What’s in a Playlist?

The Unwritten Rules of Office Music, plus Our 10th Anniversary Playlist

I’ve been working at Norbella for five years this November, which is almost exactly half the amount of time Norbella’s been alive. Over the course of this time, a lot has changed in the media landscape; Digital has continued to evolve, connected TV and cord cutting is a major player in the video space, and machine-learning and programmatic media has exploded, offering exciting new ways to target and optimize media efforts.

But I’m not here to talk about any of that.

It turns out 10 years is a long time in “Music Years”. One of the most unique aspects of working at Norbella’s office is the fact that the music piped in via Sonos speakers throughout the office can be controlled by anyone who has the stomach for it — that is, anyone who is comfortable with the pressure of controlling an entire office’s mood with the swift click of a mouse. We’ve had a lot of different playlists blaring over the speakers over the last decade, some good, some bad.

As my colleagues would tell you, one of my most annoying attributes (of many) is talking incessantly and pretentiously about music to anyone who will listen (I consider it a side-effect from the alt-indie music scene of the 00’s when an iPod playlist was central to one’s sense of cultural awareness). As a self-professed music snob, you can imagine my glee when, upon joining Norbella, I discovered that the music selection playing in the office was democratically controlled. It only took a few days being the “new guy” and listening to Lady Gaga and 90’s throwback playlists before I got my grubby hands on the Sonos controller on my desktop and started quietly adding my own preferences. At first, I tried not to ruffle too many feathers by adding stations that would appease the masses but also divert from the monotony. It wasn’t long, however, before I started testing the waters with more experimental or offbeat choices, which finally came to a head when our esteemed and outspoken Broadcast Manager spoke up from behind her desk:

“Who the hell has been controlling the music lately? It sucks!”

Since then, I’ve come to understand the important unwritten rules about controlling the music:

1. First one in gets to set the stage. If no music is on when the next person comes in, that person has free reign — and so on.

2. Playlists typically run for about half-day each before they grow tired. There will typically be a “morning” list and “afternoon” list.

3. Anyone can put a playlist or station on at any time, however it’s uncouth to switch a playlist early.

4. Anyone can skip any song at any time — but they better have a good reason. Skipping a song that everyone else is jamming to just because you don’t like it is probably going to garner some groans.

5. Keep the mood in mind. Blasting hardcore on a Monday morning usually isn’t a good idea since most folks are trying to ease into the week.

6. Holiday music is acceptable with the following rules: Xmas music ONLY after Thanksgiving and only for 1–2 hours at a time (longer if the holiday songs are disguised as real songs and aren’t played out radio tunes); Minor holidays like Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, fourth of July, etc. playlists can be played only the week of said Holiday.

7. Try to mix up the playlists throughout the week. While we have “go-to” artists and playlists, they can get stale. Be mindful of hearing the same songs multiple times in the same week and try something new.

8. Proceed with caution when playing “Sad Boy” Music (otherwise known as the ‘Teresa Amendment’). Make sure any down-tempo folk music is tempered with some more upbeat songs, otherwise it will not be long for office play.

9. Be ready to defend your selection with rationale. One good example may be: “Who the heck put on this Gavin Degraw playlist?” and someone may explain “Oh I’m seeing him at the Mohegan Fox Den tonight”. While personally disappointing, this is acceptable rationale.

10. Watch the language. Suffice-it-to-say, lyrics blasting over office speakers should be PG. This is a professional environment after all! There have been uncomfortable moments, like the “Big Sean” incident of 2016, which underscore this point.

11. Don’t mess with the other section’s music. Although easily accessible, it’s taboo to change the music in the front office while sitting in back, and visa versa. The only time when this is acceptable is when playing “What’s New Pussycat” on repeat, for the laughs.

Like Norbella itself, the music that you may hear when walking through the office represents each of our personalities individual and as a group. To celebrate this unique culture that we’ve cultivated over the last ten years, we asked the team what songs reminded them of Norbella, and curated a playlist based off of those answers. Take a listen:

The playlists we share are reflections on the eclectic characteristics that make Norbella such a unique place to work. Cheers to another 10 years of great music — just please, no more Peter Gabriel!

~ Phil Decoteau —Director, Platform & Digital

Phil is a Director in our Digital Department at Norbella, overseeing Platform Media as well as Norbella’s Media Innovation capability. He is a 13-year veteran in the digital media and marketing space. When he’s not thinking about Digital Media, Phil is hanging with his family, playing on one of many intramural sports teams, or making a cocktail (perhaps all of those at once).

Ongoing questions & confessions of a modern-day media agency.