How to: Create a Playlist

Sounds simple enough, right? Throw together a bunch of your favorite tunes and voila! You have yourself a playlist you’ll want to share with all your nearest and dearest. But, in our humble opinion, there are a few things you can do that will take your playlist to the next level. Who knows? You may get so good, that you’ll have requests to DJ at your distant cousin’s wedding in no time!


Start by asking yourself, what is the playlist for?  From the very basic ‘songs I like’ theme to something with more intent, study music, gym music, party jams, dinner music, setting a specific mood, relaxation. There are any number of reasons you might be creating your playlist. Keeping this theme in mind will help you when you’re putting your playlist together.

Making the ultimate pump-set for your workout routine? Maybe you’ll want to take a pass on the piano ballads then. Putting together a quiet session for studying? Well, we’d recommend you leave the EDM super-drop jams out.

Consider your mixtape’s purpose, and you can begin making your song list from there. If you’re using a genre signifier, you’ll likely have an easier time assembling the set… here’s to all metal, all the time! If you’re gathering broader styles of music, you can have a bit more of a challenge ordering your set with flow. Not impossible though – it’ll just take a little more consideration.

Now, once you have 15-20 songs (or more!), you’re ready to start putting them in order.  Or hey, if you’re going for the “ALL THE SONGS I’VE EVER LIKED, EVER” vibe – then go ahead, hit play, you’re done!

NEXT UP: Keep it Moving! 

Imagine a timeline or graph of the energy you’re looking to convey – this will give you a general outline of what songs should go where in your playlist ordering.

If you’re making a workout mix, maybe you want to start a little slower, build up to your highest energy songs in the middle, and then start bringing the mood back down for cool-off.

Creating that new “Party Jams” list? In that case, you probably want something that kicks off with a lot of energy, swaying back and forth between bigger and smaller numbers. Or even just start at 10 and keep the vibe going strong!

PRO-TIP: Ordering and Transitions

When making your track order, listen to how the end of one song flows into the beginning of the next. This is often a jarring part of the listening experience. Clipped endings that abruptly cut out, or a long slow resolve followed by a quick start.

By paying attention to details, you can join two songs in order that wouldn’t normally feel like they work together. You can also avoid combining things you like in a way that makes you like them less. I’m into peppermint, orange juice, sriracha… you get the point!

Try to avoid sequencing two songs that end/begin with dissonant notes. It ay seem trivial, but melodic continuance will give real cohesion to your mix.

 Another thing I like to keep in mind is ‘repeat value’. How does it sound when the last song ends and re-starts with the first song. If you think of this transition like others, you can really put together a great playlist that’s seamless to listen to, and worth putting on repeat.


Songs with noisy endcuts? Live tracks that cut out on a crowd roar? 30 seconds of blank space at the end? Track begins mid-song? Those tracks can be tougher to incorporate smoothly. Look into some sound editing software (I use soundforge, and it rocks!) so you can really get into the details. This won’t be for everyone, and may seem overly time-consuming – okay, maybe borderline obsessive – but that’s just me!


On that note, I should probably give you a little background about where this obsession grew from. I started playing (okay, ruining) my dad’s records when I was about 3. I’ve been making custom playlists (we used to call ’em “mixtapes”, and we liked it!) since I had my first double-cassette boombox in 1985. I have broad to specific interests in all* kinds of music (*sorry pop country), and am fairly obsessive with my listening.

I love music in context, sonic or thematic. You can really tell a story with a set of songs, paint a sonic picture or even tell an audio joke.

Since I’ve developed my technique and style, playlists have become recorded journals for me. I can listen to a mix I made from a certain time period and know just what was going on in my life at the time. In three decades plus, i’ve done bespoke mixes for runway shows, DJ’d underground clubs, made in-store and restaurant playlists, rocked out at house parties, and made countless hundreds of mixes for my own personal enjoyment – first on tape, then on CD, now straight to laptop.

I consider myself more of a curator that an DJ – but I won’t take offense at the label.

Anyway, that’s how I arrived here, telling you, the good people of the internet how I go about making a mix. I mean playlist. Whatever you choose to call it! State your objective, gather your assets, organize for flow and transition… and then, you’re ready to press play. Enjoy!

– Jim Schunemann , Music Editor

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