Songza Concierge

Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California, is on day two of three for Weekend One, and I am assuming that if you are reading this you are not there.

I definitely am not, but instead weathered the storm of snow and freezing rain all day yesterday here in Montréal. (That is right. We had a snow storm in April.) Misery loves company so what is the best way to take part in Coachella when you are not there? Through Songza, of course.

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Now that it is January, most of us are back to work, back to school, or at least, back to regular programming. My iPhone is plugged back to my favourite instrumental playlists and I am back haunting my preferred study spots in the city. I am also working on my resolutions for the year, but more on that later.

When it comes to my music playlists for work and productivity, I like variety in types of genres to keep things interesting. However, I also require a bit of repetitiveness in terms of the tracks so that I can keep my focus on my tasks. Which brings me to instrumental jazz music. I was first truly introduced to jazz when I was in my late teens and held a part-time job at a music store in Toronto. I was already trained in classical piano but had abandoned it despite my parents’ grievances, and the freedom out of the confines of Chopin and Liszt fuelled me to discover everything else outside nocturnes and sonatas.

I was first drawn to the songstresses Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, which lead me to discover their non-vocal counterparts in swing music. Benny Goodman was one of my favourite discoveries; his clarinet produce playful and bright tunes that got me hooked into finding more gems. I searched further into the jazz genre and I branched out to the jazz-funk melodies of Herbie Hancock’s more recent productions. And from there I found Goodman and Hancock’s contemporaries, including Robert Glasper, Antibalas, and Mulatu Astatke. So here is a listing of my favourite jazz musicians that successfully accompany coffee, late nights, and deadlines in my work and study life.

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December is always a crazy time of year, is it not? When I was working full-time I was busy wrapping up projects for the end of year then meeting with family, friends, acquaintances and friends-of-friends for the holiday. As a student I am scrambling with end of term tasks and exams while trying to keep my eyes peeled open and awake. And even now I am meeting up with more people in a week than I sometimes do in a whole month!

Needless to say, my dietary habits are not the healthiest nor regular these days. I try being frugal and eat a packed lunch or wait until I make food at home. Instead, in the past few weeks I indulged more often in purchased coffee because I was desperate for a caffeine pick me up, and paid money for sub par and overly priced sandwiches. Now that it is the weekend and my boyfriend and I can share meals together, I have made the point of preparing some quick and hearty dishes for plus one.

The recipes that follow are definitely far away from ramen noodles and Kraft dinner, and much more suitable for “adult” consumption — adult in that I feel less like a poor student without breaking the bank. They also use many common grocery items found in many Canadian households, and non-perishable products such as jarred olives and capers that you can have handy in your pantry for long periods. Using oven-proof skillets for both recipes cuts down one step and dishes to be washed, but you can also just transfer items from the frying pan to a baking dish. Both can also be made for the same meal since they both cook in the oven to be at 425°F and together uses a whole package of fresh basil so that none goes to waste.

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For the second part of my posts, Things That Go Thump in the Night, I am going over musicians and their tracks that can be best described as being of the “alternative” music category. For me, these musicians are not quite rock, do not fit neatly into electronica, and have great tracks and albums to accompany you through a productive work day. A big contender in this category is the British band Radiohead.


Radiohead is one of the musicians that I have been most loyal to over the years. Growing up in the Toronto suburbs, I was forced into years of classical piano training when all I wanted to do was listen to guitars and the beeps of electronic experimentation. Radiohead definitely fit the bill for both those musical elements, and despite their metamorphosis in style over the years I have loved almost every one of their albums. I also appreciate their newest album, last year’s The King of Limbs, which is the perfect album to play while plowing through work. The album has an ambient feel and the vocals merge with the instruments so that the words are almost discernible. Separator is my favourite track off the album and a great example of the British band’s versatility despite almost 20 years of existence.


The Toronto band, Broken Social Scene, now a  truly broken scene of musicians, have a few instrumental tracks throughout their four albums for your more rock-friendly tastes. Pacific Theme is an easy-going track with a tropical taste, and you would never know it is from a Canadian band with indie cred. Other great instrumental tracks by Broken Social Scene include KC Accidental and Meet Me in the Basement from their last and final album.


The exclamation point-loving, Montréal-based band Godspeed You! Black Emperor is sparse when it comes to issuing new albums but epic when it comes to crafting each of their tracks. The shortest of their works is six and a half minutes long, but have released stretched out tracks as long as twenty-nine minutes, in the case of their first album F# A# (Infinity). Their new album released this year is the first in ten long years, but Godspeed You! Black Emperor have managed to maintain a loyal following of devotees of their saga-producing works. Storm is off of their second album, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, and is emotive, daunting, and inspiring for a long day of work.

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My sleep schedule is and has always been a bit scattered. I am not one of those people who, by the coaxing of a natural internal clock, wakes up every day at 6 am with bright eyes and clear mind. No, my body will sleep until noon if allowed and later I will be guzzling sugar-free Red Bull at 3 am to continue my study groove. Is this healthy? Never said it was. But since I have been perpetually a student it is easy for me to continue with these habits and watch my face ashen from too much caffeine and not enough sunlight.

Other than copious amounts of coffee and energy drinks, the other essential ingredient to productivity is a great soundtrack. I love great music and insist on having appropriate music for the specific occasion, which means that my iTunes playlists are highly organized with customized collections. I have a “Happy” playlist, a “I Feel Shitty” playlist, a “Relaxing Favourites” playlist, and even a collection called “Fun” when I feel like inserting some ridiculous gansta rap (Notorious B.I.G. anyone?) or the energy of Daft Punk into my day. But the playlist on continuous rotation is my mix for studying purposes, which are mainly instrumental tracks plucked from various artists and genres.

I perused these tracks and thought I would share some goodies, some which are oldies but remain classics in my music library. There are so many artists and tracks that I want to share, so I am organizing the tracks by genre and into four separate posts. For this post, I will go over five of my favourite Electronic musicians and songs that are in rotation for my study music soundtrack.


Caribou, formerly known as Manitoba, is a British-based, Canadian musician whose work is usually light, upbeat, and is self-described as “liquid dance music.” The track above, Sun, is from his 2010 effort called Swim. Swim is the follow-up to his 2008 Canadian Polaris Music Prize award-winning album, Andorra. Keep in mind that, in addition to being an award-winning and prolific musician — over an eleven year span, Caribou has issued six albums — Caribou also has a PhD in mathematics. Listening to Caribou smacks me into productivity and promptly cuts any whining that I might have pondered.

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[Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons]

The lazy days of summer are gone, and it never more clear than living in a city like Montréal where a few snowflakes have already raided the city. It is the time that the young folks finally get to showcase their suffocatingly warm back-to-school clothes that were eagerly bought in August. For the workforce, it means everyone is back from vacation and you are already planning for your next one. (However, for the construction workers of Québec, it means you already enjoyed your vacation back in August during the time the rest of the country’s construction workers are scheduled for their seasonal work. This paradox requires a completely separate discussion.)

As for me, I am deep in the books as per usual, and trying to be better at time managing and multitasking than last term month week. One of my main issues is that I always have too many things on my to-do list, and am continuously distracted by my need to check my newsfeed. And when I am trying to get into the study groove, I can feel overwhelmed by all the tugs that come with the various facets of my life, whether it is that of a social nature or the home chore category.

Because I am a nerd of data, I thought about how I would like to track my productivity hours to help me visually see my accomplishments and make me active in pursuing efficiency. So I searched the iTunes App Store on my iPhone for the words “productivity” and “timer” and came up with several Pomodoro apps. This was the first time I heard about the Pomodoro Technique in its name, though I had heard about this method in the past. Created in the decade where frizzy perms were once considered a good idea (aka 1980’s), Francesco Cirillo developed a method of managing work efficiency with twenty-five minute work intervals and frequent breaks (each set being one “Pomodoro”). Each break is a five minute block, with a longer break after the fourth work interval. The idea is to create sustained periods of focus and rest, and the technique is believed to improve learning. Cirillo named the method after the tomato (“pomodoro” in Italian), as his timer was shaped like the produce.

The productivity app is available in various forms in the iTunes App Store, and after a quick rundown of the different availabilities I decided on the Promodoro for an investment price of $0.99. I admit this is the first app I actually bought as I had yet to justify my purchasing apps when so many great, free ones are available. But I will report that this is the best $0.99 I have sunk a Canadian dollar into as it has been almost as important as coffee in achieving study success.

The Promodoro has been excellent in various, including unexpected, ways. One, by breaking up my study sessions into exclusive blocks, I feel less anxious about everything else on my to-do list as I have compartmentalized the times of study and the times of non-study tasks. Second, the app tracks the time devoted to each focus and break periods so that I can visualize the evidence of my productivity hours. Third, the app also records the usage day streaks, lists the average Pomodoro sessions per day, and the maximum number of sessions achieved so that I can eye on beating it for personal nerd rights.

My only complaint about this app is that it does not graph the daily sessions on a chart. A part of me wants to set up an Excel spreadsheet so that I can have colourful bars and graphs devoted to my study hours, but then I would be letting the extreme tendencies in me defy logic and efficiency. Now someone needs to make an app for that.