Feedback: The Soundtrack of Success

Fast Company listens to its readers — and what its readers listen to.

In July, inspired by the magazine’s look at Starbucks’ move into the music industry, Fast Company asked readers, “What does success sound like to you? What songs help fuel your creative fire?” We received more than 100 emails from readers — many sharing their perfect workplace mixes. After sorting through — and listening to — hundreds of songs, the Fast Company team has compiled our own workplace mix based on your recommendations: The Soundtrack for Success. It makes for interesting listening; the music is almost as diverse as our readership. If you use iTunes and the Music Store, you can download the soundtrack in part or whole. (If that link doesn’t work, look for it in the iMix section.) We hope you like it!


Jimmy Eat World, “The Middle”

“This song inspired me during my career change. It helped me realize that I shouldn’t be in such a rush and just focus on myself.” — Catherine

Tears for Fears, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”


“This song was the anthem for the British soccer team in the early ’90s when I lived in London and was played over and over on the radio to get everyone behind the team. The song is emotive of success; it is about optimism and hope. (The Brits are hopelessly optimistic about their chances of success in soccer!) I play it when I’m working late at the office, and I play it on my iPod when I’m out running. It is simply a happy song that fills me with determination. I feel like I can take on anything when I listen to this!” — Michelle Poole, Timberland, Stratham, New Hampshire

Coldplay, “Clocks”

“I often listen to ‘Clocks’ prior to a meeting or when I’m trying to get into a creative head space. It’s an interesting coincidence that the album’s title is ‘A Rush of Blood to the Head.’ The lyrics work their way through a series of impossible situations — ‘tides I can’t swim against’ –to a melancholy resignation –‘Am I a part of the cure, or am I part of the disease?’ — and culminates with a hopeful signal: ‘Nothing else compares.’ The constant refrain, ‘You are,’ implies a sense of deep satisfaction and focus, despite the challenges. On every listening, I end up with the sense that we’re so close to doing something magical — with our work, for our families, and in our lives.” — Mike Rowlands, Octopus Solutions, Vancouver, BC


Graham Parker, “Passion Is No Ordinary Word”

“With anything we do, it’s all about passion. This song makes it clear that passion is no ordinary word.” — Marc Ferrara

Etta James, “Money (That’s What I Want)”


“To me, music at work is much more than background noise or filler. The best tunes create a great groove, and I feel myself get in synch with the beat, the mood, and even the lyrics. Etta James, and this song especially, creates that environment for me, evolving past a physical rhythm into a mental or emotional groove. I feel happier, think more clearly, and particularly when I’m involved in the creative process, I’m much sharper and more productive. How can you not be inspired by her voice?” — Jim Kasch, Vista Federal Credit Union, Orlando, Florida

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, “Requiem: II. Kyrie Eleison”

“The mass, which is sung in Latin, evokes shattering force commingled with extraordinary intensity and at the same time powerful delicacy, constantly shifting — like life itself. I listen to the mass for inspiration, for a glimpse of concepts and sacred things greater than me and my existence, to reach serenity, to be moved again and be touched. At those times, I know again nothing is impossible. Reaching far into the soul is paramount to expressing passion and doing great work, creatively.” — Valeria Maltoni, Cerexagri Inc., King of Prussia, Pennsylvania


Night Ranger, “The Secret of My Success”

“One line — ‘The secret of my success is I’m working 25 hours a day’ — plays through my mind over and over and over again. The song really says ‘living,’ but given the job market of the past four years, it’s really symbolized working to me. It connotes pounding the pavement for work, getting your foot in the door, working so hard you can’t breathe and ultimately, being rewarded. I’ve always burnt the candle at both ends by working hard during the day, playing sports at night, and then pounding out the Great American Novel late at night. Whenever I start to wonder why I’m doing it or how on earth I can keep up the pace, my brain switches over to pressure mode and that song clicks on in my head. I use it to get me through the writer’s block, a long commute, and day-to-day frustrations.” — Hallie Hoffman, Charlotte, North Carolina

Diana Krall, “Pick Yourself Up”


“Anyone fast is likely to fail once or twice. We all have those moments — when a project we’ve been working on for months or years is suddenly cancelled, when a presentation doesn’t go anywhere near as well as we planned, when we were getting our first chance to meet directly with the CEO and then he cancelled? all the times when you think you could just cry. This song is so straightforward. You just have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.” — Katherine Stone, Engage Inc., Atlanta

Peter Gabriel, “Big Time”

“I listen to ‘Big Time’ before I leave the house in the morning. It makes me feel fearless and proud that I’m out in the world pursuing my heart’s desire, daring to dream big. Entrepreneurship is a challenging path to embark on, and it’s critical to stay connected to the vision — that what I’m creating is so much bigger than me. The song fuels me, drowns out the voices of small-minded naysayers and puts me in touch with my ‘inner underdog!'” — Sandy Struss, Vancouver, BC


Nikki Cleary, “Walking On Sunshine”

“‘Walking on Sunshine’ is a high energy, feel-good song that always puts a goofy grin on my face. I can’t sing it without doing a little chair boogie or taking a spin around the floor. I use it to get my energy up and to stay positive when setbacks occur, or when I simply need a little boost in my working day. My favorite part is warbling the whoa-oh’s and shouting the ‘Hey!’ in the chorus. The more feeling you put into it, the happier you get.” — Jennifer Tribe, Juiced Consulting, Toronto

Aretha Franklin, “Respect”


Kelly Nolan

Fountains of Wayne, “Bright Future in Sales”

“Perhaps I’m being tongue in cheek — the chorus isn’t exactly work friendly — but it captures that time when you’re fresh to an industry so well. Who amongst us has not gone through what the song’s protagonist is describing in one form or another? Aside from the slick guitar riffs, which are great to work by, the lyrics remind me of where I’ve been, where I’m going, and what I’ve done to get there. Even though I’m not a sales guy, dues paying is a career universal. This is a good ‘claw your way to the top’ song.” — Rob Zazueta, Robert Anthony Strategic Design and Marketing, Walnut Creek, California


Pet Shop Boys, “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)”

“‘Let’s make lots of money,’ is a chorus as ’80s as thin black ties and the Dukes of Hazzard, but surely it’s time for a revival. Even if it was originally intended as a satire on the excess of the decade (as the Pet Shop Boys now claim), it surely does no harm to be reminded, ‘There’s a lot of opportunities. If there aren’t, you can make them, you know.’ If you disregard the invitation to commit criminal acts in the second verse, ‘Opportunities’ is a hymn to entrepreneurship. It’s all about finding the right partners, taking chances, putting your skills to work, and making the most of synergies.” — Simon Helm, HelmLegal, London

Neil Young, “Field Of Opportunity”


“This song is often overlooked, even by diehard Neil Young fans. I find the song not only inspirational, but also a fairly astute observation about human nature. Disappointment and setbacks often motivate us to seek new opportunities. New opportunities don’t always take root immediately. Regardless, like the protagonist in the song, we stay encouraged to continue ‘plowing’ the field of opportunity. You can’t help but me motivated after hearing the song. When it is crunch time on a big project, and you are still at the office working at 10 p.m., nothing works as a better tonic than to have good music playing.” — Mark Johnson, Spectrum Group International, Springfield, Virginia

Vangelis, “Chariots Of Fire”

“I like many instrumental songs and often play them softly in our office as an inspirational backdrop for my team. The theme from the movie ‘Chariots of Fire’ is inspirational without becoming a distraction — a business-friendly tune. The theme is instrumental and can be quite dramatic, setting our office’s soundtrack for productivity.” — George Tinker, Colorado Department of Transportation, Denver


Praetorius, “Dances from Terpsichore: I. Ballet des coqs”

“When working, I tend to go through Praetorius’ dances. They are wonderful Renaissance dance music. It helps me collect my thoughts.” — Paul Ott

Johann Sebastian Bach, “Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, BWV 1048, I. Allegro”


“I don’t consider myself to be a classical music aficionado, but I love the way that this concerto’s complex orchestral movements overlap and combine in harmony. I often listen to pop music these days and think ‘Why?’ I listen to the Brandenburg Concerto and think ‘How?’ Being creative (I’m a Web site graphic designer), I find Bach inspiring. Most of the time whilst I’m working, I plug the headphones into my laptop, fire up iTunes, and let rip the seven and a half hours of classical music on my playlist. Vivaldi and Wagner are great for helping me crank up the speed to meet deadlines, but Bach helps me relax my mind for more cerebral work.” — Nigel Gordijk, Common Sense Design, Brighton, England

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “I Won’t Back Down”

“Working as a consultant facilitating cultural change in the field of healthcare, I often experience resistance and constraints when implementing programming. This is a great song to listen to while driving to meet with a client and knowing that I will need to present information and discuss issues they may realize but do not want to hear. I like to turn the volume up as I get closer to my destination and visualize how the conversation will flow. The song helps me harden my resolve to the ‘sticking point’ while keeping me authentic and client focused.” — Andrew Rich, Diligent, Chicago

Survivor, “Eye of the Tiger”

“When times are tough or a deadline is approaching, I depend on ‘Eye of the Tiger’ for an emotional lift or injection of adrenaline. Everything about the song is inspiring. It makes me have a ‘get the job done’ attitude.” — David Wachtendonk, Murder Mystery Maniacs, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Queen, “We Are the Champions”

Walter Snoddy

Pachelbel, “Canon and Gigue in D Major”

Bill McGrath

What’s on your Soundtrack of Success? Share your stories.