Shelley Bassett



Creating Ambiance with Background Noises

November 28, 2017

Choosing the soundscape to set the mood

Working full time in a creative field, and then dedicating my downtime to personal creativity, I spend a lot of time thinking, planning, and then performing repetitive tasks to execute an amazing final piece. Sometimes, it’s nice to sit in silence and hear your own thoughts. But there are other times when voices in my head are deafening and distracting. It’s these moments that I need to fill the silence with some background noise. I rarely choose to use music to fill the space. Anything with lyrics can stop the flow of thoughts in my head, and I find that I’m singing along to something rather than working on the task at hand.

Silence is nice for the times when you really need to hear your inner voice. There’s nothing to work its way into the foreground nothing competing for your attention. But I do find it hard to maintain a silent workspace for long periods of time. It can leave me feeling anxious, and doesn’t provide any relief for when my thoughts become counterproductive. Just a little bit of noise can go a long way, and there are several ways I achieve this in my creative space.

Music and White Noise

For the times when I just need a tiny bit of white noise to take the edge off, I use a little app called “Coffitivity“. I first discovered it in the productivity section off the app store, but it’s also available in your browser, so any device or platform can take advantage of it. The genius is that it just quietly fills your space with sounds that you would find in community places. I tend to use the “Coffee Shop” setting, which can make it feel like a cafe right in your office! The soundscape gives just enough noise to mask the silence, but doesn’t have words or patterns that get distracting and steal your focus. It really feels like you might be working at a little cafe!

Business People hangout together at coffee shop


My other choice is to play a soundtrack to a game, film, or TV series. Although, this can be a double edged sword. On the one hand, depending on the score, it can really set the tone of the work. When I was designing the style, story and layout of Massacre in Melbourne, I had the soundtracks to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy on repeat. Hans Zimmer’s score really helped my brain get into that dark, gritty place that the narrative called for. But I did find occasionally that I would get distracted by the repeating melodies, and sometimes the quick transition of a quiet piece into a much louder one would give me a fright and snap me out of what I was working on.

Soundtrack images from ‘Minecraft’, ‘Paul Halley Quartet’ and ‘Pirates of the Carribean’

Soundtracks and instrumentals that I love include Minecraft, the Halley Quartet, and Pirates of the Caribbean


Although podcasts have been popular for decades, I’ve only recently discovered them. I was interested in the topics that were presented, but always struggled with “finding the time” to listen to them. Clearly they weren’t high on my priority list! Now, they provided great auditory stimulation, without the accompanying visual distraction. This is especially useful when working on graphic-heavy projects. Projects like The Alchemist which required hours of tedious corrections benefited greatly from podcasts. I also mixed up what I was listening too. This helped me to stay interested and on task during otherwise monotonous work. My subscriptions vary widely, from comedy, to tech-talks, to interviews with designers.

Postcast thumbnails for ‘Download This Show’, ‘Not Too Deep’, and ‘Design Matters’

Podcasts I subscribe to include Download This Show, Not Too Deep, and Design Matters.

Visual Stimulants

I try and save TV and movies for moments of sheer desperation. I’ve found that they can be way to distracting, and I’ll end up watching what’s on the screen rather than working on the project in front of me. But when I’ve got something slightly more casual to work on, or there’s no rush or deadline, having a program on can help keep me in one place long enough to get things finished. To avoid becoming completely distracted, I’m very careful about what I chose to put on. Sitcoms are good to avoid intricate plots and story arcs that take concentration to follow. Movies I’ve seen several times stop the feeling that I’ve missed something important. But in general, this has become a workflow I try to avoid.

Stills from ‘Archer’, ‘Saw’, and ‘Orphan Black’

Things I watch while trying to work include Archer, the Saw franchise, and Orphan Black.


Trying to create the right atmosphere to foster creativity is hard. But a lot of it comes down to the sounds that fill the space. Whether I need to focus and down out annoying noises, or I’m trying to inspire a particular mood for a project, the right soundscape can make a big difference to my productivity.