Different Playlists for the Different Tasks in “Your” Life

I was never a huge music person. I am neither well informed on the latest trends in the music scene nor am I knowledgeable about specific genres of music like my friends. So before the days of Spotify (and Pandora radio!), my playlist-building process involved hearing (or hearing about) certain songs, and searching for these songs on one of the many now-defunct mp3 sharing apps to download onto my computer. Due to the hassle, my playlists back then were pretty limited. In fact, I had a single playlist for everything that I did. I listened to the same 100 songs whether I was commuting, studying, working out, or just chilling.

These days, the extent of effort that is required to build a solid playlist(s) has been drastically reduced. All I had to do, was to search a single song or Artist I am in the mood for, hit play, and let Spotify/Youtube’s algorithm do its magic. The reduction in 4G/5G data cost in recent years (thanks Circles!) certainly helped too. The process is a lot more spontaneous once I stop worrying if I am on Wi-Fi every time Spotify recommends a new song that’s not saved to my phone storage.

So instead of having a single huge playlist for everything, it’s now possible to listen to widely different genres (even beyond music) that are suited to whatever I’m feeling/working on at the moment. Some of the stuff I’m listening to at the moment:

While commuting, I listen to a lot of podcasts, some of my favourites are:
Hidden Brain – A podcast that discusses human behaviour and its impact on the world, often by interviewing psychology and social sciences researchers, subjects. Good storytelling and engaging in how it presents research ideas.
How I Built This with Guy Raz – Guy Raz interviews startup founders on their entrepreneurship journeys, sometimes useful and almost always inspiring and entertaining.
The Daily Show With Trevor Noah: Ears Edition – Trevor Noah is currently my favourite comedian. He is smart, funny and cares about using The Daily Show platform to raise awareness around important social issues. It is also a way for me to be (somewhat) updated on what’s going on in the US culturally and politically.

While cooking, I like listening to acoustic/jazz sounds generally.
Breakfast is usually just a smoothie for me, so I like the sounds of Kina Grannis because of how bright her covers make me feel. It goes particularly well with banana smoothies. Her cover of Yellow is one of my favourite songs.
For longer meal preps such as weekend dinners, I like listening to a jazz playlist. Louis Armstrong and a bottle of beer is usually the difference between what makes doing the dishes part of the dinner experience or a chore that needs to be finished (that and ample time).

While working out, I usually listen to whatever is being played at the gym. When I do get to pick, I like rock/pop-rock like Queen, Muse, Imagine Dragons, and Maroon 5 for something high energy that makes the tougher sessions feel easier.

While doing work, I like listening to Chinese song covers from one of the singing competitions such as this one, this one, and this one. They are usually rearranged and a fresh take on mandopop favourites, and very enjoyable to listen to, while not as distracting as something fresh off the Billboard or Top 100 since they are usually lower energy and familiar to my ear so they can quickly get me in the zone.

While doing work that requires deeper focus, lyrics could be more distracting. For sessions like these, I like listening to these two playlists: Deep Work Soundtrack and Peaceful Notes. Occasionally, I also listen to ASMR while doing work. My favourite is this one – Snowfall in New York City Walk, Binaural City Sounds 4k. I think it might be because it reminded me of times when there was nothing to do but study/work while it was snowing outside. More recently, I have also discovered study channels on Youtube. There are plenty of famous study YouTubers, butAbao in Tokyo is my current favourite. His clips usually comprise both soft instrumental music and ASMR such as rain/birds chirping sounds. He also incorporates a Pomodoro timer for some clips which could be useful for some people.

Humans are visual creatures, and we certainly process the majority of information we are exposed to visually. However, increasingly, I find that audio channels are one of the fastest and most effective ways to change the mood of the room. One of the best ways for me to get into the zone for doing work is to put on my headphones and hit play on my Deep Work playlist. Psychologically, it’s almost like a resume button for my brain to allow me to quickly get back to work without distractions. Similarly, a good playlist could mean the difference between a good and a great dinner party.

It has never been easier to explore new sounds. From a demand perspective, the digitization of music and audio content and the rise of mobile technology have substantially improved accessibility. This makes it easy for even the casual listener to be acquainted with musicians artists through the ages. On the supply side, the lucrativeness of the attention economy has continually driven the increase in the volume of content being generated. Platforms are disproportionately incentivized to provide, and encourage the production of, content that would attract non-subscribers due to the zero marginal cost nature of online content.

Are niche artists getting more views/listens then? I think so. I consider Nomadic Ambience as one of my favourite artists currently. I think Walking in Heavy Thunderstorm at Night definitely qualifies as niche. Are music tastes more homogenous or heterogeneous now? Since niche artists are getting more views/listens, it would seem that the logical conclusion is that music tastes are now more heterogeneous. However, the rise of Tik Tok has also resulted in the same 30s track heard by more than a billion people (Tik Tok users). I have a love/hate relationship with these annoying yet catchy tracks. I have heard some of these tracks far more times than certain songs I claim to enjoy. Should I be considered a fan of these 30s tracks? At the end of the day, taste in music is difficult to quantify and objectively evaluate at a macro level.

Personally, I hope Laxed (Siren Beat) looping in my head reflects nothing on my music tastes.

Categories: music

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