One for Every Mood
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but I urge people to seek out as many playlists as they can. There are a couple of reasons why I want to mention playlists and discuss them here. I think we all get into the habit of playing the music we are used to and that which can make us feel better. There are people who are adventurous and constantly investigate what is coming through and what is buried. How many of us get turned on to new styles of music and artists every day? It is great we live in an age where there is so much music available and we can get pretty much anything that has ever been recorded. In terms of new artists, we can get a lot of recommendations from Spotify but I do think that can only go a certain distance. I have struggled to find some great artists and feel there are a lot that get overlooked and underexposed. It is impossible to include everything and get behind every artist but I feel that playlists can go further. One of the great pleasures is looking on a site like Spotify and seeing all these great playlists. From playlists collecting together women in Blues and songs that are summer-ready, you can get a nice spread of sounds and discover fresh sounds. We get the weekly playlists from Spotify that bring together their view of the hottest artists around. There is a subjective aspect when we look at the power of playlists.
A lot of times, the artists on these prominent playlists are commercial or they have chart potential. If you like that sort of thing then that is great but I tend to avoid the ‘hottest artists’ and songs list because they tend to be very Pop-orientated and similar. The reason why I love playlists is because they have so many uses and strengths. If you need a boost and sunshine then you can find playlists that collate all the brightest and happiest songs together. Similarly, if you need to reflect and find songs that convey a certain tone, one can find playlists to fit that mood. A lot of modern artists rely on playlists because they can boost streaming figures and elevate a career. Having your song on a promoted and big playlist means you can draw in new fans and grow as an artist. That is one side to playlists but my thrill comes from discovery and enriching the mind. There are some silly playlists out there that are for fun and do not have much depth but one cannot underestimate those playlists that genuinely open the mind and soul. A lot of people seek out energy-boosting playlists when they are training and preparing for marathons. If you need to get into the groove and get motivated, one can find these curated playlists that have perfect songs that give you drive.
For me, I love listening to entire periods and genres. Whether it is finding all the classic House hits or the best of the 1980s, you can find an extensive playlist that caters to your needs. It can be really difficult finding appropriate playlists or one that fits your mood. Luckily, people can create their own playlists on platforms like Spotify so you can get a lot of variation and choice. For me, the biggest asset of a playlist is the ability to stretch the listener’s imagination and bring new music to their lives. I have discovered artists I did not know and fallen in love with entire genres because of playlists. I think radio discovery is great but you cannot listen to radio all the time and it is not the same as having these complete and eclectic playlists. I do think we all get stuck in a cycle where we have the same songs primed and we do not often go beyond what is familiar. If you want to check out some great modern Hip-Hop then you have enough options. Also, if you love music of the 1990s then there are playlists that bring together some of the biggest hits. You might hear artists and songs you have not discovered up until then or you might rediscover a song that was a big part of your childhood. Not only is it great finding all these bespoke playlists but there is something wonderful about creating your own.
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The days of the mixtape have gone so there is a relief when one can create a digital equivalent. You can put all your favourite songs on these playlists and then, through time, sites like Spotify can send recommendations and similar playlists. Some argue one of the downsides of playlists is that they miss entire genres and are too narrow. If you get personalised playlists on Spotify, does that inherently limit your discovery and mean that you will ignore everything else out there? I do think that one needs to do their own digging and not just rely on playlists but I would be lost without them. Not only do I rely on them for the best songs of the week – when I do my weekly playlist pieces – but I also browse various playlists when I need a certain sense of relief. If I want to discover great new women in Country music then I am sorted. If I want some old-school jams then I can get what I need and, if I want an essential collection of Steely Dan songs then there is a playlist waiting to go. Playlists are useful when you are on the go and need that nice collection of songs. I also think it a nice way of organising music and not losing touch. I have playlists collating my favourite songs from childhood and some that are more specific. I can dip into those when I fancy and it means that I am always remaining broad. If I relied on radio alone, there would be countless songs and artists that would slip my mind. Sometimes personalised playlists can be a bit flawed and restricted but I actually think they can give us great recommendations and have a good knowledge of what we’d like to listen to.
I would say to people not to rely on personalised playlists too much. They are great and make you feel like someone out there knows you but one cannot beat the personal touch and human curation. Going into the archives and putting together your own playlist is, like I said, like a mixtape from back in the day. Whatever you feel about playlists, they are definitely taking over and very important to new artists. Back in 2017, WIRED wrote an article about playlists and how useful they are for labels and artists:
"Spotify playlists, and Spotify charts, and Spotify plays, have become the number one tool that labels and artists and managers are using in order to break artists and measure success," says industry analyst Mark Mulligan. Facebook has more users, YouTube has more views, but Spotify represents more important real estate. "If you get things working on Spotify," Mulligan says, "that’s going to crank the wheel."
Listeners now spend about half their time on Spotify listening to playlists, either of their own creation or curated by Spotify's editors and other tastemakers. As a result, every artist wants a spot on the high-traffic playlists like Today's Top Hits or Rap Caviar. There's an official pitch process, a form anyone can fill out with details about their track and their hopes and dreams for world-beating success, but a little inside knowledge helps. "Every team on the editorial side has their own way of working," says James Walsh, business development manager at Ditto Music, which helps artists placetheir music in online stores. You can't guarantee entry, but you can at least try putting your stuff in front of the right people.
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At the same time, Spotify is investing more in personalized playlists, like the algorithmically generated Discover Weekly and Daily Mix. Over time, Mulligan says, even things like Today’s Top Hits or New Music Friday could be tuned to each user’s particular taste. “The idea of any playlist being the same thing to any person is going to become less and less as time goes on,” he says. Not to mention, as it learns more about what listeners like to listen to and when, the company could start to make tailored content—just as Netflix began making its own shows after discovering people really love Adam Sandler. What does the recording biz do then?”
I can understand how playlists take away a lot of natural discovery and mean that a lot of artists miss out but I do think there is an opportunity for companies like Spotify to do something great. I love all the genre and mood-specific playlists because it bunches together songs that I want to hear and saves me the trouble of endless scrolling and thought. The weekly playlists that bring together fresh cuts are great because, otherwise, you’d need to do a tonne of searching to find what you need – playlists like this are invaluable to journalists like me.
Maybe that is where the divide comes: the practicality it provides journalists and the freedom listeners want. If you are someone like me who does often need specific songs and playlists, they have a great power and usefulness. If you are someone who wants to keep broad and experimental, maybe playlists strip some of that endeavour and liberty. Do a lot of new artists get overlooked because people are putting too much stock into playlists? This is where I think Spotify, TIDAL and YouTube can improve on. I do feel personal playlists are a little synthetic and tend to make us lazy but there are countless new artists in all genres that are being overlooked. What about putting together playlists of under-the-wire artists or making them genre-specific? I get sent a lot of requests but there are many artists out there that pass me by and I always hate that. Given the power of streaming services, there should be more playlists that support underground artists in addition to foisting older music to the new generation. How many young listeners are going back and checking out classic Folk and music from the past? How many of us go beyond what we hear on our favourite stations and experience the full breadth of new music? One cannot realistically hear everything and have the time to go that deep but I do think radio can only do so much. I do feel like a lot of approaching artists feel streaming services are more set up for bigger artists – they miss out and get fewer streams because they are not promoted.
I do think there should be playlists that take into consideration newer acts and those that are not in the mainstream. I know so many younger listeners who missing out on great music from the past because they are listening to what is considered modern, cool and fresh. This is okay to an extent but there is a whole world of music they are missing out on. Now that few people share music and there is less physical music-sharing, we do have to rely on radio and digital sources. I do believe there should be playlists and recommendations that help bring classic sounds to those who might otherwise miss out. Music has a tremendous power and place and experiencing as much as it as you can is essential. There are natural flaws to playlists and one should not rely on them but I think there are so useful and eye-opening. If you are in a particular mood, playlists can score that or make you feel better; you can compile your own for prosperity or you can seek out great new acts in a variety of genres. They can enrich you and lead you to places you never knew existed before. You can share playlists with people and, for people like me, it is a chance to share my tastes and discoveries with others. So long as you think outside of the box and do not solely use playlists for music discovery then that is good. One needs to do their own research but, in a growing and chaotic music scene, there is this organisation and discipline with playlists that makes discovery a lot easier. If streaming sites can put less preference on personalised playlists and help rising artists get attention; unearth older sounds and icons to the young generation then I genuinely think that will make us all more rounded, informed…
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