Perfecting The Art of the Playlist: Part One

cassetteThe art of making a playlist is truly a life skill…similar to tying a square knot or surviving in the wild with a hatchet as your only tool.

Let’s start with a definition, shall we?

Playlist (noun): 1. a list of the recordings to be played on the radio during a particular program or time period, often including their sequence, duration, etc. 2. an electronic file containing a list of audio files that can be played on a media player in a particular sequence

Playlists and mix tapes, of course, really only differ in terms of the technology which produces them. (Though, certainly, creating mix tapes with cassettes are a much more labor intensive process than simply dragging and dropping in iTunes.)

For the purposes of this post, I will treat the terms “playlist” and the older term “mix tape” synonymously. Think: “drinks” vs. (the ever hilarious, older word) “libations.”

People have written extensively about mix tapes. Even Thurston Moore (of Sonic Youth) has a book about mix tapes.

Playlists permeate pop culture. When there is not a composer involved, the soundtracks to movies and TV shows are just glorified mix tapes. People often start to date because of mix tapes. Some people get married to mix tapes. A few people probably even die listening to mix tapes.

“To me, making a tape is like writing a letter. There’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You’ve got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention. (I started with “Got to Get You Off My Mind,” but then realized that she might not get any further than track one, side one if I delivered what she wanted straightaway, so I buried it in the middle of side two.) And then you’ve got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can’t have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can’t have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you’ve done the whole thing in pairs and…oh, there are loads of rules.” -Rob Gordon, High Fidelity

A Mix I Have Been Enjoying Lately:
1. Two Doves by Dirty Projectors
2. Towers by Bon Iver
3. Untitled 101 by Peter Wolf Crier
4. Ambergris by Snowblink
5. June Hymn by The Decemberists
6. Stay Young, Go Dancing by Death Cab for Cutie
7. Minnesota, WI by Bon Iver
8. Animal Tracks by Mountain Man
9. Play My Darling, Play by Katzenjammer
10. La Vie En Rose by Pamplemousse
11. Wild Goose Chase by Elephant Micah
12. Perth by Bon Iver
13. Home by Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros
14. Talking Bird by Death Cab for Cutie
15. Holocene by Bon Iver
16. Last Year by Akron/Family

The important thing to note about the above playlist is that the parts are absolutely not greater than the whole. Many of these songs I do not enjoy nearly as much if I encounter them outside of this tape. Each track transitions, segues, and interacts with the next in a way that is so much more enjoyable than if I had listened to a single song by itself.

What are some of the rules you follow when creating a mix tape or playlist? Do you agree with Rob Gordon’s guidelines? And, most importantly, what have you been listening to lately?

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2 responses to “Perfecting The Art of the Playlist: Part One

  1. There’s nothing better than taking time to construct a great playlist and then watching people dig it. I would definitely say I follow different guidelines depending on the mood I want for the playlist.

    FYI: Wilco’s new album is streaming on NPR.

    Also, great idea for a post! I really enjoyed it.

  2. Pingback: Perfecting the Art of the Playlist: Part Two | Campus Frequency

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