DJ Evie Stokes on the magic of music and how you can create the perfect playlist to keep the work-flow humming.
Any music lover can list umpteen ways background tunes enhance their life. Thankfully, there’s also science to back up what we already sense to be true.
Research shows that music can keep our brains young and our cardiovascular systems healthy (like in this study by the University of Maryland Medical Center). Other enticing benefits: The reduction of anxiety, blood pressure and pain, as well as the improvement of sleep quality, mood, mental alertness and memory. Sign us up for all of that, please.
We caught up with an expert to get her firsthand take on the subject. Evie Stokes, beloved on-air host at Seattle’s 90.3 FM KEXP, describes herself as a “born-and-raised Seattleite, a DJ, a mom and a lover of cheese.” She’s been DJing on-air at KEXP and live at events for nearly a decade, and she says, “Music has always been the thing I loved most in the world (other than cheese). I’ve been voraciously searching for new music, making mixtapes, spending all my money on concerts for as long as I can remember.”
The Power to Change Lives
Stokes strongly attests to the power of music to change lives. “It provides a creative outlet whether you’re singing along to it, creating it, or in my case tirelessly making playlists and programming shows to make sure each song works perfectly with the one next to it. But I also believe in the intense and powerful healing magic that music can have on our lives.”
Music has stayed with Stokes in the “darkest of dark times” — during loneliness, addiction and depression. It’s also been there to make her dance, to soundtrack her walk down the wedding aisle (Otis Redding’s “That’s How Strong My Love Is”) and to provide inspiration while giving birth to her daughter (Deerhunter’s “Helicopter”). “Music makes my life shine,” she says.
As a DJ, Stokes gets to witness music’s impact on others’ lives on a daily basis. “Every day I receive messages from folks listening to KEXP with messages about their lives. They are dealing with grief and loss, or they are celebrating a birth or new job; sometimes they’re making art and feel inspired by the music we’ve chosen.”
Creating the Perfect Playlist for Working
When it comes to worktime productivity, Stokes finds instrumental music incredibly motivating. “It helps me to focus,” she says. “Sometimes I listen to hours of Vivaldi or classical piano, sometimes I listen to playlists full of ambient music and other times it’s just straight-up techno.”
For work-hours suggestions, Evie points to such albums as Jon Hopkins’ Singularity, Tycho’s Dive, or a “Work Flow” playlist she created of chill electronica and beats, intended to inspire and motivate. Other artists currently in her rotation? Stokes calls out the record Excess from L.A. band Automatic. She’s also enjoying fresh music from Blue Hawaii, Steve Lacy, Greece’s Keep Shelly in Athens, as well as older offerings from Lizzy Mercier Descloux and Idris Muhammad. (And if you need some killer headphones or earbuds to listen to it all through, you can check these out.)
The recipe for the perfect playlist: Stokes suggests starting out strong and setting the tone with a song that increases energetically as it goes — and lasts for six-plus minutes. “The energy should continue to build from there,” she advises, “but a true playlist pro will find a way to switch up the beat and tempo and energy flawlessly. This perfect list would span multiple genres. For me? Hip-hop, soul, funk, electronica, post-punk, psych-rock, and include new releases and things from more familiar artists. Like, finding a perfect way to segue Beyoncé into the Beatles.” A playlist should also end the same way it came in to the world — “a sprawling, interesting, six-plus minute song with a good fade-out at the end.”
Whatever will keep us motivated and inspired, we’re all ears.