How to Succeed at Playlists (By Really Trying)
Step one: Stop shuffling.
I thought I’d start this newsletter by counting all the playlists I’ve made on Spotify, but I got bored after 85. There is Social Distance Dance Party, a compilation I made last March to fuel living room dance parties when those still felt novel. There is Writing, a regularly updated mix of tracks from Four Tet, Maribou State, and other concentration-boosting electronic songs with minimal lyrics. There is even If I Was a Music Producer for HBO, which is pretty self-explanatory.
I’ve loved making playlists since high school, when I first realized the power of cultivating a ~vibe~ with music. I remember carefully arranging my iTunes library to burn onto CDs or pipe into my iPod shuffle, snuggling Intro by The XX alongside Fireflies by Owl City (what else?) to play before Bio.
Then streaming really blew the playlist game wide open. Eliminating pay-per-song is objectively bad for artists, but it lets users create sprawling, 200-track long playlists without going broke or recycling too many tracks. It was this giddy sense of freedom that showed me the joy of anticipating an event by making a playlist, be it for a cross-country drive or a trip to Mexico City. Yes, those playlists got a lot of air time in the moment, but my favorite part of the experience started back in my bedroom, building a queue.
My approach towards making playlists is not scientific. Like many other music-loving people I know, I make a monthly playlist with all the music my brain craves in that moment in time—new and old, club tracks and Phoebe Bridgers. As a result, scrolling back through my library is like unearthing a time capsule. I can’t remember why exactly I was listening to so much Soccer Mommy in December 2018, but I must have been going through it.
I don’t have many hard playlist rules, but I always turn on crossfade to eliminate the silence between songs. I also turn off shuffle to focus on the order, especially how the last 20 seconds of one song connects with the first 20 seconds of the next. Does the beat and/or vibe flow into each other? And ever since I interviewed my friend Yumi about the importance of buying songs on Bandcamp instead of streaming to financially support musicians, I’ve made a new playlist goal to start buying more music again.
I also spend a lot of time listening to other people’s excellent playlists, so I asked my friend Gabriella Lewis to share some wisdom about what music she’d play for a few hyper-specific playlist situations. Here’s her thoughts:
Dinner party: “Khruangbin is good groovy background music while you cook and talk. It’s familiar but you’re not singing along, which is good, because I don’t want the music to be distracting. I also like to listen to Brazilian music while I’m cooking, like Gal Costa and Jorge Ben Jor. The kitchen and that music are like a handshake emoji to me—it’s a very familiar sound to hear in a kitchen atmosphere and it’s really comforting. It reminds me of my [Brazilian] family and I want people to hear that too if they’re in my home.
Getting ready to go out dancing: WHOLE LOTTA MONEY by Bia
Rainy, sad day: Honestly my crying album is MY WOMAN by Angel Olsen. That was a breakup album at some point and it just stuck. Also, In Rainbows is a good album in my sad bag. And Mazzy Star is a classic crying soundtrack. Are you even crying if it’s not Mazzy Star?
Pop Culture Potpourri
Podcast: My friend Becca recently launched The Grandma Files, a sweet and tender podcast featuring interviews with grandmas. I especially love the latest episode, Nonna & Gay-ma. Check it out!
Must-watch movie: Zola!! The original viral Twitter thread has it all (read: intrigue, drama, Florida strippers) and so does Janicza Bravo’s movie, co-written with Jeremy O. Harris.
Freelance Writing Resources (for Food Media and Beyond). I often talk with people who want to do freelance writing but don’t know where to begin. So I compiled my best tips for pitching, setting rates, filing clean copy, finding diverse sources, and more into this handy Google Doc.
Homemade Shrubs Are Your Gateway to a World of Sweet, Tangy Summer Drinking (Eater). A simple riffable formula for turning summer’s bounty of fruit into a juicy shrub—and ideas for what to make with it.
For Transgender Uber Eats Drivers, ‘Right to Pride’ Is a Long-Overdue Change in Policy (Eater). I spoke with drivers who say Uber’s practices such as displaying legal deadnames alongside a driver’s chosen name and rejecting up-to-date photos effectively outed them as transgender to customers, forcing them to choose between their safety and their income.
5 Essential Recipes for a Well-Fed Camping Trip (Clean Plates). Camping cooking ideas!