Winter is coming. For some, that means nestling up next to a new or current lover, indulging in an unhealthy amount of retail therapy, or, the 2020 draft pick—quarantining. For others—especially those here at Burbs Entertainment—it means building a collection of playlists with enough ferocity to withstand another miserable Midwestern winter.
The art of playlist creation has been an uphill battle in the music industry. It seems like every year the “How to Make a Perfect Playlist” articles are changing their narratives. If you have no prior experience in playlist development, this can be frustrating. My answer to your dissatisfaction is this: making a playlist is not—and never will be—one-dimensional.
Let’s take Spotify, for instance. The 300 million-user streaming platform receives a standing ovation for its uncomfortably-personalized playlists and radio stations. Despite rumors of a mastermind robot behind the meticulous song arrangements, the company revealed that a team of music-savvy editors, bloggers, contributors, etc. are the method behind the madness. What makes their system so undefeated against their competitors? The company embodies and understands the complex range of their listeners’ interests, and handles each creation on a person-by-person basis.
Playlist creation is an independent practice reliant on the mind and soul of its creator. It is not an algorithm nor a science, but a collection of ideas, emotions, memories, places, etc. The beautiful magic that is building a compilation of songs is one of the most individualized and equal-opportunity practices in music today.
To test this ideology, I asked some of my fellow writers, designers, creators, and even a few of our adamant readers, what the “perfect” playlist looks like to them. Each individual shared their best practices for building a playlist, followed by a link to a playlist of their own. With contributions from a spectrum of Spotify, Apple Music, and SoundCloud listeners (sorry Tidal!), you are sure to find a new playlist to tuck you in this winter season.
Deja Williams / Writer / Schaumburg, IL / R&B, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, Bedroom Pop
I have made it unbearably easy for the Spotify geniuses to build playlists specific to my taste. From a quick glance at my profile, my playlists are all conscientiously categorized by emotion and/or events. Pregaming with your girls? Try “Hot Girl.” Coasting down LSD? Try “Cruise Control.” Did someone cheat on you? Try “IFHY.” For every life scenario, there is a playlist to get you through it.
Now, I know this might seem constricting, but you must understand I was born in June. Not ‘Gemini’ June, but ‘Cancer’ June. My life is under the tyrannical reign of my emotions. I seldom stray from these core playlists of love, lust, anger, sadness, etc. and instead continuously reconstruct their greatness. Each backed by an aesthetic cover photograph and a witty biography, these playlists are a part of my DNA ladder.
Thankfully, what I lack in acceptance of change, I make up for in my diversity of music taste. Each playlist withholds about 100-200 songs, often with a variety of genres and artists. Do not be alarmed while shuffling one of my playlists that might go from Frank Ocean, to Justin Bieber, to Avril Lavigne, to Otis Redding. On paper it does not make sense, but in practice it is resonant harmony.
‘Topanga’ is my most recent creation. Inspired by Trippie Redd’s 2018 single, I crossbred my older R&B playlist ‘Hood Fairy’ with newer artists and sounds I have been introduced to this year. This creation’s journey has just begun, but I am loving the direction it has taken thus far.
Evan Linden / Social Media Coordinator / Aurora, IL / Rap & Alternative Aficionado
As corny as it sounds, my first step when creating a great playlist is always landing on a “vibe.” I tend to create a mood board-like image in my head of how I want the playlist to feel, and I typically even match up the cover art of the playlist to fit the overall feeling. But even when you have an exact vision for a playlist’s vibe, it is essential to add a few toss-ups in there to keep things interesting. It gets boring if every song on a playlist sounds the same.
For me, the playlist curation process never ends. I have four-year-old playlists I am still adding on to. I see playlists as highly malleable; they should always be subject to change. I never keep my playlists to a strict song limit, but I prefer some shorter than others. I like to keep my more niche playlists around 100-250 songs, while I like to keep my more encompassing playlists around 300-500 songs.
At the end of the day, you can never go wrong shuffling your likes, either. Personally, I end up adding a handful of songs to my playlists every time I shuffle my likes. I also get inspiration for new playlists when I peruse my music library.
This is one of my proudest creations—the first volume of my “gas pack” collection. It’s my go-to laidback playlist with some nice variety, featuring multiple subgenres of rap, alternative, classic rock, R&B, pop, jazz, lo-fi, and electronic. I can guarantee some of your favorites are scattered throughout.
Brooke Brennan / Content Creator, Writer / Aurora, IL / Reggaeton
From getting ready in the morning while drinking coffee, to hiking with my friends, to workouts, I curate playlists for moods and activities. I take pride in building these playlists for months and constantly adding new music. I have playlists from 2015 that I still listen to and continue to expand on. My collection of playlists also lets me reflect on how my music taste has evolved and diversified. Some playlists are 100 songs, some are only 20. I also like to build playlists based on genres too; jazz, reggae, reggaeton, rap, by women for women, ‘90s, R&B, etc.
When creating a playlist, I keep in mind certain times I would play them and to match moods I am in. Sometimes you need a good playlist when you’re in your bag. Sometimes you need throwbacks to sing in the car with your friends. And most importantly, you need a playlist that is a vault of all of your favorite songs, something that describes your eclectic music taste. Also, I make it a point to listen to all of the playlists I make! Diversify your collections. Make playlists when you are bored and ask your friends for their favorites too.
One playlist I highly value and frequently listen to is “Mis Favoritas.” I speak Spanish as well as English, so having collections of my reggaeton music is the key to my heart. Whether you speak Spanish or not, the upbeat and smooth-flowing songs from Spanish speaking artists will open doors to more new music. After living in Spain for a year, I began to take all the songs I heard in the clubs and explored my range of artists and genres. Aquí hay una colección de mis canciones favoritas.
Martin Gross / Writer, Interviewer / Arlington Heights, IL / Rap & R&B
In terms of making a playlist, I’m as big of an outcast as the women of Salem. Every single song I have ever liked since the first semester of my freshman year of high school is stuffed and packed into a 2,500-song playlist. It’s chaos. It’s unorganized. It’s beautiful. Throughout the years of my life, I have seen people with mountains of playlists that are switched frequently relative to their mood. As that last sentence might have sounded critical, I envy this sense of organization and creativity. Everything about it makes sense, and why wouldn’t you want your feelings to represent your song choice?
But there is a method to my madness. I feel like when you make lots of playlists, some of them are forgotten. You soon lose touch with that playlist and the next thing you know, you forgot about the thirty songs on there. I have always had a very deep and rich relationship with music. Every section of the playlist is intertwined with a moment in my life. Through this jumbled stew of tracks, I find a lot of repressed emotions, good and bad, being untapped consistently when I hear various tracks. I do this simply because I don’t want to forget my youth. I never want to forget who the fuck I was, whether or not it’s cringy. I do this to also never forget memories of life. Through the constant shuffling of my playlist, that will never happen. Instead of playlists, I would rather choose an album to listen to when I am happy or sad. When displaying emotions, I would rather have a one-on-one listening experience instead of multiple voices speaking to me track-after-track.
So, that is why my playlist is super fucking long.
Howie Butler / Artist Relations, Interview, Music Writer / Johnston, IA / Hip-Hop & R&B
I’m going to be honest… I am not a huge playlist guy. I make them as much as the next guy, but with my short attention span and 5,000+ song library, I can never scan my whole library to cultivate the perfect playlist. I will get a spark of inspiration and instantly assign the list a funny name and picture, then I will scroll through my library, adding songs until I reach the ‘E’s’, and give up. There have been few times I have been able to scan the entirety of my library to finish one. With some of my more recent playlists, I will have an idea of a bunch of songs I want to add, and over the next month, add random tracks that give me the same sense or feeling. I do not want to use the word “vibe;” pretend I didn’t just say it.
I never find myself touching up old playlists, I am generally just deleting them as my tastes change over time. I mostly use playlists to collect all the new releases of a Thursday night in one spot, or to catch up on new stuff I have missed during a long drive or library binge.
I usually have my playlists there for shuffling, but with the playlist I shared, I think this one is important to listen straight through. It will be made into a mix soon—mark my words. It starts and ends with Brent Faiyaz and Sampha—GOAT’s. I made it with the purpose of mixing in some of the lesser-known artists so people can hear them in the middle of today’s stars, because eventually, that’s what many of them will become.
Carter Ferryman / Feature Music Writer / Naperville, IL / Everything
Creating a playlist—in my experience—has no boundaries or limitations. This is usually why most of what I put together has little organization. They are generally a compilation of songs spanning decades that I cannot stop listening to during that particular blip in time. Take for example a playlist I made earlier this year titled “march.” Three of the first five songs are “Bangladesh” by Your Old Droog, “Crazy” by Patsy Cline and “Half Full Glass of Wine” by Tame Impala; boom-bap rap, ‘50s soul, and alt-rock, respectively.
While I have probably put together upwards of 200 playlists in the past couple years, there are two playlists that I have revisited for addition more than the rest. The first is titled “My Shazam Tracks.” This speaks for itself—it’s a chaotic combination of songs that I, usually, find in TV and film. The second is titled “bibe city.” It’s a 700-song playlist that a group of friends, including myself, have collaborated on for a few years containing alternative rock from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘00s to present day.
The playlist that I share today is a collection of records that I have not been able to pause this year. Artists like Yves Tumor, Parquet Courts, and Beach House are some of my favorites—their sounds are so incredibly unique that it feels as though each and every track breathes new life to the listener. I tried following a specific genre, but I got 10 songs in and couldn’t contain myself. Just about every single genre I have indulged in recent memory is on this thing. My operating theory is, if you aren’t in the mood for, or don’t like, a particular song—skip it. There’s a lot of music on this. Where else are you going to find “Territorial Pissings” by Nirvana and “(Untitled) How Does It Feel” by D’Angelo back-to-back? Nowhere, that’s where. Just shuffle it.
Ralph Compiano / Editor / Des Moines, IA / Hip-Hop, R&B, Classic Rock, Modern Alternative
When I am curating a playlist, I try my best to visualize a specific setting for it. Whether it be the gym, spring, or the bedroom, there is always a certain setting or theme in my mind when I’m compiling tracks together. But then again, there are often times where I won’t even know what a playlist’s purpose is until the 13th or 14th song is in the mix.
There are also moments when I will simply compile the entirety of albums of artists I love, but don’t think I listen to enough and just mash them together. For example, I adore the classic bar-for-bar poetic style of hip-hop, so I created a playlist simply titled “BARS” with a picture of Funkmaster Flex screaming into the microphone when Kanye and Jay-Z dropped “Otis.” The playlist includes artists that are both similar in their approaches from different eras, so it is dominated by the likes of Jay-Z, Raekwon, Action Bronson and many others.
There is not, nor should there be, any strict rhyme or reason to a person’s playlist making process because it’s a process that is uniquely determined by the person at a certain point in their life. Playlists are beautiful because they are stored in one’s phone or laptop and can be returned back to at any point in time to provide a burst of recently-forgotten memories. When I turn on my “ForThisLife” playlist, I am immediately catapulted back to my sophomore year of college when I smoked a gross amount of pot with my best friends in the world. When I turn on my “Tripical” playlist, I listen to a shit ton of Rihanna and imagine myself on a beach.
In short, inspiration for a new playlist can come from anywhere at any time. Here’s a playlist that I made as a result of my love for movies.
Jack Martin / Operations Manager / Arlington Heights, IL / Hip-Hop, R&B, Whatever Sublime Fits Into
I do not have much of a methodology when it comes to curating my playlists. It usually starts with where I am at or what is going on in my life. Am I on a summertime vacation in California? Am I smoking too much pot in my dark bedroom as the harshness of winter awaits me outside?
I tend to stack playlists with a few artists, combining full albums or standout singles. There is not much variety, as I am often trying to keep a similar sound throughout the playlist. For example, I have a playlist called “blonded xo,” which is simply all of The Weeknd and Frank Ocean’s albums compiled into a playlist. The same goes for “bam bam,” with Action Bronson; “literally all of Kanye’s albums,” with Kanye West; and “smells like lou dog inside the van,” with Sublime. I go artist-by-artist when I am making playlists, and it always leads me to adding a significant portion of their discographies. It is fine by me; I just get to listen to more of my favorite music.
Playlists are your thing. That’s why they are so great. Nobody tells you which artists to include or how to organize it. Your favorite music is your favorite music for a reason; it is something almost unexplainable. If you want to combine all your favorite genres and have an orgy of noise, by all means do it. Playlists are a blank canvas, and you get to create your art.
Finn Askin / Writer / Milwaukee, WI / Rap, Indie, & Bedroom Pop
Playlists, genuinely, have gotten me banned from aux in my homies’ vehicles. I used to be a person who would aimlessly toss any and all songs I enjoyed into a playlist and revel in my “musical masterpiece.” Jumping from, “California” by Roy Blair, to “Azucar” by Earl Sweatshirt, while driving through the city was not something anyone even remotely enjoyed.
Due to the demoralization I endured, I constantly strived to get the coveted honor of running the aux back. This led me to shift my efforts toward a more feeling and environment-based playlist. The majority of my time now goes into creating a collaborative feeling throughout, rather than placing all my favorite songs into one place. I have now built playlists for days when I am unbelievably stressed for an exam, sitting on a park bench, or even just relaxing in my crib.
This does not mean, however, that I have gotten rid of those giant playlists filled with everything I love. Those still exist for the days when I want to see how my music taste is progressing, or just so I can give people a true representation of my taste in music.
The playlist I am providing, “Before October Begins,” is easily my favorite collection of music I have ever made. It provides a sense of “a new beginning” throughout, whilst also trying to emphasize happiness and power. That may just sound like utter bullshit to you, but that is the beauty of a playlist: it can mean anything to anyone. I hope you find as much joy as I do in this curation of my taste.
Sareena Katz / Burbs Entertainment Reader / Wayzata, MN / R&B & Rap
Curating the perfect playlist will 9-out-of-10 times start with a singular song. I will catch a “vibe,” so to say, and suddenly I have the desire to prolong it. I start to surf around the genre first, and then I will just add anything that I feel fits the mood that I am going for. In my opinion, playlists have no rules. I am not one to set limitations to a certain song or genre limit. Most of my playlists well exceed 100 songs. As always, there are those classic songs that one adds to every playlist. *Inserts everything by Frank Ocean* Overall, as long as you can hit shuffle and cohesively enjoy the songs that come on, then I think you’ve hit the jackpot.
A playlist should be a perfect combination of new and old jams. Obviously, I am making it for myself, but I like to keep in mind that other people will be listening as well. I not only want to explore my music taste, but I want to introduce others to new artists and songs that they may not have heard or ventured to on their own. Of course, your title and cover art come into play, as well. My OCD-self tries to make my Spotify look as smooth as possible. Did I mention I am an avid Spotify user? (Step aside all of you Apple Music listeners... Sorry, Ralph.) The visually-appealing aesthetic of one’s playlist page is usually what draws me into their profile and makes me want to click in to see what they have got going on.
One amazing feature that I take full advantage of is Spotify radio. If I am listening to either a song or an artist that I am digging, I will hit up its radio on Spotify, and suddenly, I’m listening to 10 new songs that I had never heard before. It is 100% my favorite feature on the streaming service because it is the easiest way to expand your horizons. Sometimes, I think Spotify knows me better than my own mother.
Here’s one of my playlists that I have in heavy rotation right now.
Sam Nahimov / Burbs Entertainment Reader / Omaha, NE / R&B, Progressive Rock, Hip-Hop
Anyone who is remotely familiar with my taste in music knows that when it comes to music style preferences, I am all over the board. Shuffling my music library usually results in a mix of nostalgic 2012 tear-jerkers—think “Adorn” by Miguel, “Break From Toronto” by PARTYNEXTDOOR, “Drank In My Cup” by Kirko Bangz—followed by some classic Kendrick with “Cartoons and Cereal” (“… wanna lose weight?”), and possibly a sprinkle of Black Eyed Peas throughout the shuffle. In fact, my library is so diverse that my shuffling tendencies usually get me banned from aux almost immediately.
After being subjected to multiple disheartening and humbling conversations with my most prized musical peers—Deja and Sareena—I have come to love playlists and their ability to supplement my mood at any time. Curating a playlist focused on a certain mood or feeling versus a style of music is the way to go for me. One example is my go-to work out playlist, which features your classic Future hype songs, along with influential Beyoncé (think “Get Me Bodied”), followed by 2000s Jay-Z. Although not technically the same vibe in terms of artists’ styles, their energy forms a cohesive playlist to help me get through suffering at the gym.
The playlist I am sharing today is an O.G. for me. I started it in high school when Drake had his foot on this industry’s neck… figuratively speaking. Take Care had just released and changed the R&B game forever. This playlist tries to encapsulate the feeling of a snowy, lonely, and cozy winter nights surrounded by cups of the rose </3. Enjoy y’all.