What Makes a Quality Playlist?

Earlier this evening I made a “Genius playlist” on my iPhone from White Town’s song “Your Woman” and it turned out surprisingly well, considering all the music was automatically selected by a computer algorithm in a matter of 1 or 2 seconds. Steph commented on how much she was enjoying it, and Caleb danced the whole time. I was impressed.

I suppose methods used to measure the quality of a playlist are a much-debated thing. We could get into deep aesthetic discussions about how one song can lead into the next and bring the listener through “arcs”, and there’s nothing wrong with seeing playlists that way. But to me, there’s a simple beauty in playing the hits, straight up, without any pretentiousness to it. We got pretty close to that here. I really love about 20 of these 25 songs, even if most of them hail from deep throwback territory.

  • White Town – “Your Woman”
  • Cake – “Never There”
  • The Cardigans – “Lovefool”
  • EMF – “Unbelievable”
  • Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet (Radio Edit)”
  • Beck – “Where It’s At”
  • U2 – “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”
  • Thomas Dolby – “She Blinded Me With Science”
  • Cut Copy – “Lights & Music”
  • Cake – “Short Skirt/Long Jacket”
  • They Might Be Giants – “Birdhouse in Your Soul”
  • Simple Minds – “Don’t You Forget About Me”
  • Cold War Kids – “Hang Me Up to Dry”
  • Phoenix – “Everything Is Everything”
  • Shannon – “Let the Music Play (David Delano, Dirty Lou & Swedish Egil Remix)”
  • Hot Chip – “Over and Over”
  • Yello – “Oh Yeah”
  • Beck – “Devils Haircut”
  • Scissor Sisters – “Take Your Mama”
  • Madonna – “Beautiful Stranger (William Orbit Radio Edit Version)”
  • Radiohead – “Karma Police”
  • Gorillaz – “19-2000”
  • Cut Copy – “Hearts On Fire”
  • The White Stripes – “My Doorbell”
  • The B-52’s – “Rock Lobster”

Perhaps the perfect playlist would use the Genius feature as a starting point, and then take manual tweaking and editing to bring it to perfection.

Get Your Music on iTunes

I wasn’t aware of this at the time or I would’ve blogged it, but in early 2006 a service called TuneCore launched. This service will take original music you’ve written and recorded and publish it on iTunes for you. (They’ll publish to other online music stores too.) The service costs the artist a paltry amount when compared to the benefits of exposing their music to millions of people. This kind of availability is approximately equivalent to having your CD in Target, right there on a shelf. This is a huge deal for independent artists.

The best part of the whole deal is that the owner of the music keeps 100% of the profits that come from the sales of their music. They don’t have a giant record label on their back, stealing the dollars right out of their hands as they earn them. The artist just has to sell approximately two copies of their album to pay for the cost of getting it in the iTunes store, and the rest is pure profit. You can’t lose!

So if you’ve been thinking of becoming a famous musician, but haven’t been able to get your music into the hands of a wide-enough audience, you just lost your last excuse. According to the data Steve Jobs gave in his most-recent keynote, iTunes sales averaged just under 3.3 million songs per day in 2006. If you got just 1% of one day’s total sales for only one of your songs, that’d be $33,000. Well, okay, it’d be $32,670, but you get the picture. And you’d have paid $11.96 to get that song on iTunes. That’s what I call a good opportunity.

Go write something catchy.