The Art of the Playlist

The joy of organising music, by Jordan Thorne

I adore playlisting. My music platform of choice is Spotify, and although I was gravely disappointed to find out my premium student membership had expired (there’s a four year limit), I still happily pay for premium- it’s somewhat of an essential now.

I used to almost exclusively listen to albums from my favourite artists, buying them in charity shops or using an iTunes gift voucher, only discovering new music through friends’ recommendations or by browsing the charts, but then came music streaming services. Suddenly I could listen to anything I wanted, but how on earth would I choose? How could I listen to everything and decide what I liked? And most importantly, how would I organise my music?

The simple and beautiful answer is the art of the playlist. A mode of curation completely up to the creator. Sure it’s just a list of songs that are created by other people (most likely- musicians I see you!), but in the same way an art exhibition is just some pieces of art put in the same place. Each song choice has the power to send a different message, create a different mood, serve a different purpose…

This is not to say that sticking all your favourite songs together in one place with no unifying theme is not just as good- there’s a certain charm to an uncertain shuffle. I saw an idea recently that I would recommend everyone tries- putting every song that brings back a specific memory together in one playlist, to create your soundtrack. The soundtrack that would play if there was a movie based on your life kind of thing.

As well as creating themed playlists for everything from road trips to cloud spotting, I adore the collaborative potential of playlists. Seeing how your friends organise their music is in a sense very intimate; I would argue that music streaming services are the most personal of all social media platforms. In Lockdown 1 last summer I took this a step further and invited my friends to take part in a collaborative playlist project. Every day for a month we had a different theme to contribute to. From Favourite songs you’ve seen live to Pride anthems to Songs that don’t get played in the club as often as they should, it was a great way to occupy ourselves, and of course get some new music recommendations. 

I’m sure many of you are familiar with Spotify’s personalised playlists such as Discover Weekly. When I have no motivation, I find it very rewarding to go through these recommendations and either add them to existing playlists or save them for later. It’s a great way to be productive whilst also giving your brain a bit of a sound bath. Definitely an alternative form of self-care for music lovers; Spotify has often been my place of solace. 

From someone that used to listen to whole albums to someone that now dips their toes into the seemingly endless Spotify genres (Spotify Wrapped is always a surprise), the way I listen to music has definitely been transformed. That being said, I am challenging myself to find a happy medium- listening to my Discover Weekly, checking out my friends’ playlists, but also listening to albums from start to finish as they were intended. 

However you listen to and organise your music, whether by what you’re into this month, by obscure themes, by similar artists, or without any unifying factor at all, you are a curator of your own soundtrack. I apologise to everyone that is going to lose a few hours of studying to indulge in some music organisation- but you could definitely make a study soundtrack whilst you’re there!
To round off, I’d like to invite you all to contribute to Orbital’s new collaborative Spotify playlist if you so desire!