Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

How playlists became the new rock’n'roll

The rise and rise of playlists when it comes to finding out about and plugging music

Dean Calagno demonstrates the old-school way to compile a playlist. Photo: Orlando/Getty Images

Mon, Aug 10, 2015, 09:59


It will not have escaped your notice that playlists are having a moment thanks chiefly to the rise in importance of music streaming services. I wrote about this in the paper on Friday, prompted partly by the fact that a day does not go by when you don’t find articles like this or this or this or this or even this popping up on the screen every few days. There are now as many articles about playlists as there are actual playlists so I really didn’t want to be left out.

But all the same, it’s fascinating to consider the science behind many of the playlists which have become accepted go-to guides to new music. In some cases, you’re checking out the selections of a human you may know in real life or may know just by reputation. At least, you assume it’s a human. On the other hand, you have playlists like Fresh Finds and Discover Weekly from Spotify, both of which are based largely on algorithms. The former is “brand new tastemaker gems” based obviously on the seletions of what the service considers to be early adopters or tastemamkers, while the later is based on what you’ve been listening to over the last while.

The economics are just as interesting. As I point out in the piece in The Ticket, playlists are receiving more and more emphasis because they’ve begun to replace albums for many people in terms of raising profile and breaking acts. Increased emphasis means people moving in to make the most of the market in the gap and there are now plenty of companies seeking to monetise plugging to playlist compilers. As this piece about a discussion at The Great Escape a few months ago explains, the monetising works both ways with some playlist compilers actively seeking cash to include the tracks on their lists. It’s worth bearing in mind, then, that some playlists are, in effect, getting paid to play, but it’s unlikely that they’ll plug this fact. New-school payola – yes, playlists are the new radio.