5 Easy Tips for a Top Notch Playlist

It’s summertime and that means BBQ’s, beach days, parties and road trips: plenty of opportunities to show off your awesome musical taste. Follow these guidelines to become the one who gets asked to make sure you have your music on hand with you wherever you go.

  1. Know your audience

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it should be at the forefront when you’re compiling your songs. If it will be small shindig with friends who share your niche musical taste, go ahead and bring on the B-side release from an obscure artist. If it’s a big party, try to keep the more bizarre stuff to a minimum. When in doubt (and unless it’s a dance party), the Starbucks rule of thumb usually works: if it’s something you can imagine hearing when you’re standing in line for coffee it probably has the right kind of mass appeal.

  1. Keep things familiar, yet diverse

Make sure you sprinkle some hits from whatever genres you’re emphasizing. No need to go Top 40 Radio, but make sure there are enough well-known songs to be appealing. An easy trick is to use older hits that people may have forgotten about and aren’t sick of hearing. Music from the 90’s or before will give you nostalgia points from anyone older in the crowd and convince others of your classic good taste. Plus tweens will probably recognize some of the tunes as covered in Glee.

  1. Organize using sets of music

Group similar songs together in sets of two or three, and make sure there are no jarring shifts between those sets. It’s also important that songs which sound too similar get a little space between them (“Sweet Cherry Pie” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me” might meld into one mindless lump of mullet rock, while ZZ Top’s “Legs” stuck in the middle would maintain the 80’s vibe while keeping things varied). This would also include songs by the same artist.

When ordering the sets themselves, it’s always good to start strong with a few impressive, distinctive songs to catch everyone’s attention and set the mood, ramp up to some solid hits in the middle and then slow things down, wrapping up with a long, satisfying song for the finale. 

  1. Use smaller playlists to tie everything together

Having a few different lists up your sleeve keeps things flexible. Not only does it make your job less unwieldy (30 songs are much easier to sort than a solid 90), you can switch things up or shift according to everyone’s mood. For example, start off a dinner party with some low-key, ambient jazz like Frank SInatra and Norah Jones, move on to more upbeat dance music like Michael Jackson and David Bowie, then finish with some mellow, thoughtful rock like The Beatles and Arcade Fire.

  1. Listen and learn

Finally, it’s important to always be expanding your library. Explore sites like Spotify and 8tracks for inspiring mixes. Whenever you download music, organize it based on genre or mood (beachy, indie chill, sultry, dance, folky, etc) so that you have master lists to consult later. And, of course, make sure you double check your own mixes thoroughly so you know they’re perfect. Happy listening!

Photo from equivocality.com

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Man vs Machine: The New Trend in Streaming Music

Who’s in charge of what you’re listening to? Unless you’re listening to your own finely crafted mixtape or playlist, someone else is pulling the strings. It used to be the tastemakers: the artists and producers who put together albums, the disk jockeys who played hits on the radio, maybe your connoisseur friend who put together a mixtape. The last few decades have brought us MTV, Pitchfork, iTunes, YouTube, Sirius and Pandora, but instead offering more choices it feels like more noise. So we throw up our hands and just turn something on.

Pandora, the streaming music powerhouse, revolutionized the listening experience with its Music Genome Project. The fancy-sounding system assigns numerical values to different genres and songs, then plugs them into an algorithm. Last.fm had a slightly more human approach, where its labelling information came from user tags instead of professional musicians, and the application kept extensive tabs on all the music you listened to in order to make better suggestions. Theoretically these complicated schemes mean you type in your favorite artist or song, say Otis Redding, and you get a radio station full of other music you’ll like without any effort except pressing dislike when you don’t like a song. In reality it often means you hear the same ten songs over and over, with an occasional Kanye West song that makes no sense. This is what can happen when you let technology reign.

The alternative? Playlists curated by human beings that you can choose based on mood, activity, era or style. Beats and Songza, two streaming services in the news recently for their buyouts by iTunes and Google Music, respectively, use this model and Spotify unveiled its new shared playlist system (which is a big improvement on their mostly disappointing radio service). Apparently people like choice, but not too much, and when they get told what to do they’d prefer another person do it instead of a formula. As Apple’s Tim Cook points out, their newly acquired streaming service “doesn’t ask people what they want to listen to. It tells them.”

Photo from techandinnovationdaily.com