The art of making playlists for friends

May 21, 2020

In our algorithm-driven world, creating a personal playlist for a friend is meaningful.

Playlists are an excellent way to share your music discoveries if you have friends with similar tastes in music or even ones that don’t. Plus, people are lazy when it comes to finding new music. Applying your knowledge of genres, artists, and your corner of the music world to a tangible thing that can be gifted can be much appreciated.

Regardless of which digital streaming service or physical media you use, here are a few tips for creating unforgettable mixes for the people you care about:

Be a curator

When it comes to playlists, curation and editing down is key. You probably have thousands of songs in your personal music library, but others only really want the best of what you listen to, or a taste of recent favorites. Be opinionated and critical of your selections, but know you don’t need to limit yourself. Playlists can be as short or long as you deem necessary—just aim for quality.

Listen often, and with intent

Pay attention to what’s happening in music, and you’ll be that much more valuable as a provider of playlists. Read music news, listen to other playlists, and hear from expert sources and tastemakers. Likewise, the same attentiveness goes for the songs you listen to. Practice listening with intent regularly, focusing on different instruments and vocals, as well as what you enjoy in songs. This is also a useful tip for playing back your playlists and making changes.

Create a flow for the songs

Once you have a selection of songs you’re content with, play around with the order in a strategic way. Playlists should flow somewhat seamlessly so there aren’t any abrupt shifts. Try to craft a story using only the sounds! Lastly, don’t add songs that are too similar back to back, or you may end up creating pockets of repetition. Your playlists should always be memorable and never dull, so spend time balancing the arrangement of songs to end up with a mix that’s both smooth and interesting.

Play it for yourself

As you give thought into the choice and order of your songs, don’t forget to play it back for yourself. Take your playlist for a ride in your car, and put yourself in the listener’s perspective. Or, go for a walk with your playlist and focus on what’s working and what’s not so great.

Go all out with the experience

Playlists are gifts, so don’t forget that your creations are meant to be enjoyed. If you’re a creative visual type, create a custom-designed cover or tracklist. A thoughtful note also goes a long way, describing the purpose or inspiration behind the playlist. Even if you aren’t creating a physical packaged experience, you can still have fun with the process of sending your playlist via Spotify or Apple Music.

Examples of covers I’ve designed for friends and myself. I use art and nature as sources of inspiration, and pull from my own photos.

Don’t overthink it

In the end, creating a playlist for a friend should be enjoyable. If you aren’t liking a particular part of your playlist, don’t worry too hard about it because they likely won’t even notice. You created something special, and that’s important!

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