If you’ve ever found yourself in the throes of teenage love, angsting in the wake of some German Existentialist prose, or with a 40–60 minute commute one or both ways to work, you’ve maybe found yourself longing for the perfect playlist, that trusty ol’ faithful to guide you with precision and accuracy towards fulfilling that need.
Well, if that’s you, look no further because we are about to embark on a journey of playlist-greatness discovery. I am Peter — an almost disturbingly experienced maker of playlists, here to be your khakied guide through the rainforest of playlist-making.
What’s that? Not a rainforest, you say? Not a dangerous terrain? The creation of playlists is not even an occupation with any apparent pitfalls or possible missteps, you say? Not even an occupation worth your time? What is this I foresee in the incumbent comment section below?: “A playlist is, like, not even that hard to make dude. You just put songs together.” Or — what’s this? — “Bruh, fam, a playlist is like not a jungle or whatever.”
Wrong. On all accounts.
A playlist is a fragile communique, an elegant mixture of disparate chemicals that all want desperately not to commingle and catalyze. It is a veritable Safari of communication that, if not handled with care, could result in a kind of social disembowelment. But, let’s pretend for a moment that these comment section sophists have a point… that maybe there are a few poor fools out there not yet convinced of the sacred value of the playlist…
Why is a playlist important?
1. The playlist is the modern love letter. If you haven’t learned this yet, you should probably reevaluate your seduction techniques. The occasional handwritten love letter is nice, I’m sure. But nothing compares to the explosion of emotion and swoon that directly results from the reception of a gracefully assembled playlist.
2. The playlist is also (or can be) the soundtrack of your life. Look around, fellow pilgrim of the 21st C: what do your human eyes see? Earbuds, no doubt — long, gangly 1st gen. iPhone/Pod earbuds; the ever-coveted and bourgeois AirPods; perhaps some SkullCandies or Beats? What can be assumed is that a healthy percentage of our ubiquitous earbud wearers are consuming music, and music that is set to the beat of their hearts and the steps of their crisp loafers against the pavement. Music both shapes and is shaped by our errant moods and sometimes just whispers great, timeless secrets to us on the L or the city bus.
So… what on earth is a playlist, then?
1. A playlist is an album
Controversial, I know.
Though many are content to carelessly dump 134 songs each vaguely reminiscent of each other into the void of a playlist titled “workout” (the creator not even bothering with a capitalized ‘W’), the real truth of the matter is that a true playlist ought to resemble a completed work of art, a standard length LP or full-length album.
Now, I concede. A workout playlist is fine. I have many. (Not that I really workout very much, but… beside the point). And yes, many of my workout playlists are (shudder) ordered alphabetically rather than sonically or tonally (we’ll get to that later). And yes, having a playlist that goes waaaaay beyond the average length of a full-length LP (9–19 songs, give or take) but is otherwise themed as “l❤ve” or “Sleepytime” (I have at least 29 of those) is permissible. But my argument I will make throughout the course of my Medium blogging will be that the 9–19 song playlist is the most efficient and aesthetically pleasing length of a playlist because a it is the recuting an LP, it is your reimagined use of those songs, it becomes an LP of its own, even taking on, indeed, a veritable individual life of its own.
2. A playlist is beautiful
This should be fairly simple and not angry-comment inducing.
The beauty of a playlist is determined (1.) by its actual, musical sound (i.e. the instrumentation, the music theory, its complexity, its simplicity, its scope, etc.), (2.) by its lyrics (i.e. take, for example, this line from Breakfast at Tiffany’s “Moon River”: “We’re after the same rainbow’s end”… Wow. I mean. Just gorgeous); and (3.) by, what I’m going to call from here on out, its “tonal flow” by which of course I mean, the relation each individual song has to those adjacent to it and to the playlist more generally (more on this to come as well).
3. Finally, a playlist is true
This, I’m afraid, may induce angry-commenting, or at least confusion.
Every playlist should have an original title that harbors the overriding emotion or truth that it wishes to communicate. Think, again, about an individual album’s title like, for example, Joni Mitchell’s Blue. It is at once a communication of a feeling, an introduction to listeners like “hey, this is a breakup album,” but it is also unpretentiously one of the songs on the album itself (this is also permissible in creating a playlist title as well).
Now, is “blueness” itself true? Well, that my friend is a philosophical inquiry, the best answer of which resides in no other place than your very own heart. The trueness of an album or a playlist is in its capacity to resonate with a human being’s heart or mind. If given the time of day, if listened to with attention and care, if perhaps even the lyrics have been consulted, read and scanned for depth on their own, and the album/playlist responds with a carefully and lovingly packaged emotion that is communicable and real, then it’s true. You feel me?
This one is, I believe, the characteristic of playlists that is most difficult to measure objectively (though they all are in their own way), but we will try our best to do so.
And that, my reader, is a playlist.
Stay tuned for future blogs containing actual playlists of my own creation, and don’t forget to follow me on Spotify (link in profile), where I will be posting (and have already posted many of) my playlists.