for miles cold and alone. When I stand at my journeys end I know I stand at home” — Julie McKnight
Binary Sunset, John Williams (Star Wars OST)
Star Wars was the most inspirational movie of my childhood. Particularly, the imagery of Luke Skywalker, looking at the binary sunset on Tatooine, knowing great but scary things lie ahead in his future, but there’s no going back. This just gets me every time. No wonder, since most people regress to the safety of their childhood when under extreme stress.
Heard ’Em Say, Kanye West & Adam Levine
I know what you’re thinking, but this is that soulful 2005 Kanye. Great forgotten album Late Registration, too, along with The College Dropout from 2004. He was on fire back then, before he went full Kanye. Never go full Kanye…
“Nothing’s ever promised, tomorrow today, but we’ll find a way.” — Kanye West
Jeremy, Pearl Jam
This is another go-to song when I feel the need to channel some anger and show the world I won’t be bullied, I won’t stay down. In fact, you may come to regret it!
“Pickin’ on the boy, seemed a harmless little f*ck… but we unleashed the lion.” — Eddie Vedder
Believe Me, Lil Wayne & Drake
Once the worst of the pain has subsided, I transition to an angry energy of showing who’s who. Drake and Lil Wayne both have great material to uplift the ego, but this collab does it best. That beat won’t leave you cold, and the tempo will bring your swagger back real quick.
“Goddamn, do y’all really know who y’all f*cking with?” — Drake
3. Conquering the world
At the end of the cycle, I end up in a driven mode of just crushing all obstacles. World domination mode. This is when you get up on stage, or pitch investors. It may not be as productive as the creative madness, but this’ll blow up your ego high enough into the stratosphere to survive being punched in the gut again tomorrow. Live to fight another day!
Entry of the Gods into Valhalla, Richard Wagner
This feels like the music they play in movies in dramatic moments of victory. It can become the soundtrack of your own personal victory. Other good ones from Wagner are Das Rheingold, and the Tannhauser Overture.
Symphony №9 in D Minor, Ludwig van Beethoven
This is war music. Conductor Leonard Bernstein really brings it to life. Imagine your troops on the march, ready for the major offensive into enemy territory. In fact, Beethoven dedicated his 3rd Symphony to the young Napoleon, before he went full Emperor. You can also try Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, composed in honor of Napoleon’s defeat in Moscow, bringing to an end his doomed winter campaign in Russia.
H.A.M., Kanye West & JAY-Z
Here we move from soulful Kanye to the egomaniac we all know, and some love. Love him or hate him, you can let some of that inflated self-confidence rub off on you for a moment.
“I swam waters with Great Whites. Y’all motherf*ckers woulda been chewed.” — JAY-Z
Dreams and Nightmares, Meek Mill
This is basically the anthem of Philadelphia, home of Meek Mill. It was also the anthem of the underdog Eagles in their Super Bowl run of 2017. The song has such a raw energy as it transitions midway from a lyrical, reflective song about Meek Mill’s struggles into a straight-up slam dunk on your enemies.
“Hold up, wait a minute, y’all thought i was finished?” — Meek Mill
What songs would you add to this mixtape for founders or would-be entrepreneurs?