Playlist CPR: How to breathe some life into a playlist that’s flatlining

By Olivia Covey, Echo magazine

Illustration by Hannah Tonn.

Editor’s note: This article is from the Communication Department’s award-winning Echo magazine.

The “amazing” playlist you made three months ago is starting to feel stale. No matter how many times you hit shuffle, all of the songs sound the same. Admit it: You’re in a funk. You aren’t alone, and this doesn’t mean you have bad taste in music. You just need a refresh. 

The first step is the hardest: finding a reason for the playlist. Picking one theme or mood can back you into a corner when it comes to music selection, so to make things easier, set an intention for your playlist instead. This can be anything from setting the mood for a good road trip or exploring an unfamiliar music genre, like EDM or rock. 

If that doesn’t work for you, Hallie Newnam, a senior at Columbia College Chicago and an indie rock musician also known as Eillah, suggests a playlist of songs for the month, with tracks ranging from new releases to rediscovered favorites across all genres. 

“​​By not constricting myself to a specific mood or genre, I am able to give myself the freedom to seek out music in any genre or decade,” Newnam says. “The only criteria I am bound to is whether I like the song or not.”

Once you have your intention set, it’s time to face the music, literally. The key to picking perfect songs is imagining how you want to feel and what you’ll be doing while you listen.

Eric Smith owns Bash Beats, an entertainment company in Chicago and Denver that specializes in wedding DJs and was recognized by The Knot as a “Best of Weddings” winner in 2022. A lot of us prepare for vacation by planning outfits, but Smith prepares by making a playlist based on the destination. His trip to the Rocky Mountains led him to the musical stylings of John Denver and other similar artists, a genre he doesn’t explore often. 

“I start with something from the place I’m going to. I never would listen to John Denver, but he has a song called ‘Rocky Mountain High,’ and it was a perfect fit,” Smith says. “Then you build out from there with mind mapping. One thing reminds you of the next and before you know it you have 100 songs.”

Streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music offer playlists curated by their staff. While these can be helpful for inspiration, don’t rely on them. Leor Galil, a music journalist at the Chicago Reader, says that sticking to these playlists as your only way of finding new music could get you stuck in the mainstream. 

“Services are employing people with certain tastes to create playlists for the public,” Galil says. “If you come to rely on those, your ability to seek out what’s unfamiliar through those platforms gets continually diminished.”

Now you’ve got a solid playlist with great songs— what happens when it starts to feel stale? Musician, songwriter and singer Kendel Lester prefers to keep the foundation of her playlists and adds new songs as time goes on. 

“I tend to keep the songs the same and just add to them when I hear something I like,” says Kendel, who’s based in Chicago. “Sometimes I pull songs out, but not very often.”

Congratulations! You’ve brought your playlist back from the dead! Now that you’ve put the time in to find new genres, artists and albums, you can be on aux with confidence.

You can read the entire 2022 issue of Echo, as well as previous issues, on our website.