Last weekend, my wife and I enjoyed a wonderful spaghetti dinner at the house of wedding photographer, and fellow survivor of the Australian music industry, Col Hockey. As the night drew on and we sat around the warm glow of his Spotify account, taking turns picking dinner party background music, we set our minds to solving all of the problems inherent in the modern wedding photography world. We discussed gear, marketing, and the mountain that must be climbed: the post-wedding cull and edit. We’re both musicians, so the thought of spending days editing in secluded silence seemed completely alien, but it got me wondering if we were making the right choice.
The very next day, I read a post on Facebook from another prominent wedding photographer proclaiming to have found the greatest YouTube mix of inspirational editing soundtracks. That post has since been removed (did I dream it?), and although I did listen to it at the time, my computer is set to private browsing, so now, I’ll never be able to find it again. Well, I could ask my friend, but who has time for that? Two mentions of the same topic in as many days is witchcraft in my book, and I took this as a sign that I should look deeper into the world of background editing choices.
It turns out there’s been a lot of studies done on this over the years related to both information retention and performing repetitive tasks. A quick Google search can find plenty of evidence both for and against background music, but the larger consensus seems to suggest that some level of background noise helps keep focus or, at the very least, increase the enjoyment level of the activity. It seems like familiar music or sounds can trigger the dopamine centres of the brain, raising your happiness levels and associating that happiness with the task at hand. I’m a huge fan of dopamine, so that's a good enough endorsement for me; turn it up to 11 please.
A lot of the studies suggested that instrumental music was better for study as it wouldn’t put extra load on the language sections of the brain you were actively using while reading large areas of text, but that singing along to music raised your enjoyment levels with repetitive tasks that were less taxing on brain power. But what should I be listening to? Editing thousands of images isn't really as language intensive as in-depth study, but you are required to be mindful and creative, so I took to Facebook to see what my peers are putting into their earholes.
I put the call out across a range of photography groups, from wedding and portrait photographers, to landscape and travel shooters, and I got a huge level of feedback. I don't have a degree in statistics, so I decided that in order to make the math easier, I would just use the results from the first 100 responders, and this is what I got:
- 95% of responders used some kind of background noise, but 1 of the 5 that preferred silence did admit to spending a lot of time trying to click his mouse to a specific rhythm.
- 53% listened to music of some kind, 26% used TV or movies, and 14% preferred hearing people talking (talk-back radio or podcasts), leaving 2% who liked the ambient sounds of coffee shops or thunderstorms.
- Of the 53 music listeners, the largest selection, with 52% of the vote, chilled to acoustic or quiet, lyrical songs, 20% kept things classy with opera, classical, or instrumental soundtracks, 16% rocked out, 8% had the funk, and 4% partied to electronic beats.
- The video users rated TV shows and movies at 65%, educational or instructional YouTube videos at 23%, recordings of sporting events at 8%, and 4% liked long-form documentaries. Netflix was mentioned many times by this group and seems to be a popular photography app.
- 7% of the people who liked hearing people talking liked it more if they talked in a language the listener couldn’t understand.
- The 2% of people that liked the ambiance of coffee shops didn’t actually like the inconvenience of coffee shops and opted instead to emulate the sound through Coffitivity.
I know what you're thinking: "Best record collection ever!"
So, the science is still divided on whether background noise is actually helping or just a placebo, but in this age, where sensory input is everywhere, and I don't leave the house without nearly every song ever written in my pocket and a pair of headphones in every bag I own, the thought of working in silence fills me with terror. If I sit quietly in a bathroom stall for more than a couple of minutes, my brain starts to burn up ideas faster than Johnny Mnemonic. I hate to think what would happen if I left it to its own devices for hours at a time.
But what about you? Do you find you can work in silence, or does the void stare back? Do you prefer music, talking, or just a quiet coffee shop? Do you have a favourite editing playlist? Do you refuse to edit to anything but vinyl? As soon as we settle this case once and for all, we can move onto whether you edit better drunk, or sober. Argue your case in the comments below.