Tuesday, 11 October 2011

What is the optimum number of songs to put on a playlist?

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this in my Blog before (forgive me if I have, I really can’t be bothered to read back through all the posts – they are a bit rubbish after all!) but I believe that the optimum (or optidad, even - ha ha! Ahem…) number of songs you should put on a playlist (in my case, a Spotify one) is 24.  My justification for this dates back to the old TDK D90 cassette tapes (D60s were too short and D120s were too long / expensive – nearly £2, I think!) when you could fit roughly 12 songs on each side.  12 x 2 = 24 – there you go.
As most albums around that time (early 90s for me) were 12 songs long, you could fit approx. 2 albums on one tape to play in your parents’ car for a one and a half hour journey (and annoy the hell out of them in the process!). Side A – ‘Hup’ by The Wonder Stuff, Side B – ‘Pablo Honey’ by Radiohead.  Or alternatively you could make a compilation of a variety of songs by your favourite bands. 
Now, I’ve always had a theory about what kind of songs should go where on a compilation tape (or ‘playlist’ / ‘mixtape’ as they are now referred to) - the first song should be fast paced to really kick the album off.  It’s like the first song at a gig to get everyone in the mood – the one to start everyone ‘moshing’.  The second song should either be medium or slow paced, the third song should always be slow (preferably a ballad).  This means that the second song should probably be more medium than slow placed or even medium / slow paced (maybe slow in the verses with a medium paced chorus) – you don’t want to bore the listener with two slow paced songs after a fast start and the second song should never be a ballad, if the third song is going to be. 
It’s the same with albums, unless you’re The Beatles and something like erm…‘Something’ appears second and ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ is third (as on ‘Abbey Road’) – trust them to rip the rule book up!  But who am I to argue with some of the greatest musicians that ever lived?  And to be honest, my rules for the optimum playlist only really came into practice in 1975 (the year I was born) – a good 6 years after ‘Abbey Road’ was released.
Are you still with me?!
After the third song you can pretty much have whatever order you want (try not to put 3 slow songs in a row though – if it was a gig, people would leave) until song 12 which should again be slow. 
Song 13 (or Side B, song 1 on the old D90 tapes) should be fast (like Side A, song 1) and the remaining songs on side 2 (songs 14-24) can pretty much mirror the first side (songs 2-12) or you can be really daring and mix the middle bit of side 2 (songs 16-23) up!  Song 24 should again be slow and this is where the optimum playlist ends.
It is for this reason that I have stopped adding to the musodad playlist at 24 songs – no more no less.  If you want to listen to it, and write down the speed of each of the songs in order, you can click on the Spotify link over to the right somewhere (on double checking I just realised that I used the ‘Abbey Road’ formula in the second half of the playlist – Bernard Butler, slow song # 14 and The Vaccines, medium paced song #15 – but every ‘Playlister’ is allowed to experiment once in a while).
So what happens now that it’s over?  Well, a ‘music blog’ (if you want to call it that – some may question whether The X Factor is classed as ‘music’) needs a constantly updated playlist or, in this case, playlists to engage and interact with the reader / listener and to help them discover new, and re-discover old, music without them having to leave the comfort of their own sofa (which makes up about 5 minutes of a parents’ day allowing them to listen to approx. 1 and a half songs).  How would you like that to be extended to at least 2 and a half songs?!
Without teasing you too much, future playlists I have in mind are, for example, ’24 songs by bands that should be bigger than they are’ (title needs work) and ’24 songs both you and the kids will love’ – notice how I’ve shoe horned the number 24 in?!
For now, however, the new playlist (for the next 24 days – one song added per day) will be ’24 sub two minute wonders’ – those great songs which probably didn’t take long to write, and even less time to record, but will enable you to listen to more for erm…less.
I was amazed to find out recently – even though I’ve heard the song about a million (slight exaggeration) times – that ‘And your bird can sing’ by The Beatles (what a great song!) was less than 2 minutes long.  Have a listen, there are so many ideas within it, it takes a genius (which of course they were) to stick within that timeframe.
Unfortunately The Beatles version isn’t on Spotify but a version by another band will probably appear on the playlist at some point.  To start tomorrow’s new playlist, however, a fast paced song will be Song of the day (announced on Twitter daily!) and so on and so on until the golden 24 number is reached.
Happy listening…


  1. Haha, nodding away to everything in this post. i think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship...

  2. I like the idea of the '24 songs both you and the kids will love’or just to make an album for your kids with music that you love.
    nice idea