The best work soundtrack? Soundtracks.

Orchestra conductor

Turns out, Snow White knew her stuff:

Great music makes even the dreariest work more bearable. For manual labor, anything catchy can do the trick. But what about knowledge work? Lyrics make it impossible to concentrate on word-heavy tasks like triaging email or writing documentation. That rules out pop music—whether new or oldie—during the workday.

Classical is an obvious alternative. But my brain prefers catchy, simple melodies; it rebels against dense, unfamiliar art music. Baroque pieces entangle the lead line in fugal counterpoint. Modern avant garde pieces eschew melody altogether. Early romantic music—Beethoven or Schumann, say—fits the bill, but if you don’t know the composition already, it’s hard to appreciate.

Fortunately, there’s another option; movie soundtracks are the perfect work accompaniment. Unlike pop, soundtracks don’t hijack your attention with lyrics. And unlike classical, soundtracks rarely deviate from straightforward arrangements. Each track boasts simple orchestrations that build to a suitably inspirational climax. That’s exactly what I need to keep plodding along.

Alas, many soundtracks are so simple that they grow stale after a few listens. If classical music rewards careful attention, soundtracks punish repetition. Braveheart’s theme loses its thrill when it’s left on repeat. I need variety, which my meager music library can’t provide.

Streaming services help. After all, Spotify and Pandora offer a vast catalog of film scores. Unfortunately, these services don’t make it easy to consume soundtracks. Their recommendation engines, geared to deliver top 40 hits, surface the same orchestral albums again and again. Don’t get me wrong; I love John Williams, but I can only take the Star Wars soundtrack so many times. Another issue with streaming radio? They don’t always play the “real” rendition. Too often, a gross, synthesized adaptation replaces the lush original.

Hopefully, Spotify will make their service more friendly to soundtrack fans. For example, excise the fake imitations, especially when the original is already included in your catalog. Another request? Implement a “new music mode”—in which anything I’ve ever heard before gets skipped, automatically. That would keep my soundtrack playlist fresh and inspirational—and keep me dutifully plugging away until Friday at 5 PM.