Music for Spec Writing

This thread on Twitter caught my attention as being exactly the same, confounding question as the whole do architects need to be “good at math” question that I recently wrote about.

Architecture and music are interesting bedmates, and some day I’ll write in depth on this topic, but one part of the aforementioned thread is stuck in my mind and I’m hoping that writing this article will help dislodge it: the question of what kind of music is conducive to writing specifications.

It’s of course a question that can only be answered subjectively. Over the years, I’ve provided on-the-job crash courses in specification writing to coworkers and I’ve never touched upon the music I think would be supportive of this type of technical writing. I infrequently have music on when writing specifications because I’m a very active music listener, so I have to be careful about the kind of music I choose to listen to while doing other tasks, especially when it comes to the tasks of the practice of architecture. It’s too easy for me to get absorbed in the music listening at the expense of the architecture-ing if I’m not careful. But I do listen to music for a lot of tasks and I appreciate the intellectual exercise of finding ideal music for the task of writing specifications.

Spec’s are unexciting, yet important. They’re extremely detailed and technical. Specifications are black and white, with no gray area — literally and figuratively. This kind of work requires focus and concentration, but also something to keep the writer engaged and alert. It’s these characteristics of the task that must drive my choice in music.

I’m thinking of something that’s not too concrete, that would be distracting for the way my brain consumes music. In fact, I’m not sure it could even be all that beat-driven. The sounds need to be soft and relaxing, with occasional brief changes in tempo and/or loudness to check in with me.

The first music I tried was what came to mind as I was thinking this through for the article. Pole’s debut trio of albums from 1998 — more specifically, I played the second album from the trio, “2” on 12” vinyl through my home stereo system. I thought this would be the perfect match, but I didn’t even listen to my own requirements as outlined above. It’s a great album but far too glitchy for proper spec writing.

I had to halt the experiment for a day as I couldn’t think of what else to play and felt frustrated, as I had my heart set on that Pole record. Then I thought of an album I got this summer and have been thinking about a lot. I played it and did some technical writing updates for my BIM template and it was, in fact, perfect. This time the source music was in MP3s which went through a DAC to the studio monitors I keep in my office which provided warm, intimate sound to fill up the room and keep me focused on my spec-writing.

The album? Julianna Barwick’s “Healing is a Miracle”, which was released earlier this year. Julianna’s vocal loops and sweeps of low-frequency, room-shaking bass are what I recommend when it’s time to write some specs. I think her entire discography would be appropriate to this technical task as well. I’ll be trying some other albums and different media formats from her catalogue to confirm my assumption. Going forward, if I ever have to train anyone else in spec writing, I’ll include Julianna’s record in that training too.

If you decide to take me up on this recommendation, don’t go and stream this work — buy the damn record and support Julianna’s amazing music properly. Happy spec writing.

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