Monday, January 31, 2011

Playlists: My Art Form

Whenever I go on a road trip any more, I usually try to make a playlist.  The playlist is my favorite medium to work in, I think, because it is all about arranging and compiling, which I feel is my calling in life to do, possibly as an editor.  The playlists themselves are often themed, such as the one I made about the Suburbs, or the one I made to try to capture Alternative music. (Then I realized that all music these days is alternative to someone.)  Admittedly, many of the playlists I make just end up being vehicles for the most recent song I bought from iTunes to be transferred to a CD.
But I fear that I have limited myself too much with such an old-fashioned type of media.  The practical reason is for whenever I might be in a car with only a CD player and no way to plug in my iPod, or anywhere else I know I’m going that only has a CD player.  Sometimes I would rather just listen to one CD rather than plug in my iPod, which might just keep playing forever.  CDs, however, are only 80 minutes, and I have debated with other playlist-making friends of mine whether or not it’s worth it to try to fill up the whole disc.  I usually do, but as Tom K points out, you usually get sick of the playlist after about forty-five minutes.
            To counter-act this inevitability, I have tried a couple different approaches.  The first method I used recently was to actually make a playlist that was about forty-five.  This one was good, but the next one I made couldn’t be pared down that far.  So I essentially have three “bonus tracks”.  It has a main section with the thirteen or so songs I think best encompass the spirit of the thing, and then three songs which are not essential listening to get the message of the playlist.  But I can, of course listen to them if I’m still feeling strongly about them. 
I already have “power positions” lined up when I make any playlist.  Spots number five and number twelve or thirteen (depending on the length of the set) are reserved for songs that I like and are probably in the top three on the CD.  Number one should be pretty good, but not too good, as it might overshadow the rest of the album.  Sometimes I’ve even split them in half so I have to have a pretty good song at about nine or ten, where I might be able to continue it, if I’m not able to get through it all in one car trip.  Other times I’ll have an intro song to the first song, and the second song is then the real first song.  And lately, more often than not, the longest song has to be at the end.  And it usually has to be a classic rock song.  Don’t ask me- that’s just how it’s always been done.
But nonetheless, these are all part of my current, very strict interpretation of a playlist, as it pertains to CD compatibility.  I’ve had to train myself recently to think outside the box, especially when it comes to playlists that are never going to leave my iPod.  Recently I put together  a Christmas playlist, which was about twenty songs, and I didn’t care which order they were played in.  They were all good, so none deserved any better or worse spots.  With making larger playlists, though, I would start to feel cramped and not free to use any songs more than once on playlists, several of which I may feel a song is suitable for. (Even with my CD-length PLs, I probably have “Rockin’ the Suburbs” by Ben Folds on about five of them.)  I think I could deal with a playlist as long as thirty songs and as few as eight to ten.  As long as I got to control the volume in the car.

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