The HUD Love Club

The Dying Art of Playlist Building

By Kira Carrington/Massive

You're sitting together in the back of their car. You’re parked, stomach full of burgers, fries, and flirty banter. You stare into their eyes in the low glow of the car's headlights. They reach into their pocket and a swoon-worthy comment follows.

"I made you a mixtape."

A carefully curated compilation of music that was made specifically with you in mind, a mix of jams they know you love, and some new stuff they figured you might enjoy. The ultimate romantic gesture.  

But in the days of streaming, it goes more like this:  

*@SOFTBOY has invited you to make a blend*

You press accept. The Spotify blend (collaborative playlist for the Apple loyalists) is made. An algorithmically generated playlist combining their taste and yours, revealing your extremely disjointed music taste. How romantic.

From painstakingly crafting a set of music that represents who we are, to allowing Spotify's AI to reshuffle our daylist every few hours according to data its collected on us, or else playing the same 10 songs on repeat when shuffling a 300-song playlist.

The art of playlist building is dying, and I for one am sad to see it go.  

Rob Gordon in the 2000s comedy film, High Fidelity, appreciated the subtle art of playlist creation. "The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do, and takes ages longer than it might seem," he says. "You're using someone else's poetry to express how you feel." Words of pure wisdom, Rob.  

The original playlist builder was the record or vinyl, however, the general public couldn’t put whatever songs they wanted onto one. So then came the cassette tape in 1962, invented by Dutch inventor and engineer, Lou Ottens, for the Philips company. You could record any music from the radio or a live show and add it to the cassette for your own personal collection. But with the lifeline of a cassette tape being only 10 to 30 years, something new was needed for music junkies.  

Fast forward to 1982, and you’re shoving a blank-faced CD into your car stereo, hitting the open road to your vast and 100% legally acquired collection of MP3s. The CD was invented through a Sony X Philips collaboration.  

But when the 2000s hit, people were ready to take music wherever they went. In 2001, the Apple Walkman iPod hit the shelves. You could download songs straight from iTunes onto your new iPod. CEO Steve Jobs announced it as a Mac-compatible product with a 5 GB hard drive that put "1,000 songs in your pocket".  

But today, you can endlessly browse Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube Music, arranging the music you love in any way you like. Playlist building is a unique skill. A good playlist builder takes into account the name, the description, the cover, the vibes, even the track titles (Search: 'Literally the entire Bee Movie script'). We have the freedom now to make playlists tailored to specific vibes. I can appreciate all the niche playlists, like personal rankings of Hozier's entire discography from ‘I have never loved anyone more’ to ‘please let's bang’.

But you just can't get that from an AI generated playlist.

In the past I haven't minded Spotify's AI playlists. I used to use discover weekly all the time, but these days it will just recommend songs I know – as if I've never listened to Rehab by Amy Winehouse before. My current daylist is 'happy dance romcom Wednesday evening', and don't get me wrong the vibes are good, but I never realized how something so tailor-made for me could feel so impersonal.

While the art of playlist building still lives, it feels like we are getting closer and closer to the streaming platform making the song choice and us just listening.

I guess my ultimate romantic mixtape will remain a figment of my imagination. *sighs*

Republished with permission and big thanks to the May 6, 2024 issue of Massive - the student magazine of Massey University, New Zealand.

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