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How It’s Made: Playlists

By Chloe Campbell
January 2009

Ipod users sort their music in a way that even the most advanced iTunes library could not match. These playlists, when properly dissected and examined, reveal much about the listener who devised them. What are the thought processes behind lists entitled “Too Cool for You,” “Best Kept Secrets,” “Chocolate at 3 A.M.,” or “In the Rough”? The exploration of these seemingly trifling methods of music organization can provide glimpses into the life and thoughts of any iPod owner.

The canny hipster knows he must be ahead of the trends; therefore, he will devote gigabytes to artists that he is not very familiar with because they are new and cutting edge. The musical explorer does not plan to actually listen to these bands on a regular basis. Instead, they are secret weapons to be used against people who seem to effortlessly find the coolest bands first. They can smite friends who attend college in New York City who are present at the debut of new bands. Then when the uber-trendy friend asks if the lone hipster has heard of DJ Pavo, he can triumphantly say, “Oh, I had him on my iPod like three months ago.” This playlist is the embodiment of the deviser’s insecurities and his tool in the quest to be part of the desired group.

The majority of the audio device holds music that makes up the listener’s true musical identity. This genre is most pertinent to the music lover who has a less-than-mainstream taste in music. Artists like Mates of State elicit laughter from arbitrary iPod scanners, but the listener finds solace in the haunting harmonies and sunshine in the synthesizer. He guards his music, turning down the stereo when friends approach the car, and he always has playlists with “normal” music for times when he has to provide the music for a social event. He has even trained himself to enjoy other musical tastes because he wants to fit in with friends who do not understand his obsession with the Alternative. The listener only tentatively shares his true taste with those that can not help but softly sing along with MIKA and sway to New Order.

Guilty indulgences make up the hidden genre of mainstream pop that the listener cannot help but listen to with the windows down and screaming. Trips to the beach are accompanied by Aaron Carter and and The Ataris. Summer nights are illuminated by Miley Cyrus and Christina Aguilera. Cerebral and whining artists like Wolf Parade are ignored when the listener and his friends are intoxicated by the last day of school or a particularly beautiful day. Listeners who own some songs by these mainstream artists have the ability to be undaunted by what their friends with more sophisticated tastes in music may think of them. The listeners do not bother with elitist treatment of bands. They follow their momentary passions and enjoy any music that matches their enthusiasm.

The final genre that can almost always be found on someone’s iPod is the genre of music created by family members or friends. Groups of fathers, uncles, and brothers that cover or play original music always end up on music devices. Usually these songs are ripped from scratched CD’s onto the computer, so they retain their imperfections in the iPod. The listener who has these anonymous tracks can be counted upon to be a loyal and kind friend. No matter how many times the Shuffle mode selects these tracks and the listener presses skip instantaneously, they will never lose their spot on the iPod. He may isolate them in their own quarantined playlist, but he can not bear to delete family or friends’ work from his collection.

Acid Punk, Rock, R&B, and Alternative are superficial genres that do not tell the listener anything. Music lovers navigate their iPods and music libraries with a more subjective eye. They know their artists by how many times a day they listen to the artist’s music, the people they introduced this cool new band to, whether the artist is related to them or not, and what mood they have to be in to enjoy the artist. The unwritten sorting system of an iPod tells so much more about the listener than any “Genre” column could in the iTunes Library.