When you’re having a difficult time focusing on a project, sometimes all it takes to find your motivation is the right kind of background noise.
I haven’t regularly used ambient noise generators in the past, but I find myself drawn to them more and more lately. I like them for several reasons:
- They block out distracting sounds and conversations around me
- They provide a way to avoid total silence (which I also find cumbersome at times)
- They keep my mind from wandering
- Many of them allow you to personalize the listening experience to suit your tastes
- Many of them are beautifully designed and can add some flavor to your day
If I’m having a hard time focusing, or am distracted by other people or my own, wandering thoughts, I find that the right kind of background noise can really help me block out those distractions and focus on what I’m trying to do.
As a writer, I’ve especially come to appreciate that noise generators usually avoid clearly distinguishable words, like song lyrics or personal conversations. Such words tend to throw off my train of thought and make it difficult for me to pay attention to my own, internal voice.
The large majority of websites on this list don’t include words at all. Even the ones that do include them do so in a way that you can’t really hear what people are talking about (as in the coffee shop tracks you'll see mentioned several times below).
I'm not the only one who works better with background sounds. Research supports the creative benefits of listening to ambient noise.
A 2012 study from the Journal of Consumer Research found that “a moderate level of background noise enhances creativity.” Just as importantly, the study found that when participants listened to louder ambient noise, they spent less time on their given tasks. Researchers say this indicates reduced information processing, which would be counterproductive to most creatives’ goals.
From this study then, the takeaway is that you should listen to ambient noise at a moderate level; high enough to mask distracting sounds around you but low enough that it isn’t interfering with your mental processes.
Contrastingly, it’s also worth noting that some experts have suggested low-level noise and background noise can be distracting to people. Scientific American reports that such sounds can sometimes cause an increase in stress and stress-related conditions like high blood pressure. However, such distraction seems more to be the case with people who are trying to memorize and retain information, in which case the background noise may be interfering with those specific goals.
For those of us simply trying to knock out the next chapter of our novels or the styling of our clients’ websites, ambient noise seems more likely to benefit rather than hinder creativity.
After trying out many different background noise generators, I'm including my favorites in the list below.
As a side note, I think it’s worth mentioning that one of the contributing factors to how much I enjoy these sites is their designs. Like many people, I tend to favor tools and websites that are cleaner and more stylistically concerned than those that aren’t.
There are plenty of other ambient noise websites out there. To me, these provide the most complete, creative experience:
Hipstersound is an ambient noise website featuring the comforting sounds and background chatter of several different cafes. There’s your basic “Busy Cafe,” a “Cafe de Paris” and a “Quiet Resto.” Listen to the murmur of customers in the background while dishes clink on either side of you.
I especially like that this site has additional ambient sound options, which you can switch on or off. You can adjust the volume of each from a menu in the upper left hand corner of your screen. Would you like to take your cafe experience outdoors? Turn on the “Street corner cafe” sounds or the “Windy terrace.”
Depending which cafe track you’re listening to, the available sound options change. For example, the “Windy terrace” option might be replaced with the “Rainy terrace” or the “Night club” sounds of crickets on a summer evening.
And, if you want to get rid of the coffee shop sounds altogether, you can turn them off and listen to just the additional sound options.
While all of these features are free to use, you can also get a full year of Hipstersound Premium with access to new tracks for only $4.
Also from the creators of Hipstersound, Rainyscope is an ambient noise website that uses only the natural sounds of rain and birds (though not together) to create distraction-free background noise.
Although this website doesn’t have the additional sound options like Hipstersound, you can choose from seasonal rain patterns and visualizations, like the light, gentle rain of a spring shower or the heavier, colder rain sounds of fall and winter.
If you aren’t feeling very rainy today, you can also click into the Canicule mode to stop the rain sounds and listen to birds chirping instead.
One neat, additional feature of this background noise website is that it has a timer option, which could be useful for scheduling work breaks or for falling asleep to nature sounds.
So far, Rainyscope is entirely free.
Coffitivity is an ambient noise website similar to Hipstersound in that it specializes in the ambient sounds of busy coffeehouses and restaurants.
You can choose from three different tracks to listen to for free, or join Coffitivity under a Premium account to unlock three additional tracks.
Premium accounts are $9 for one year.
Noisli is a good website for when you want to customize your background noise experience. You can click on 16 different icons on the website’s main page to turn them on or off. You can customize the volume of each sound and mix or match the different sounds you want to hear.
For example, there’s a coffee cup icon that - you guessed it - plays the sounds of a cafe. There are also quite a few nature-inspired sound options to choose from, including the sounds of forest birds, a stream, a crackling fire, wind blowing through leaves, rain, thunderstorms and more.
There are also three different options for static noise, including white noise, pink noise and blue noise.
Compared to the other tools in this list, Noisli has some more practical features for your creative work. These include a Pomodoro-esc timer, a Save & Share feature for your favorite audio combinations, and a distraction-free text editor with Markdown support.
The best part: all of this is free with the creation of an account on the site.
Created by Gabriel Martin as a background noise tool for himself, A Soft Murmur relies on adjustable sound options like those we see in Noisli and Hipstersound.
A Soft Murmur features mostly nature-inspired sounds, as well as your basic coffee shop sounds, and a “singing bowl” track that I found surprisingly enjoyable.
Use of the website is free, as is A Soft Murmur’s Android app. An iOS app is reportedly in the works, but isn’t available at this time.
Rainy Mood is a website that plays steady rain sounds. If you just feel like listening to rain and knocking out some of that work you've been putting off, this is for you.
This site is unique in that it suggests a different musician to listen to each day, but this is optional. If you choose to listen to the day’s music, just click on the artist name and a YouTube video will play along with the sounds of rain.
Rainy Mood also suggests a variety of artists at the bottom of the website. It’s nice to have the option but, as I mentioned, I find lyrics distracting when I’m working so I tend to not use this feature much.
Rainy Mood is available on iOS ($5.49) and Android ($3.99). The apps have additional sound options for thunder and different impact textures for rain, including tin roof, grass and dirt impact sounds.
Jazz And Rain
As you might guess, Jazz And Rain is an background noise website that plays jazz with rain sounds.
It’s incredibly relaxing and, since the music has few to no words, makes working on anything pretty easy.
You can adjust the volume of the jazz and the volume of the rain separately.
Part of the ever-popular ambient rain sounds collection, Raining.fm includes adjustable volume controls for the sounds of rain and thunder. You can also choose from frequent thunder, or more intermittent rumbles.
This ambient noise generator includes a work timer that you can use to remind yourself to take breaks, as well as a sleep timer for users who listen to Raining.fm when falling asleep.
You can also listen to these ambient sounds with Raining.fm’s Android app ($1.99).
Inspired by Rainy Mood, Snowy Mood is a free noise generator that plays sounds of boots walking through snow on an endless loop.
It’s simple and straightforward, and the website rotates through a series of snow-covered landscapes for those days when you feel like being snowed in.
Ambient Mixer has a seemingly endless supply of background noise tracks, thanks to the community that creates them. This noise generator lets you listen to a wide variety of tracks and also gives you the option to create your own.
Of all the background noise apps and websites listed here, Ambient Mixer has the most extensive and diverse selection of background sounds. Choose from nature tracks like this sea-side fire, homey tracks like these gentle wind chimes, or ambient noise inspired by movies and TV series like Harry Potter or Game of Thrones.
For all of the tracks you click on, you can adjust the volume of individual noises in the track. For example, you can increase the volume of papers shuffling or people talking and decrease the sound of writing or any other noise you’d rather hear less of.
The only slight downside to using this website is that it tends to take a few seconds for some of the tracks to load. I had to wait about 30 seconds for the tracks I mentioned above.
If you prefer a background noise app, Ambient Mixer has free iOS and Android apps, as well as paid apps. The paid iOS app is $4.99 and the Android version is $3.80.
ANoise is more of a niche noise generator, mainly because it’s an extension for Ubuntu browsers only.
The extension aims to bring the productivity-boosting effects of ambient noise to your workflow in a minimal and non-invasive way. Rather than having an app or extra browser tab open, ANoise sits quietly in the corner of your computer’s screen and can be hidden when you aren’t selecting a new sound to listen to.
ANoise features many sounds similar to those others discussed in this list: forest, rain, storm, sea, fire, wind, night, and coffee shop noises are all options.
The extension is free to install. You can pick up the code from the website.
Snowy Escape is a free background noise website I found this past winter when someone posted it on r/internetisbeautiful.
The ambient noise here is created from the sounds of falling snow (and some wind) outside, and the crackling of a fireplace depicted inside the cabin design of this site. You can adjust the volume of the fire and snow separately.
If you want a slightly different way to listen to white noise online, you can turn down the fire sounds and turn up the sounds of snow. This creates a kind of static but not-quite-white-noise effect.
And, if the “Snowy Escape” text bothers you, there's an option to hide that as well.
And there you have it: some of the best background noise websites for those days when you need to find your focus and stay creative.
If you take the time to check out a few of these websites, I’d love to know which ones stand out most.
Tell me your most and least favorites in the comments section below.
Image by Kaboompics