Thought You Knew: The Art of Making A Playlist
Although I spend much of my time lamenting the psychological destruction my Internet addiction has wrought, there is one area whose strong online presence will always be a source of amusement, pleasure and creativity for me:
Just kidding, you guys. I’m talking about music.
Purists (all of the old people) claim the digitization of music has bastardized the art form.
Nothing will ever sound as good on mp3 as it does on vinyl (turn your hearing aid up, grandpa). Making it so easily accessible not only cheats the artist, but compromises the sanctity of discovering something truly amazing (Stop being pretentious. No one cares). Kids today don’t know the first thing about what really goes into creating a quality mix.
That’s the one that gets me. Obviously, it’s logistically easier to drag audio files into a playlist folder than it is to crouch over your tape deck and painstakingly arrange tracks before taking your pet dinosaur on a walk, but the same amount of consideration goes into both methods.
We will discount the playlists that are lazily thrown together without any regard for song progression order, transitions or variety. Those are a disgrace to the craft and give all of us who slave over the soundtracks to our lives a bad name.
Mixes of any sort are one of the only accepted forms of plagiarism. You’re taking someone else’s hard work and creativity and arranging it into a personalized compilation designed to evoke a mood, illustrate an emotion or make a statement.
There’s actually all kinds of science that comes into play when trying to craft the best possible playlist for any occasion, but I prefer multipurpose, everyday ones that encapsulate a variety of emotions and suit multiple occasions.
My favorite kinds, and the type I spend the most time on, are the playlists I make for others.
Making a playlist for another person is fun because you get to expose them to music you like and it’s an easy way to do something thoughtful and often overlooked for someone else.
A good playlist not only sets a mood, but also enhances it. You don’t need an explicit theme when you begin the arduous, yet rewarding task of creating one, but it should still say something.
Variety is another necessary component and not just among artists, but genres as well. Genre-specific playlists can work, but they grow old fast. Songs should also flow seamlessly, yet be distinct enough that listeners don’t get bored.
I always try for an eclectic mix of popular current songs, classic favorites, relatively unknown indie gems and a few surprises to keep listeners interested and entertained. Childhood flashbacks are also okay, but use them sparingly for maximum effect.
We can all probably agree that the best songs have both inspiring lyrics and a unique, catchy sound. Every song you include doesn’t have to be the best song you’ve ever heard, but it should be the best song for that particular place on the list.
Everyone isn’t going to like every song you put on a playlist, but a good arrangement can make up for a not-so-good song.
One of my greatest achievements is getting friends to like songs they otherwise would have ignored—or even previously hated—because of their placement in the context of a truly excellent playlist.
The most important tip I can give you is to listen to the entire playlist multiple times before you send it to its lucky recipient. If you have to explain the mood you were trying to evoke with the compilation, it’s probably a huge failure.
Since I should practice what I preach, I’ve created the official “Thought You Knew” playlist, available here for your listening pleasure.