The gentle art of playlisting

Some of you may remember that I used to have a radio show once upon a time, and that my very most favoritest part of having that show was spending hours designing The Perfect Playlist. One of my show’s reasons for existence was to play as much music off the "new rack" as possible (for those of you who have never had occasion to spend time in a radio station: the "new rack" is where some percentage of the fifty kajillion CDs that your music director receives every week end up in the hopes that some of the DJs will pick some of them up and give some of them airplay).

So I tried to do a healthy mix of about two-thirds stuff that I brought with me, one-third stuff I had probably never heard until my audience heard. This was always a little scary but a little thrilling. What if the new track sucked? (Sometimes it did.) What if it clashed wildly with the vibe I had been trying to project? (Often it did.) What if I loved it so much that I couldn’t think of something suitable to follow it up with? (This actually happened rather more often than you’d imagine, especially because I used Trevor’s recommendations as a guide to off-the-cuff music picking.)

Making a playlist that you’re managing start to finish is scary and thrilling in a different way. This playlist being, of course, the one that I’m sharing with those good folks who were good enough to comment on the three-year-anniversary post (and some of you who didn’t but who need this CD anyway). What to include? What to leave out? How to pack my limited 75 minutes with maximum musical value? (Like, frex, I really really want to put some godspeed you! black emperor on there but their songs are all like seventeen minutes long so that’s not going to work.)

And what is too polarizing, offensive or just plain weird to include? (So far: Mos Def’s "Close Edge," Peaches’ "Fuck the Pain Away" (link goes to an outstanding but sadly NSFW video) and Reggie and the Full Effect’s cover of Slayer’s "South of Heaven.") And does its timeworn tiresomeness outweigh the pure karaoke-style belt-along enjoyment of "Fairytale in New York" ("You’re a bum, you’re a punk/ You’re an old slut on junk")? (You have no idea how difficult that last sentence was to punctuate. I’m flying blind here.)

And, most importantly of all, how does one song flow into the next? Sometimes you just find that magical combination of rhythm and chord and weird little thing with the melody that makes you go "oh, yeah." And then that gorgeous chilly shiver climbs up your spine and just about brings you to tears, because music is really the best, the best thing of all. Writing, cooking, science all be damned. I’d throw them all over in one hot minute for a single juicy chunk of genuine musical talent.

Hey, if you’re a confirmed playlister and you want to play along, please feel free to post a 75-minutes-or-less playlist either on your own blog or here and shoot me a trackback. I want to know what you’re listening to and perhaps even why.

Update: OK, I think I’m pretty happy with this playlist. The songs seem to have a reasonably clean flow, and they kind of progress from upbeat-but-not-necessarily-happy to downright-melancholy, finishing out with a lovely Brad Mehldau jazz instrumental. (No, not that kind of jazz instrumental, blargh.) And I’m including this one Stars song that I really really like even though it’s probably twee and ridiculous. Don’t. Freakin. Care.

Why, oh why, can’t I just get paid to sit around and make playlists all day? Where have I gone wrong in my career management choices? (All two of them…)

About Molly Newman

Writer, cook and trivia/spelling bee hostess, living it up in North Portland.
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1 Response to The gentle art of playlisting

  1. Stephanie T. says:

    too brain dead to post anything witty here…bridezilla has sucked all the happy out of my post ArtFest high…i’m conviced though that only the coolest people live in portland!

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