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Guide to Making a Playlist for Someone

By Anh Nguyen

Everybody has their “thing”. Something you can find yourself being completely immersed in and not even notice the hours go by. For some, it’s playing chess in a park, going for a run along a nice, scenic route, maybe finding new recipes and cooking for your friends… For me, my subconscious mind often finds itself drawn to the Spotify icon at the bottom-right corner of my computer screen. This is my safe space – or, sometimes, my rabbit hole. I could spend hours upon hours discovering new songs based on my friends’ listening activities, finding old albums I may have never heard of before, and making playlists.

To me, there is nothing more intimate than receiving a playlist – knowing that a person associates you with their music listening experience. It’s my favorite form of communication that is too often forgotten. For those unsure how to craft one, here is how to create the perfect playlist for someone:

1. Decide on the theme

Sending someone a playlist is deliberately putting them in a mood you want them to have. You might be setting the tone for someday’s day, night, or even week (if you do it right). It’s a lot of power for one person – so proceed with intention! Think about what it is you want to convey and why you’re making them a playlist in the first place. Is it because you discovered a new niche of music you think they’d like? Are you showing gratitude? Are you professing your feelings? Are you hoping to help them get through a hard time? The catch, however, is that the message can’t be too obvious. You’re sending them a playlist and not just a text for a reason. Make them work a little to understand the message.

2. Set the tone

Now that you know your intentions, the first song should set the tone – music-wise, as the rest of the playlist will build on this, but also message-wise. Consider this your playlist’s first impression. But, make no mistake, the second song is actually the hardest to pick because it’ll have to follow up to the first.

3. No two songs from the same artist

You may not agree with me here, but this is just a personal rule I like to have and I’ve found that it works well. There are only two exceptions to this rule: (1) the artist is the theme of the playlist, (2) you really could not choose because these songs have special meaning to you and the recipient – a dilemma I often find myself in when I want to add Frank Ocean to any playlist. But, they most definitely should not be placed right next to each other. And, if you can, pick from different albums.

4. Keep it short and effective

The best playlists are the ones that don’t deter you from listening to them. I often find that if I see more than 20 songs on a playlist, I’ll have a “maybe later” attitude towards it. A playlist with about 15 or less songs may be more welcoming and digestible.

5. Fit their taste, but keep it fresh

There’s no point adding songs they’d listen to anyways without your playlist. It should follow a sonic theme but still have an element of surprise. Show them that you understand their music taste – and in turn, understand them – but also tap into what makes your music taste special. To make a playlist for someone is to collaborate with them. It’s a special thing because you are visualizing your relationship with someone, blending together who you are and who they are.

6. Leave the title till the end

Once you have everything together, you’ve gone over the order, the flow between each song makes sense, and you’re happy with the length – time to brainstorm a playlist title. It should be playful and personal (perhaps an inside joke). But if you can’t think of anything, “For _*insert name*_”, is always a classic. Maybe even add a picture to top it off, if you’re a visual person.

7. Have fun!

Any chance you get to make a playlist is an exciting adventure. At the end of the day, making a playlist is a fun way to think about your relationship to music. It’s a trip down memory lane of music you might’ve forgotten made you feel something, or a way to find and share new music so that we can all appreciate art more.

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