illustration of a person listening to a playlist
A good playlist inspires strong feelings in both the curator and the listener. (Illustration by Adam Lee, Liberty University)

Playlist Making Is a Delicate and Personal Art Form

Curating music allows people to preserve moments in time, capture specific moods and pass experiences onto other listeners through songs.

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illustration of a person listening to a playlist

Curating music allows people to preserve moments in time, capture specific moods and pass experiences onto other listeners through songs.

As technology has changed over the past few decades, the way we consume music has also evolved. A recent development in the world of streaming music is the playlist, a compilation of songs easily consumed by listeners. Reminiscent of mixtapes on cassettes, music lovers now create curated playlists at the tips of their fingers.

The recent adaptation of the 2000 movie “High Fidelity” into a Hulu series illustrated this point well. While the original Rob harps about his rules for creating mixtapes, the updated Rob played by Zoë Kravitz shares her own rules for creating a playlist. Such rules include: there must be a theme; it must be entertaining; there has to be a message, but it can’t be too obvious; there shouldn’t be too many songs from one artist (unless that is your theme); and, of course, the first song is the most important.

“Making a playlist is a delicate art, it’s like writing a love letter but better in a way. You get to say what you want to say without actually saying it. You get to use someone else’s poetry to express how you feel,” Rob says at the beginning of the second episode.

Making a Playlist Is an Art and a Personal Process

While Rob shares her rules for curating a playlist, everyone has their own technique. Both the process and the playlists themselves can be very personal for those who are passionate about the art. That is why it is a good thing Spotify allows users to keep playlists private. Some playlists are just too personal to be shared, as they are windows into the feelings of their creator.

My friend Camryn Smith, an avid Spotify user, likes to keep her playlists on private until they are finished. She has created 60 public playlists in her five short years on Spotify. Making playlists is not just a practical way to sort her music, but a hobby and a form of emotional expression. She told me that the genesis of a new playlist often first comes from a feeling and does not typically start as a fully formed idea.

Her process, she explained, might start with a few tracks, and then once she’s got the feeling down, she will slowly add songs over time and explore different radio stations on Spotify. The music service conveniently suggests songs similar to what she likes, and she can add the ones that fit the mood.

Recently, Smith has been playing with the order of songs in her playlists. She finds it exhilarating to try to find songs that not only flow together but whose titles and lyrics also express a cohesive story.

What Makes a Good Playlist?

To me, a good playlist is almost addicting. The songs pull you in and suddenly you are lost in a musical world that you don’t want to escape. Songs easily transition from one to the next and the entire experience feels both familiar and new at the same time.

The intentionality behind a playlist and the subsequent feeling that comes through on the other side is very important to a listener. Certain playlists just make sense; as they play in the background of your life, they enhance the mood. Whether you are studying, cleaning, driving or hanging out with friends, the songs will blend into the moment rather than exist as a separate entity.

Good playlists can be made for a specific activity, but they can also represent a moment in time or even an entire era. Putting on a playlist can take you back to nights in the summer even in the dead of the winter. Finally, a telltale sign of a good playlist is when people perk up and ask, “What song is this?” or share a relieved “I love this song!” The best playlists seem to integrate songs people know and love with songs they can discover and add to their own inventories.

Look to TikTok for Inspiration and New Playlists

If you are wondering how to find these great works of art, look no further than the creative goldmine that is TikTok. In the 60-second parameter set by the platform, TikTok users create ad-like videos to promote their playlists. A single song from the playlist is used to captivate scrollers as the creators share what their playlists have to offer.

Many playlists and their respective videos are catered to very specific moods with accompanying playlist names such as “oat milk lattes in the mountains,” to manifest the Pacific Northwest; “tight jeans, loose morals,” to boost confidence before a first date; and “the last page,” curated for the feeling after you finish a good book.

If, like me, you are more of a playlist consumer than a creator, you can appreciate it when people share their wealth. When exploring TikTok, search #playlist to find playlists to fit your mood, zodiac sign or specific scenarios in your life.

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