I make a lot of playlists – half the posts on Audioperfecta are playlists. I personally craft every single playlist with love and care. Ok, ok, sometimes I rush the playlist in a day or two. Regardless, I have a set of rules I like to follow. I find these rules for amazing playlists increases the enjoyment of all involved. So what are these simple rules for a great playlist? Well…
Try not to repeat artists.
This is the very first of the rules for amazing playlists. I get so annoyed when I see a playlist with three songs by one artist, four by another, two by a third artist, five by a fourth – and so on. Adding several songs by the same artist makes the playlist repetitive. Your playlist, unless you’re giving an overview of an artist, should have as many musical artists as possible. Variety, after all, is the spice of life! You want your playlists spicy, don’t you?
There a few notable exceptions here. Every so often, a themed playlist just demands two songs from the same artist. Maybe you’re making a playlist about cell phones and the band Telecommunications wrote two definitive songs about our handheld pleasure machines. Go ahead and include both songs. However, make sure to space the songs out – put one song towards the beginning of the playlist and one towards the end.
Another notable exception – if one track spills into another. For instance, on my halloween playlist I had Stryper’s “To Hell With the Devil.” Before this song – I had “Abyss” which serves as an opener to the song. To seperate the two songs seemed wrong, and so I played the tracks back to back.
These two exceptions should be used sparingly mind you. Again, repeating an artist in a playlist gets repetitive real fast. It also tells the listener you’re not putting your best effort in constructing your playlist.
Don’t repeat songs in too many playlists.
This rule I have a particularly hard time following as sometimes a song just fits every playlist I make in a given amount of time. However, if I keep repeating the same songs over and over in every playlist, I’m pretty much just making the same playlist over and over. I at least try to give two or three weeks at the minimum before using a song in another playlist.
Like I said, there will be exceptions – such as the song just fits as a definitive for two themes.
Every playlist needs a flow
Ever hear a playlist that gives you a heavy metal song, then a singer songwriter, then a punk rock song, then a country ballad? Yeah – that’s a bad playlist. Sure, all the songs involved might fit the playlist, but a playlist needs to flow.
Think of your playlist as a puzzle, and the songs serve as the pieces of the puzzle. The blue, sky piece does not fit at the bottom with the red, dirt piece. Those pieces fit on the other side of the puzzle from each other. However, the red dirt flows into the green grass which flows into the blue sky.
There’s an old adage about cooking live frogs (ick). If you throw the frog into a pot of boiling water, it’ll jump out. However, if you put the frog gently into a cold pot and increase the temperature a little at a time, the frog won’t notice it’s being cooked alive. While I don’t encourage anyone to test this theory on frogs, you should implement this change on your playlists. Slowly, but surely, and pretty soon you’ll have a delicious frog leg stew!
Unless of course you want a shuffle playlist
Ok, ok, maybe you just want to hit shuffle and be done with it. This works from time to time. I will admit, as someone who grew up on radio stations with no decidable formatting, there’s something comforting about not knowing what’s coming up next. But I’ll stress the rule about repeat artists in the same playlist. This is especially dangerous in a playlist meant to be shuffled. Just don’t do it!
Also remember – your audience is like the aforementioned frog. Too much of a difference, and your audience might just jump out of your playlist. Try to keep your “shuffled” playlists within a certain genre or mood at least. This brings me to my next point…
Find a theme
I’ve already talked a little about themes, but yeah – find one! What melds this random group of songs together? Maybe you find the theme after you add the songs, or more likely, you think of a theme first and then add songs that fit the theme. It doesn’t matter how you come up with a theme, just have one. After all, the playlist is the modern equivalent of a mixtape or mix CD. Your friends in college and high school didn’t just put a bunch of random songs on a cassette and hand it to you – your friend curated the music. That’s exactly what you do with your playlists – you curate these songs for your audience based on a theme – be it mood, genre, or whatever.
Listen to your own playlists
At least once – but preferably several times. Firstly, you want to know your playlist flows properly and that every song fits the theme. Really the only way to do this is to listen to the finished product. However, if you make playlists that you actually want to listen to, then you probably made a amazing playlists.
Graphics and meta information can add a lot.
Depending on your medium of choice, you might be able to add a graphic and even a description of your playlist. Do this! I abhor playlists that are just a bunch of album covers, as said playlists look like a bunch of random songs thrown together. Find a graphic, any graphic. Note the specs of the medium you use (example, spotify uses a square aspect ratio). Cut your image to said specs, add lettering to the graphic if you want (it is a nice addition). Then write a short description on why anyone would want to listen to your playlist.
Even if your medium does not allow either of these things, you should at least name your playlist – and don’t name your playlist something like “cool songs for Ted.” Your theme should dictate the name to some extent. Maybe your theme is motorcycles. A proper name might be “Motorcycle Madness” or something like that. Just be creative.
Know your audience
This might be one of the most important rules for amazing playlists. I told you to listen to your own playlists. However, make sure your playlist isn’t so esoteric that you and you alone will listen and enjoy your playlist. If you mean your playlist for other people, cater to those people’s tastes. Do they like metal? Do they hate pop? Maybe they get offended by jazz? Another factor – Mixing a few esoteric songs with a bunch of well known songs is fine, but having nothing but songs the listener does not know might make your listener turn your playlist off. Always provide a steady mix of at least three familiar songs to one unfamiliar song.
What’s the proper length?
One huge factor in knowing your audience is the length of your playlist. Think about the setting your listeners might be in while playing your playlist. How long will they be listening? An hour? Two? Half an hour? The very first AudioPerfecta playlist, Are we there yet, was about two hours long. I made it this long because it was a travel playlist, and two hours is about how long the average person travels without stopping on a road trip. My other playlists might be a bit on the long side – but part of the flow of these playlist is to provide a natural breaking point about every half hour. Yes – that’s a secret I’ve never shared! About every half hour there will be two upbeat songs back to back, one to close and one to open. Ooooo!
Protip: If your playlist runs a little long, consider breaking it up into two playlists.
Utilize Google and Social Networks!
This might not be one of the rules for amazing playlists, but this will help you nonetheless. Are you stumped on what songs to include on your playlist? Good news! Someone probably has done a playlist with your same theme! Googling your theme, be it songs about refrigeration or maybe a playlist about street signs will get you a bunch of suggestions for songs you could include.
Another strategy I utilize – Facebook groups, Twitter, hashtags, Reddit and the like. I belong to several music based Facebook groups, and every so often I’ll start a conversation “What’s a song about X?” I try to be forthright, and tell the group this is research – but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone as the conversations are on topic and tend to be fun for people anyways.
By the way – that’s a big rule about using social media – make sure others get something out of the conversation – especially in facebook groups. People will be more likely to respond if they like the topic at hand.
Have fun while making amazing playlists!
I remember in college, there was an ad campaign called the “CD Guru” or some BS like that. The supposed culturally appropriating white boy who the ad company called a guru always gave such stupid rules. The one I can remember: “When making a romantic mix, always include the two Barrys – but never back to back!” Yeah – those ads irritated the crap out of me. Firstly, not everyone likes Barry Manilow and/or Barry White (I presume he didn’t mean Barry McGuire as “Eve of Destruction is not a romantic song). Secondly, and more importantly – his advice was so stupid and so generic. They just didn’t fit my mixes at the time (or even now).
So all that ranting to say this – don’t view these rules for great playlist as “Biblical,” but rather as a guideline. I am not the “guru” of making amazing playlists. I am only one man who makes a lot of playlists people tend to like. My style does not work for every playlist. If you feel like you’re losing the joy of the music in the rules, then screw the rules. Do your own thing!