The Art of Making a Playlist
How do you know you love someone? You don't skip a single song in the playlist they've made you..
There are five love languages that people experience, methods in which each individual expresses and receives love. How we were raised, our preferences, our past relationships: these all inform the love language that serves us best, but we don't get to choose. The five love languages fall under the categories of affirmation, touch, gifting, quality time, service/helpfulness. These mean that, your personal preference of how you choose to be loved are manifested in these ways, i.e., if your love language is physical touch you want your partner to be quite tactile with you, because this is how you understand and consume their love (if you're unsure of love, there are quizzes online to help you recognize yours!). Mine, personally, is acts of service, meaning when someone wants to help with something my eyes flutter and I smile like a madman. I love that shit. Maybe because I’m so busy in my life generally I appreciate it magnificently when someone non-verbally understands me enough to lighten my load and do it unbegrudgingly. But, as a cross-disciplinary artist, the highest form of praise I can get is on my playlist-making. Sure, I love getting made playlists (and I have had plenty dedicated to me in my lifetime), but making a playlist for someone and having them love it is potentially the thing that makes me happiest. For those who haven’t done it before, below are my personal tips to making the best playlist dedicated to someone important.
1. Allow your dedicatee to find themselves in the playlist
I recently made a playlist for a friend who loves techno. Do I listen to or appreciate techno? Not an ounce, but I knew the playlist would be entirely self-serving unless I made sure it was enjoyable for him. A playlist should be a mix of stuff you think the person would love to listen to, stuff they already like, and memories. Which brings me to:
2. Let the music reminisce about the good times
Is there a song that, when it comes on randomly at a house party, you find each other to dance, whether you’re in the bathroom or the porch or the hall? Put it in. This means your listener is guaranteed to smile in the duration of the playlist. It needn’t be an overused song, but something that was playing while you had a communal experience. Or, if you’re making it for someone you don’t know well but want to get to know, try adding a song they mentioned to you before, even in passing. Without this step, it makes the listener feel like you’ve just thrown a bunch of songs together – and while they might be a stellar bunch of songs (if I do say so myself), they could be for anyone, not curated listening for this one specific person.
3. Titles are important
If you really like the song 'Fuck You' by Lily Allen, I recommend forfeiting it for something more light-hearted. Titles are our first impression of the playlist overall, so if you have songs like ‘fuck, i'm lonely’ or ‘You’re in Love with a Psycho’ on a playlist for a prospective lover, it might look a little dodgy. Alternatively, if the dedicatee has a solid sense of humour, it could be fun to play with this. I made a playlist for an ex with Morrissey’s ‘Life is a Pigsty’ making an appearance because we were both especially dramatic people and liked how dramatic Morrissey himself was - maybe I found it funnier than he did. Before my parents started dating, my father would play Bob Dylan's 'I Want You' on his cassette player as he drove my mother and her friend to work - my mother understood instantly what he was trying to communicate. Titles are important, my friends!
Side note: It goes without saying, but the content of the song also matters. If you reckon a tune is of an excellent standard, but it means your dedicatee will have to sit through three minutes of a rapper spitting rhymes about his male appendage, I'd urge you to reconsider adding it to the playlist. Just be aware when adding songs with lyrics by the general gist of "I hate everyone except you", because that's an intense sentiment.
4. Know your audience
By this I mean, take the time to research songs that you think the dedicatee will really like, and don’t know yet. ABBA are great but seven of their songs in a row takes up the space where your dedicatees mind should be blown. They like Biig Piig? Hit ‘em with some Arlo Parks or Joy Crookes. They like Phoebe Bridgers? Try out some Marika Hackman or Weyes Blood for size. This is a brilliant opportunity to expand your own music tastes and knowledge while also creating something spectacular for someone else.
An add on to this point which might be helpful to some readers is: make sure the demographic of the songs fits your dedicatee. Personally, I can’t sit down and listen to a playlist that doesn’t feature at least half female artists. For some people this won’t matter, but for others its super important to have a diverse artist list. Maybe you should take it upon yourself to vary the demographic of your artists, anyway, to help and support the minority from the ground up? Also, there’s only so much white men can do, in my opinion...
5. Know how it should be played
This one is pretty me-specific: I always make playlists for people that must be played in order, no shuffling allowed. I'm telling a story, here: I'm taking you on an adventure. Much like bands and artists do with their albums, there's a certain tone and feeling that I have constructed through my choice of song that I want you to feel very strongly. Start off with a banger, something they recognize, something that gives them confidence that the next two hours of listening are going to be worthwhile. Then, gradually, as we reach about song five or six, we tone down the energy slightly for more stripped back guitar tunes, quiet electronica (I almost always put a SZA song here). We navigate out of the easy listening songs to find ourselves engulfed in a very long song. I enjoy this because it's asking my listener to trust me, and to choose to listen rather than just listen by obligation. These songs are usually ballads, stories that I want to share. I mix in a sprinkling of up-beat but not agressive tunes, then I pick short and sweet songs to finish.
As a veteran playlist-maker, I absolutely understand the importance of mixtape-making from the 80s and 90s, and I am so glad the tradition hasn't died in the digital age. If you've never gifted someone a playlist before, I highly recommend it - especially if, like me, you're bad at verbally communicating your feelings. Just get Bob Dylan to serende your lover and, BAM, three years later you'll be married. Works every time (some of the time).