Certain moods need soundtracks. When you’re sad, or excited, or making out, a certain kind of music can elevate the experience and lend a grandiose, cinematic quality to your life.
If you have particular music tastes, playing one of Spotify’s prefab playlists doesn’t scratch that itch. You want a custom playlist, first crafted in a few minutes, then honed over years. Here are the five playlists you should prepare for yourself.
Pump Up the Jams
This is your workout playlist, if you work out. Otherwise it’s your general adrenaline-rush playlist, for when you’re headed to the second party of the night, or you’re just frickin’ pumped today.
Your goal here is no skips. Because once you skip one song, you will skip five songs, and you’ll break the mood. So keep this playlist trim, and if you start skipping a song every time, kill it.
Better yet, find a personal pump-up playlist from a user whose taste matches yours: Classics such as Pat Benatar’s “Invincible”, hip-hop such as Run the Jewels’ “Nobody Speak”, electronica such as the Chemical Brothers’ “Block Rockin’ Beats”, or dance pop such as Icona Pop’s “I Love It”.
“I don’t think I listen to what other people listen to to get pumped,” says Uber driver turned music influencer Tj Jones, who recently talked to Lifehacker about making great party playlists.
“My indie/emo rock playlist is usually what I get pumped to. Screamed vocals and more complex instrumentation (like Dads and Tiny Moving Parts) get me pumped up but also kind of sad at the same time. Like the way listening to ‘I Miss You’ by Blink 182 feels.”
I get a lot of my pump-up songs from soundtracks, because fictional characters are constantly doing energetic stuff. Look through some soundtrack playlists for your favourite shows and movies, or try Succession (dramatic), Glow ('80s fun) or Divorce (touch of irony).
Or work sounds, or anything you can tune out while you read, write, or otherwise use your brain. This is the least personal, and you could do just fine with a prefab playlist. But I find it’s better to throw several albums into a massive playlist that doesn’t run out or distract you every few minutes.
I go with instrumental music almost every time. Sometimes I need it very simple and droning, like Music for Church Cleaners by Áine O’Dwyer, or Music for Airports by Brian Eno. Sometimes I try something more peppy and varied, like Bird World by Leon Chang or Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield.
Music in other languages is a bit more distracting but can still work. I love Nigeria Special, a compilation of Nigerian blues and Afro-sounds from the early '70s.
I also go with long classical compilations, such as Jörg Baumann’s recording of Bach’s cello suites. Old jazz with just a few instruments, like Luiz Bonfá’s Solo in Rio 1959, Sonny Clark’s Cool Struttin’, or some Django Reinhardt, keeps up the pace while still melting into the background.
You don’t even have to listen to the music before you throw it into the playlist. Pile up a stack of albums, and start at a random spot each time. If any one song gets distracting, delete it. You don’t need to keep the whole album intact.
This is what you play when you’re feeling down. You could optimise it for total despair, minor sadness, or just a hangover. It’s just nice to have a soundtrack that lets you wallow. This is an extremely personal playlist, so you’ll be much happier — sadder — if you build it yourself instead of grabbing one from Spotify.
You might want songs that twist the knife, such as Lykke Li’s “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone”, or songs that say everything will be OK, such as “Hey Jude”. The lyrics don’t have to match your situation so long as the tone is right. Jim Croce’s “New York’s Not My Home” works fine even if you live in Sydney.
My sad playlist has barely changed in 14 years, probably because I played it less and less as I got my crap together, but also because old songs are comforting when you’re sad. I still have the National’s “Exile Vilify” and Sia’s “Breathe Me”, but I did delete “Gollum’s Song”, from the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. I just can’t gin up the self-pity required for lyrics such as “No loyal friend was ever there for me.”
Even with this playlist, it’s fine to start with someone else’s choices and work from there. “Sometimes I want to get sad to a playlist where I don’t know all the sad songs,” Jones tells me.
“I attach specific events and emotions to songs and if I discover a new sad song that gets me good, I want whatever is contributing to my depression that day to be attached to the new one instead of a song I’ve heard for years that brings back other sad shit. So this is a rare occurrence where I’ll listen to a playlist someone else made.” He recommends “sad shit” by joshgerrard.
I’ve pulled sad songs from movies, video games, even the web series Jake and Amir (when Amir thinks everyone forgot his birthday! Ugh, my heart). Your sad playlist will have some real cheesy crap like that. Because nothing’s too cheesy when you’re sad. Except, again, a song written about a CGI ex-hobbit.
Your party playlist comes on for any gathering over, say, six people — any gathering where you want people to break into multiple conversations. The music helps break up the soundscape of the room.
Every time I have a party, I spend an hour building a playlist, imagining my guests all gasping and dancing and reaching for Shazam. Instead they ignore the music until someone takes over the Bluetooth speaker. So I asked for help from university student Tj Jones, who had a viral tweet this February when he shared the 11 playlists he used to categorise all his Uber and Lyft passengers, such as 'quiet ppl' and 'white dudes who look like they like rap'.
Once you have around 20 people gathered, they’ll ignore the music (unless this is the kind of party where people dance). So don’t worry about it. Don’t try too hard to impress anyone. Just throw in your recent favourites, but avoid bummers and anything over seven minutes.
Or, sure, borrow a good party playlist off Spotify. This time you are pleasing a crowd. But it’s still more fun if you put your personality into it. I always throw in “You’ll Always Find Me in the Kitchen at Parties”.
Upbeat stuff is good, but some slow jams work great, even when the party’s energy is high. I like “The Piano Has Been Drinking” by Tom Waits and “Tonya Harding” by Sufjan Stevens. They’re both quirky but artistic.
You can recycle the same party playlist, but keep it updated. Throw in some new hits. Take out some overplayed ones. The definitions of either depend entirely on your crowd. Some people hear “Uptown Funk” or “Despacito” and they want to dance, some want to puke.
Here’s a cheat: Take a few good albums everyone loves — old or new — and instead of the singles, throw in the first track from each. “Ultralight Beam”, “Dirty Computer”, “All I Really Want” off Jagged Little Pill.
God, remember when soundtracks were just CDs, and they might not have all the music from the movie, and you couldn’t grab every song from every HBO series off Spotify the day each episode came out?
Getting It On
Your makeout playlist, your sex playlist. This one is highly personal. And honestly I’m unsure whether people still use sex playlists? Am I just old? Still, this has to be the most fun to make.
If you’re getting romantic with people who don’t know you super-well, you don’t want the music to get too cheesy. But finding some shared tastes can really help a date, so it’s nice to avoid the generic picks and play what you really like.
Go through all your other mood playlists, plus whatever you’re liking lately, and pick out whatever just seems to fit for you. Lean toward the slow and breathy. When in doubt, you want the music to move slower and softer than you. You don’t want “Pony” blasting when you go in for a tender kiss. But you do want songs that imply a little danger or drama.
Once again, soundtracks are your friend. Killing Eve and Sharp Objects both combine sex and danger, but in two very different ways. Another soundtrack strategy: What movies turned you on as a teen? OK whew I can wrap up the sex part now.
All these playlists will sparkle when you break out of the Spotify recommendation echo chamber and find more interesting music. And oh look, we’ve written a lot about finding new music!