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The Art of Making a Playlist
Playlists are a communication tool in music, from the highest level artists to the average listener. In this article, I will talk about the art of making a playlist & how I curate music based on the vibe. That’s what curating music is all about (for me) – an understanding of a vibe translated into music. However, everything about music is an individual experience and there are millions of ways to make playlists. This is just one of them.
So, my first rule of making a playlist is that there are literally no rules. There is no right or wrong way to make a playlist. It’s not about if a song is good or bad; it’s about if the vibe is right.
The vibe is the room’s energy, the car, or the setting in which music is shared. The moment someone passes you the aux cord, you aren’t just in charge of the music – you are officially the vibe controller. You have to tune yourself in to the vibe of the setting and choose a piece that either fits in the vibe or transitions the vibe into what you/the group want it to be. Questions to ask yourself to pinpoint the vibe are:
How am I feeling?
How are the people around me feeling?
In what setting is music being played?
What are we doing or going to do?
What is the purpose of the music being played?
Is it just for the background, or will people be actively listening, singing, dancing, or crying?
What do yall need to get from this music on this playlist?
Now let’s talk about the order of the playlist. I have playlists strictly for shuffling and others that I put together the same way albums are put together, so it’s intended to be played in a particular order. I also have playlists that can be played in order and on shuffle because some people don’t give a fuck either way, which is totally fine.
If you want to put something in order, here is my thought process when I do that.
Start with one song, and from that song, follow the vibe. From beginning to end, listen to the energy projected through that song, how it’s hitting your ear, and where your ear wants it to go next. There’s a moment at the end of listening to a song when you’re waiting to hear what’s up next, and in making a playlist, you aren’t waiting – you’re choosing. So you get to decide where the vibe goes, and if you trust your ear, you just kind of follow down the rabbit hole of the song you started with or the situation you started with – whatever sparked the idea of the playlist. Whether it’s a song, a problem, or a moment in time – you are curating the vibe through music based on that concept.
Music is ultimately a language, and playlists are like journal entries. They are picture collages of moments or thoughts in my life that I get to replay and live in every time I press play. Sometimes they are stupid, occasionally sad, and sometimes purely for shaking my ass. Still, they always feel good because I curated them for myself and for the feelings I was experiencing reflected in that music. Thus, when I share them with others, they feel that energy, too, making a playlist good.
Playlists are little music communities in themselves. Sharing your community with other people is what has allowed music to develop throughout all of history. From sending handwritten sheet music via messenger bird to burning illegal CDs from LimeWire to now making playlists on streaming services, it’s all a way of connecting.
Another part of playlist making I find important is the playlist cover. You eat with your eyes, right? When your food is coming over, and your mouth starts watering because it just looks so good – that’s how I feel about playlists & album covers. That’s the first taste you get of the vibe, and it’s so much fun to play around with what you can do on a playlist cover. If I am not drawn in by that, I probably won’t even look at it unless the name is funny or something. It doesn’t mean the playlist is terrible, but it doesn’t feel like I’ve been invited into it if that makes sense. When I can see that someone took the time to match the vibe from the music, to the cover image, to the title – the perfect trifecta of playlist making just sweeps me right into it. That is really what a good playlist boils down to, in my opinion – the vibe being curated, not the music itself.
I hope you walk away from today’s write-up with a newfound love of playlists and how they function in music. Below you’ll find some of my favorite themed playlists to check out if you’re interested. I would love to see what you listen to & how you think someone else should listen to it. You can submit playlists on Instagram (@yallshouldlisten) via DM or leave a comment here. Happy Listening!