Playlists are fun. The bastard son of the mixtape the modern playlist is a big part of most of our listening lives. Making mixtapes was a fun nightmare. Forwarding that little tape until the leader was juuuuuuust up to the middle of the play zone before starting. Listening to songs over and over to make sure the flow felt just right from one song into another. Using your calculator to make sure you used up as much of that 45 mins as humanly possible. Thinking about your intended recipient and how he/she would feel about it. Trying to toe that fine line between music you know that person knows and loves and injecting a few choice deep cuts to show that A – you care. B – you know some shit. I won’t drone on too long here. Watch “High Fidelity.” Cusack and Hornby do a much better job explaining this kind of thing than I ever could.

But playlists are easy. Hell with the help of the Spotify suggestions you can create one in 5 minutes, right? But do you trust Spotify to make the proper suggestions? I don’t. Just the other day I was making one and they wanted me to add a Maroon 5 song. WTF? Thank you, no. I have a reputation, Spotify. I can’t be seen with that shit on my playlist. What if LemonJello randomly thought “wonder what Bloc has been up to?” and checks out my current playlist and there’s Maroon 5 on one of them. Dear Lord I’d be mortified. He’d unfriend me. Lickity split. AND RIGHTFULLY SO. This is a man I share a birthday with. And yet I’d fully understand his complete dismissal of me if such a travesty occurred.

So we kinda have to make our own playlists. But with the freedom of virtually unlimited music at our disposal most people completely lose the plot when making a playlist. Here are a few points I try to consider when making a quality playlist.

#1 – Keep it about an hour. Obviously if you are making something for a party and you want it to go on and on let your freak flag fly and by all means make the thing as long as you want. But other than that what’s the point of a 3 hour playlist?

#2 – Mind that flow. Flow is everything in a playlist (quick caveat: this rule does not apply to the genius playlist artist Silas Wegg. I will never understand exactly how his seemingly random flow of artists works. But I assure you IT WORKS. If you are not familiar with the playlist mastery of Silas you should become so. And quickly.) Ok, sorry. Back to flow. Some people have a flow that moves from mellow to heavy or vice versa. And typically it’s a continual flow in one direction. This is a very typical blunder. It’s all about ebb and flow. Perhaps you start slow but then build a bit before pulling the carpet out and chilling out for a track or two? It’s a slick move, I assure you. Blocland’s own boss lady Doris Montgomery is famous for the “spacer song.” She typically goes for some kind of loungey jazz number to break things up. I’m a big fan of the small “run” of three very like minded artists before moving on to the next motif within the playlist. IE – A quick little Balam Acab, Holy Other, oOoOO witch house triplet in the middle of a playlist is a stone cold killer move. It tells the listener “we’re moving out of the mellow portion now. But before we start really getting busy here’s some freaky shit to whet yer whistle.” I’m reticent to give away one of my personal secret weapons but if not now then when? EVERY playlist is made better by the inclusion of some form of Rostam. It doesn’t matter if it’s a solo joint, Vampire Weekend, Discovery, one of the tracks from his collaboration with Hamilton Leithauser, or some random track he did with another artist. Rostam songs are great on playlists. It’s like the guy thinks about playlist dorks when making music. You are a prince, Rostam. A PRINCE.

#3 – The Penultimate Track. This is the make or break point on every playlist. Blocland’s expert on all things penultimate, Raptor Jesus, spends more time thinking about that second to the last track than is probably healthy. But it’s a very important track. There should be a definitive feeling that the playlist has taken a serious little turn with this track. And it should let the whole thing feel like it’s coming to some kind of closure.

#4 – The Closer. If the penultimate is important the closer is crucial. The listener should absolutely know they have hit the closing song when it starts. Hell they should’ve felt it coming with that penultimate we just discussed. Are you skimming this!?!? Sorry. Got worked up there. I invariably end up with a chill closer. Some favorites are “White Ferrari” by Frank Ocean, “Space to Bakersfield” by Black Mountain, and the ULTIMATE closer “Days Of Candy” by Beach House. You simply cannot go wrong with that song as your closer.

#5 – The Methodology. Coming up with that hour long playlist simply cannot involve the first songs you select. The odds of nailing the exact tracklist on the first try is nil. Cast a wide net. Get 2 or even 3 hours of music on there. Then listen to it and feel for that ebb and flow. It’s in there. Is this an artform? Of course it isn’t. But to say it doesn’t require some skill and training is equally silly. The best playlist compilers spend WAY too much time trying to get these damn things just right. What defines “just right” is up to you. But you’ll know it when you nail it.

Welp that’s enough poorly worded pontificating for one post, doncha think? Here’s a playlist that I put together for this post. Is it perfect? Well as beloved bloccy artist, and member of the aforementioned playlist gobbinjr would say “I just want to be perfect. Anything less is shameful”

UPDATE: Since by music geek standards this playlist was pretty “basic” I have decided to get rid of several deep cuts and just go to the monsters. The front end remains kinda artsy fartsy. But the back half is super MEGA HIT LOADED.

  • LeMonjello

    I’ve forgiven you for much worse than Maroon 5.

    • raptor jesus

      Settle down there Jesus.

  • raptor jesus

    Oh geez! This is a great topic. I have a few extra rules I try to abide by, the first one my sister taught me years ago in the burned CD-R days (days I’m still living dammit!)
    -“The end of the song should flow into the beginning of the next song.”

    Seems simple enough? It’s not. Do you know how many songs end with like 2-5 seconds of dead air? TOO MANY! It’s tough as it’s not as simple as taking the best songs and throwing them in an order. Sometime you gotta pick those deep cuts because they have a more succinct ending.

    One of my personal rules is I try to avoid using an intro/closer track for the first/last song of a playlist. For example: Bloc cites “Days of Candy” and “Space to Bakersfield” as great playlist closers. WELL OF COURSE THEY ARE! THEY’RE THE LAST SONGS ON THEIR RESPECTIVE ALBUMS! I think it’s cheating, and also ruins one of the best parts of making playlists: Turning songs that ARE NOT intro/outro songs INTO intro/outro songs! It gives them new meaning! It’s great!

    Since I was shouted out for the penultimate slot, I’m going to type out two songs now that end one of my better playlists from 2010. One of the songs was sort of new and the other one was VERY new and not even the final version. But the fact I used it as a playlist FINISHER before I even knew the total gravity of the song… well… that there is the true beauty of making playlists.

    “Exhibit C” — Jay Electronica
    “Runaway” — Kanye West

    • Blochead4real

      I cannot tell you how angry I am at SOPHIE for the long gap at the end of JLWNSG. Thankfully AG Cooks “Superstar” has such a nice piano note at it’s beginning that it *almost* works. And I love that Allison Crutchfield song as a closer. And it’s not her album closer!!!

      “I like you cause you always side with the sun
      I like you cause you always side with the sun
      Yeah, you side with the sun
      Yeah, you side with the sun”

      What a lovely sentiment to close a playlist with. This was fun. And it’s something we all do all the time. It was fun to write a bit about it. As always I wish I was a better writer. But I’ll get better with practice. Thanks for the indulgence

      • raptor jesus

        Yeah that’s it exactly. Using lyrics and such from different songs to create a new closer. Reminds me of these lyrics from a Kanye West song and it’s not even his album closer!!

        “Runaway fast as you can”

        Lovely sentiment to close a playlist with. 😉

  • LeMonjello

    No disrespect to bloc or RJ, all you’ve said is true of the penultimate. But I would argue that the second track is more important. Track 2 is the tone setter, it establishes the direction to follow.

    • raptor jesus

      Also known as the single slot on normal albums, totally agree.

      In fact, back in 2008 I realized that when you fire up a playlist for friends, the first song is oft overlooked as it’s the first song, so no tone has truly been set since the “playlist” portion hasn’t occurred yet. So either I (A) put a big banger up front to GET that damned attention or (B) put something a little moodier to set the tone and trick yr friends into forgetting about the whole playlist business. That way when track one ends…

      YA GIVE ‘EM DA REAL BUSINESS IN TRACK 2! Also, as I stated earlier about not using intro tracks for the intro of yr playlist, this is how I get around that rule I made for myself. Just make that album’s intro track the second track and BOOM! Now you got a stew goen’!

      • Blochead4real

        Let it be known that Bedouine track at slot #2 was critical on this playlist. That song is a subtle stunner. It’s her first release and DeVille highlighted it yesterday on Stereogum. It’s a slow burn destroyer of worlds. I am very excited to see what her debut LP shows.

      • Saul_Wright

        I do something similar. Sometimes I like to put a 1 or 2 minute moody little interlude as the opener, kinda like an extended intro, so then when that bangin’ track two (the real opener) comes in, it’s felt even more strongly.

    • Blochead4real

      One thing we can all agree on is the first two and the last two are critical. But as important as those 4 songs are I live and die by my little trilogies in the middle of playlists. If I have a “signature” playlist move that would be it. On this one it’s that killer little PC Music Trio.

      • I made a playlist a couple weeks ago with “Slide” by Calvin Harris/Frank Ocean/Migos as Track 1, and “Living in the City” by Hurray for the Riff Raff as Track 2, and it’s amazing. I agree, those first two are crucial.

  • LeMonjello

    For advanced mix-tapers:
    I had a friend who made mixtapes, and he would usually insert little speech clips inbetween tracks. This is a great move, doesn’t work for all styles and mixes, but can really add a lot of character and even narrative to a mix. Harder to do with streaming playlists.

  • lobster man

    As someone who has always been an album guy (this includes handing them out to other people) I found this very informative and I look forward to stepping up my playlist game.

  • inthedeadofknight

    As methodical as I am as a person overall, I don’t really pay much mind to the sequencing of my playlists in most cases, with the exception of my tribute to Nick Cave. All of my playlists are just long AF and I play them on shuffle (party all the time). I try to include as many genres as possible, because it feels good not knowing what’s coming next and it starts rolling from Spoon to Dr. Dre to Queens of the Stone Age to Miguel to Dwight Yoakam to HEALTH to The Righteous Brothers and so on.

    • Blochead4real

      That’s a weird thing. Cuz I would’ve thought you would be a sequencing kind of cat. Sometimes I get into it something awful and other times it’s a “good enough” scenario. But I must admit almost all of mine have the same basic format. Typically start slow and brooding, then various slow build shit with a trio somewhere in there, then a momentum pick up, and then finally a chill closer. What a weird thing to be obsessive about, right?

      • inthedeadofknight

        Yeah I can dig it, I like listening to the ones you guys put together because I know the sequencing is a part of it. I usually use my playlists when I’m drinking/hanging out with people; all other times I mostly listen to full albums from front to back, so I think the main thing for me is I enjoy the feeling of not knowing what’s going to come on next in that setting, and therefore I make mine long with a whole bunch of songs I like and shuffle it up.

  • meat

    I always listen to the end of a song and the beginning of the following song to make sure they flow. When the flow isn’t as tight as I want it to be (but close enough), I throw a little 3-5 second cross fader on there to help it out. Works wonders.

    • Half of any given song’s play counts on my iTunes happened because I was listening to the end of it to see if it flowed into the beginning of the next one on a playlist.

  • Have any of you felt like you struck gold on one playlist in particular, and every subsequent playlist you make is just trying to match the perfection of that golden playlist? Or is that just me?

    I made this playlist back in 2011 that just flows perfectly. It’s breezy, fun, fast at all the right parts and slow at all the right parts. I’ve made some good playlists since then, but I feel like that was my peak.

    Here it is. It’s a bit twee in parts (welcome to my 2011), but I still dig it:

    1. Generationals: “When They Fight, They Fight”
    2. Two Door Cinema Club: “What You Know”
    3. Matt and Kim: “Daylight”
    4. Cults: “You Know What I Mean”
    5. Phoenix: “Long Distance Call”
    6. Fleet Foxes: “Mykonos”
    7. Harlem: “Faces”
    8. Japandroids: “Wet Hair”
    9. Cage the Elephant: “Shake Me Down”
    10. Darwin Deez: “Radar Detector”
    11. Little Dragon: “Twice”

    • Blochead4real

      HOLY FUCK this is dope. That Cults song is a personal favorite. Nicely done

      • Doris Montgomery

        no one likes “twee”

        • Blochead4real

          There are dozens of us!! And by that I mean 24 total people.

  • meat

    Related: DO NOT put ‘dirtywhirl’ by tv on the radio on any playlist, ever. It’s a cool song, so it’s very tempting. However, I’ve used it a few times and it always kills the flow. #neveragain

    • Blochead4real

      The hardest thing to keep in mind is the quality of a song doesn’t mean it belongs on a playlist. I had to cut Lisa Prank from this one. And as we all know Lisa Prank has only made perfect songs.
      But they just didn’t fit.

  • Doris Montgomery

    glenn makes my playlists now

  • Saul_Wright

    I think a lot about the first two and last two songs, as mentioned, but don’t stress the sequencing too much beyond that (other than trying to avoid whiplash, like a ballad and a banger right next to each other.) I agree about the one hour-ish rule. My thought is that it should be able to fit on a CD, so no more than 74 mins.

    My only other rule is no multiple songs by the same artist. Occasionally, I make exceptions but rarely.

    One lil trick I like to do is have the first and last track be different versions of the same song, so it brings everything around full circle. I’ve done that before with Dylan’s ‘Forever Young’ (the fast version starting and the slow one ending the playlist) or other times with the ‘normal’ version of a song opening and a raw acoustic demo closing.

    Check out some of my old playlists if you like! Some are themed (classic soul, blues, modern guitar rock) and others just good music.