Music is awesome. Music while programming is even more awesome. It reduces the effect of distracting background noise and helps you get into the right frame of mind. Without further ado, here are my recommendations.
Get Work Done Music
Get Work Done Music is a free and very simple streaming service. It has just two options: "Fast" and "Faster". It serves up music from Soundcloud which is suitable for working. I love the simplicity and also the music.
musicForProgramming(); is another source of free music meant to aid concentration. I like it. There is a lot of interesting music on there.
My only criticism is that there is a bit too much silence mixed in with the tracks. I find that when there is too much silence, background noises suddenly become distracting again. It's still worth checking out though, especially if you are already working in a quiet environment.
Assassin's Creed 2 OST
Here's another article about music for programming which inspired this article. One of my (now favourite) albums was taken straight from it. It's the Assassin's Creed 2 soundtrack.
I think I've literally listened to it over 50 times now. Hearing it again instantly brings up memories of working on the professorp.co.uk website. I find it has exactly the right balance of enough sound to drown out background noise, sounding great and not being too distracting.
The only bad thing I can say about it is that it's just too damn good. I sometimes find myself getting distracted from my work because I just can't stop nodding my head.
Yet another fantastic source of free music is OverClocked ReMix. It has tons of great video game soundtrack remixes.
Unfortunately, you can't actually stream from them which makes discovering new music quite hard. Every now and then, I download a new album at random. Some are great, some are okay. Two of my favourites are:
When you are listening to music all day long, you really have to be careful. From personal experience, I can tell you that listening to loud music all day will absolutely give you a terrible headache.
The best way to avoid that is to simply listen at a lower volume. Slightly lower than "normal" music volume.
Higher-quality noise isolating headphones can help. By blocking out external noise, they allow you to listen at lower volumes while still being able to hear the music properly.
With my laptop and phone, I use these SoundMAGIC E10 Earphones. I've had them just over three months and they are the best earphones I've ever used. Both the sound quality and design is excellent. At £24, they aren't super cheap but they are still cheap enough that I feel okay about carrying them unprotected in my pocket.
For my standing desk, I use these Bluedio Bluetooth headphones. I've tried a lot of different headphones over the last few years. I've found that for a standing desk, absolutely nothing can beat the convenience of wireless. The freedom of movement they offer is more important than anything else. My pair are falling to pieces a little bit. Partly due to a year of hard use and partly due to weak plastic. I would buy them again but I'm also interested in looking for alternatives.
[Edit: Unfortunately Grooveshark has been shut down.]
Grooveshark is pretty great. It offers an incredibly easy to use streaming service. It runs in the browser and is completely free.
I also think it's worth creating a Grooveshark account so that you can save your favourite tracks. Stopping work to read about the current track is very distracting. Switching tabs and clicking the favourite button is easier.
Summary: Music is awesome
I can't understate the importance of music for work. It took me a long time to realise that, partly because I had nothing to listen to. All of my music had distracting vocals. Now that I've found some great music to listen to, I couldn't imagine going back.