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The Problem with Playlists

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Do you make playlists? Do you download them to your MP3 player or burn them to CD? I’ll bet everyone who creates a playlist has his or her own favorite technique for selecting the songs and deciding the order they will appear.

The simplest way to organize a playlist is to throw organization out the window. Just randomly choosing twenty or so favorite songs and incorporating them as one list is a guaranteed way to quickly assemble a listening program. Unfortunately, when you realize that three of the songs are very, very long but no longer favorites, you either redo the list or abandon it.

“By genre” is a technique that works for some; they gather together a group of songs they like all from one genre (rock, country, rap, etc.), and produce a list that is, indeed, personal. Of course, getting down and getting funky to one type of music is limiting, but if it works for you, go for it.

Playlists chosen by artists or composed of a particular album are both good ways to enjoy favorite performers. Going by artist, but not entire albums, is a good way to assemble a playlist that excludes some not-so-favorites. Be honest, no matter how much you love Miley Cyrus, there’s got to be one or two cuts you wish she hadn’t recorded.

A favorite playlist technique is to pick a topic — dogs, cats, blue, death — and select songs that include that word in their titles. Ignore genre and artist, sample the music to see if it sounds interesting, and put it all together. Why is this a favorite? Because the resulting playlist is so eclectic that songs that may not seem like they would be listened to together produce great contrasts, and the listener is introduced to artists and music that s/he might never have been exposed to otherwise. How to find the music, you ask. Go to Amazon MP3 downloads, and in the search field enter the word you want to build a musical world around. The variety is stupendous!

The problem with playlists, though, is that the good ones make it difficult to listen to whole albums by individual groups or artists. Once the listener is accustomed to mixed lists combining genres, styles, and artists, a standard CD seems boring. This may be particularly true for those suffering ADHD, ADD, or similar disorders in which constant stimulation is desired.

Remember, years ago, when MTV was to blame for shrinking attention spans? Oh, you’re too young to remember? Lucky you. There was a time when media was criticized for reducing everything to easily digestible sound-bites, dumbing down the media-hungry among us, which were considered to be, basically, everyone. The “fear” was that people would become so used to condensed versions that they couldn’t bear to invest their mind power and time in entire books, movies, newspapers, and other “long forms,” which actually are boiled-down versions of whatever story they are telling or selling. Since music is to blame for all the ills in the world, it was natural to choose MTV as the worst offender. Hey, if you see a chance to knock the rock, take it!

Creating playlists sometimes brings out the creative artist in people. Hours are spent laboring over the appropriate combination of songs and the order in which they will be played. So much for the limited attention span! Let’s face it, though, a really good playlist is a thing of beauty. It is artistic output and personal culture, and can produce many hours of pleasure.

One song that I particularly like (as in “more than any other in the world”) is that ode to schizophrenia, “Paint It Black.” It doesn’t have to be the Rolling Stones; I can listen to almost any cover of it and be thrilled (it’s even my ringtone). Therefore, I decided to burn a CD that was all “Paint It Black.” The music is diverse and ranges from threatening industrial/punk to blue grass to symphonic and lullaby versions. So many artists have covered “Paint It Black” that one could fill many CD’s and have an “All ‘Paint It Black’, All the Time” environment. Were the results worth the time and money invested? You bet! Not everyone would want to spend 80 minutes listening to “Paint It Black,” some even think it’s depressing, but every once in a while, on a long road trip, we put it on the CD player, and when it gets to Eric Burden and the Animals doing it live — we laugh.

Warning: I was recently induced to make an all “Hotel California” CD. An Amazon search lists over 450 entries. Skip the Nancy Sinatra version.

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About Miss Bob Etier

  • http://etierphotography.blogspot.com/ FCEtier

    I thought it was really cool that you included the theme song for “Blues Clues” on the “Blue” album!

  • http://www.lynnvoedisch.com Lynn Voedisch

    Can you imagine an all-Nancy Sinatra playlist?

  • http://hubpages.com/profile/Bob+Etier Miss Bob Etier

    #2, Oy, just thinking about it gives me a headache.