Making Playlists


I made a little playlist over the last few days with some music that is in a style I enjoy. It got me thinking a bit about the different ways that I use playlists and how the

Some Things I Do With Playlists


My friend Jon mentioned that playlists can be part of the solution when you’re trying to focus and I definitely agree. Sometimes adding in the right music is exactly what I need to get myself in the right mental space for focus. I don’t necessarily believe in magical benefits derived from binaural beats, but I do believe in the power of a drum kit, a couple of guitars, a bass, and a keyboard. As Jim Steinman wrote in his song “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through”:

You’re never alone ‘cause you can put on the phones and let the drummer tell your heart what to do.

I also have a playlist for sleep. Ethereal, calming, and incredibly useful for treating the odd bout of insomnia.

Introductions to Bands

I have made a few playlists where I limit myself to about an hour of music and try to fill that time with songs that are either my favourites or that best represent the band’s style and personality. It’s an interesting challenge that can get you to think about the real spirit or essence of a band or performer. I like to have these for myself in case I want a small shot of a particular band’s best music, but I also think they can be useful if you want to give a friend a brief, guided introduction to what a band is about without expecting them to dig through a decade (or sometimes decades) of back catalogue.

Creating a Curated Listening Experience

Many people (especially in today’s online music streaming world) assemble playlists to give people a curated, cohesive list that is almost like their own compilation album. Making a playlist in this style is not something that I do often, but I thought I would give it a try.

Synthwave is one of the (many) genres I’ve been enjoying lately. It has a pretty clear identity and I thought it would be a fun place to start.

What do the Listeners Want?

Who Is It For?

Most of the time when I’m making a playlist, it’s just for me. The one I set out to make here is intended to be shared and listened to by other people, so while I still selected songs that sounded good to me and fit the theme I chose, I did want to pay some attention to what people might want in a Synthwave playlist.

What About Vocals?

Many people find vocals in music to be distracting and my intention for this playlist was to be something that can be played while people work. However, I enjoy some Synthwave music (and other music) with vocals and I decided to split the playlist into sections where a few instrumental songs would be punctuated by a song with vocals every now and then. I didn’t get into this much detail, but if one wanted to be very fancy, you could even create a playlist that prompted the listener for work and non-work segments when applying the Pomodoro technique (for example, work during instrumental songs and break during songs with vocals).


I started with some songs I already liked and added them to the playlist, then expanded it by finding a few other songs through similar playlists and then applying Spotify’s “Recommended” section (conveniently located at the bottom of the playlist) to add songs that seemed to fit. I expanded the list to an initial 25 songs with a runtime of nearly two hours. I feel that this is a reasonable amount of time for a playlist of the kind I am trying to make. I’m not trying to catalogue every Synthwave song in existence – I’m trying to give the listener some good ones that they can listen to and then branch out from there.


I rearranged songs to try to make things flow a bit better so that songs had a feeling of connection rather than slapping you in the face with a harsh transition. And then I listened to it a bunch (maybe too much?). When a song started to feel like it didn’t fit, I’d try moving it around or removing it entirely to try to get the playlist as a whole to sound “right” (whatever that means).

Finally, I wanted to choose a cover image to represent the playlist rather than relying on a random selection of album covers. Royalty-free photo websites (such as Pexels) are great for this.

Ship it!

It’s Alive!

At some point, I will likely add, remove, and rearrange songs in the playlist. This is one way in which the playlist is different from a compilation album: it can change! Some people frequently update playlists, but I prefer to have a more slowly-changing set of songs. I don’t necessarily have a set size in mind for this playlist, but I could also see myself limiting the total number of songs or the total runtime to prevent it from becoming a dumping ground.

I don’t expect I’ll get much feedback about the contents of this playlist, but for playlists with large follower counts, getting feedback from listeners would presumably be important to fine tune things as time goes on.