How to Build the Perfect Playlist
A lot of people can claim that music runs their lives. It’s an easy and universal thing to love — and it’s why Sonos makes speakers in the first place. My life really revolves around music, and it has for quite some time.
I started playing the piano at the age of four, and my whole life has been about music. I enrolled in a music college at 10 years old, became a session pianist later on, and eventually got my MBA. Making a living as a musician is tough — hence the MBA — and after working at record labels for a while, my music-meets-career quest continues here at Sonos, where I run Sonos Studio and its programming.
Home, work, in between: now there’s a soundtrack.
Music is my thing, and it’s kind of become synonymous with my identity among friends and my Sonos colleagues. So much so that I’ve become the defacto playlist guy. Have a dinner party coming up? Ask Eric for a playlist to match the menu. Preparing to run a marathon? Eric will know how to match your pace with BPMs.
A photo posted by Eric Karsenty (@rico_nova) on Feb 27, 2016 at 7:03am PST
My two-year-old daughter is even in on the action, making musical requests in the most toddler way possible: Pointing to my records or my speakers and saying “Music! Music!” when she wants to hear something.
I’m OK with this. In fact, I cherish it. It’s silly, but every time someone says “Wow, I love this track” that I exposed them to, it makes me happy. That’s what I love most in life — sharing music with someone and getting a reaction is great for me.
Check out this math: This is not just three minutes of happy; consider that they might play that song I recommended 20 times more this week. That’s an hour of happiness I just helped provide. Plus, I love the idea of people coming to me and saying “I went to that gig last night of that guy you helped me discover.”
When he heard word of my passion, my boss at Sonos challenged me with a mission to raise the level of music knowledge within our team. And so began my weekly emails. These started as a way to engage my teammates with artists and music in a wide range. It became popular within the team, and so I extended it to the European team. It became more popular with them, and now it’s sent to a long list of Sonos employees around the world.
Big deal, you might be thinking … another email to read.
“That’s what I love most in life — sharing music with someone and getting a reaction is great for me.”
The point is it’s an excuse to engage with people and make them more engaged in music, whether they listen to all the songs I send, or ignore them. I try to have a theme every week — either something current like Christmas or Mother’s Day or something like that, or something in the news. I recently made a 300 song, all-woman playlist for International Women’s Day, because I think women are the stronger sex in terms of coming up with the right lyrics and harmonies in music.
So, after making hundreds of playlists for myself and for others, I have established some basic rules and commandments that I generally will always follow:
- Have a Purpose: I try to be wide in terms of musical genres, so it doesn’t go too niche into one. The last thing you want to do is alienate people, because that makes them hit stop or change the song. For example, I made this playlist recently to put all of my favorite songs from 2016 so far in one place, but you’ll see, it has lots of mixed genres.
- Time Is Money: I try to make sure my playlists are no longer than an hour and a half, unless it’s a huge one where I want to make a statement. But usually it’s about 20 tracks for a nice listening experience.
- Old School, New School: I mix old and new, trying to be very current with things that were just released and with old stuff. Sometimes I try to show correlations between the two, maybe a new track that uses a sample of a 1976 track. You need to remember what’s been done before, and a true artist is really aware of what was done before. It’s about being inspired and creating your own thing based on what you love.
Those three rules are good guidelines for any playlist. What about things to avoid in playlist-land when they’re meant for public consumption? A lot of people tend to have one or two particular genres they like, and they go really hard on them. If you’re really into metal, that’s great, but for this particular task, a whole grindcore playlist might not be the best choice. In terms of genres and eras, that’s essential.
A photo posted by Eric Karsenty (@rico_nova) on Jan 10, 2016 at 3:56am PST
I’ve been making mixtapes since the days of double-cassette dubbing, and I don’t think anyone could argue that there’s never been a better time to not just make a mix or playlist, but to discover new music, too. Streaming services are the ultimate discovery tool. Spotify’s Discover Weekly is the perfect example of offering music discovery based on your listening data. It’s their best own curated playlist in terms of engagement. Even for people like me who listen to obscure stuff and listen all the time, every Monday I discover new music through these.
That’s what’s great about music nowadays: Every week, day, hell, every hour, there’s something new out there. Just make sure you don’t forget about all the older music out there that inspired that new track.
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