Friday, September 14, 2012

The Art of the Playlist.

I am somewhat of an audiophile.  I have a very large stash of music that moves me.  Now, that does not mean that I have all the hits of today.  Frankly, I'm a little disappointed in the vast majority of popular music these days.  I like complicated, intricate composition that makes goosebumps appear on my skin or tears to well up in my eyes the music is that good.  I feel like music should invoke an emotion when you hear it.  If Bieber does that for you, more power to you, but then this post is probably not something you'll understand.

Witty lyrics are a big thing for me.  Their lyrics made me an instant fan of Fall Out Boy and Panic at the Disco.

But what I really love is instrumental music.  About half of the music I own is either classical or movie scores.  It is the music in a movie or show that has a major hand in setting the tone.  I would love to have a feature where I could turn off the music in the background of any move so I could demonstrate this point.   I like that when I hear certain parts of music, my imagination just runs wild. It helps me tell stories. I am a storyteller after all, all be it, not a very successful one monetarily speaking.

The storyteller thing brings me to my quirks about playlists.  I am NOT a fan of the shuffle. Especially when it comes to movie scores.  They're in an order for a reason. Leave them that way.  When I find myself making a list that goes with a story in my head or a tabletop RPG I'm playing in or, on the rare occasion, running, you will find me sitting at Titan (my desktop), pouring through music I know will fit the genre.  Husband the Great gets it, but at the same time, does not understand how I can remember hundreds or pieces of music to know which ones will work and which ones won't.  It's as simple as: Truly wonderful music sticks with you. Stuff that gets my attention always gets filed away in the back of my brain.  I imagine this would be the mark of a good movie trailer producer.

Anyhow, here's how it works for me:

1. What genre are you going for?

There are some obvious ones like Star Wars where you already know there are plenty of songs for it.  But it all depends on the mood you're going for.  Something supposed to be scary?  Look for haunting music that would make you sorry to venture into a dark room alone.  Running a Superhero game? Go for the epic music full of horn section that makes you want to pose like superman.  Try and think of movies or tv shows that make you think of the genre and see if you can't hunt down the music from it. I do a lot of hunting. I've even gotten into finding the music from trailer production companies.

2. Get a nice large selection

If you only have about 10 songs on your playlist,  you will tire of it quickly.

3. Check for a good transition.

Once I've pulled all the music I think I'm going to use for the playlist,  I put them in an order I think will go well, will tell its own story, and then I hit play.  BUT,  I only listen to the first 15 seconds of the start song before I fast forward to the last 20 seconds or so and listen as it rolls on into the next song on the list.  If the transition is to jarring,  I do some rearranging.  This is the most time consuming part for me, and perhaps seems the most crazy to the outsider looking in.  I started doing this because more than once I would be listing to just a pile of songs I knew I liked and I would be working along on whatever I was writing or talking about and then BAM, the next song was so off from the last one that I would lose concentration.

4. Stay away from shuffle or random.

Again, this is a little bit of the jarring transition thing in number three, but it also speaks to the idea that no computer or mp3 player has figured out that random does not mean play the same ten songs out of the entire play list over and over again in a random order. Once I find the device that will actually shuffle the songs and not play the same song over until every other song on the list has been play, then I will finally use the shuffle button.*

That's really all I have to say on it.  And, this is all just my way of doing it.  You're not wrong for doing it your way, this is just my insight for having done it quite a bit.

Though, if you're just getting into movie/tv scores,  here are some of my favorite composers right now.

Bear McCreary - He composed everything for the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, Human Target, The Walking Dead, The Cape, several video games, and I'm sure plenty of other stuff I can't think of.

Two Steps From Hell - They are a commercial music production company, they do a lot of the epic music you hear in movie trailers (fun little fact, most of the music you hear in the trailers for movies aren't actually in the movies at all). They only started selling to the public a few years ago, but they are amazing. You can find their stuff on

Hans Zimmer - Inception, the Nolan run of Batman movies, some of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Danny Elfman - Excellent for anything haunting.  Batman and Batman Returns.  Just about anything Tim Burton puts his hands on.

John Williams - Star Wars, Indiana Jones, the first two Harry Potter films.  He's a master, however, he can be quite repetitive.

Alexandre Desplat - The final two Harry Potter films.

And there are many, many more. As I said, half my collection is instrumental.  Go forth and enjoy!

*I do use shuffle for my jukebox mixes. Like all 40's or 50's standards.  That's about the only time I find it useful and I generally only listen to those lists when I'm cleaning house.