A Potent Blend

I’ve recently been thinking about music more. Music is a very important part of my life and digital music has allowed people (like me) to adapt their music—that is, the music they listen to as opposed to that which they create—in a more significant way than was possible or at least practical previously. Collections of songs aren’t anything new nor are they particularly heralded by digital formats, but they’re significantly easier to create than previous methods allowed and the collections themselves no longer need artificial limitations such media capacity (tape length, etc.) although there still are limitations depending on device or storage but when we’re talking about subsets in the thousands of songs from collections many times that it’s functionally a non-issue.

Actually, length is kind of significant for the things I’ve been thinking about because what I’m trying to determine is the best method for creating The Mix, which is to say a semi-definitive collection of songs that are ideally suited for the broadest number of occasions. I don’t know about you but my music listening tends to be based on a huge number of factors that range from current mood to present setting to company to the number of times I’ve heard a particular song, artist or album in the recent past. Making a good mix or playlist can be difficult because the requirements may be drastically different from moment to moment.

But ignoring the potential impossibility of the task for a moment, I’m still working on a formula for what I’ll redefine as the most adaptable mix possible. It may help to further define the premise for the mix which is why after much thought I’ve decided that the easiest way to get a really great mix is to try to musically define myself through this project. My assumption is that if I try to cover all aspects of my personality with a song or two, I have the best chance of creating something that is likely to resonate, at least in part, regardless of time or place.

All fine and good. But what of the earlier question of length? My initial thought was to make it limitless. With iPods that hold dozens of hours of music or even entire libraries of songs and even inexpensive low-capacity devices that can hold several hundred songs there’s hardly cause for imposing limitations, right? But the problem is that there is fundamentally no difference between that and, say, having my whole music collection on a high-capacity device and setting the whole thing to “Shuffle Library.” Technically speaking, that is me in a musical nutshell since at some point for some reason I acquired those songs.

So I think the premise if it is to be successful requires some kind of parameters. My reasoned opinion is that the list should be limited by time and not song count and the cutoff should be two and a half hours. That’s roughly two and a half CDs which is plenty sufficient for most normal music-listening situations be it travel time, a stretch of work or as background for another activity (like a social gathering perhaps). It’s long enough that a second playthrough will probably not be onerous since each track’s appearance is theoretically a couple of hours apart but not so long that you’d have to wait forever to hear a particular inclusion and is plenty of room to include a broad cross section of most people’s libraries, including a full album or two if that’s your bag. The key is that you can come in as far under the limit as you wish, but you cannot go over.

Okay, so the ground rules are set now… how do you choose which songs to include? Assuming an average song length of three and a half minutes, two and a half hours gives you a bit more than 40 songs to include. Obviously there will be wiggle room if you include a lot of punk songs and less if you’re partial to progressive rock epics. Still, using that number as a guideline here’s what I came up with:

  • 5 songs that make you want to dance.
  • 4 songs whose lyrics seem to be about you.
  • 3 songs that remind you of younger days.
  • 3 songs that reinforce your good moods.
  • 2 songs you’d learn if you picked up a new instrument.
  • 2 songs that pick you up when you’re feeling down.
  • 2 songs that make you feel normal for feeling down.
  • 2 songs whose music seems to be written for you.
  • 2 songs that reflect your spirituality.
  • 1 song that puts sad times into perspective.
  • 1 song you associate with the saddest time in your life.
  • 1 song that makes you hopeful for the future.
  • 1 song that puts a good mood into perspective.
  • 1 song you associate with the happiest time in your life.
  • 1 song you can’t help but sing along with.
  • 1 song you can’t hope to sing well but wish you could.
  • 1 song that soothes you when you’re angry.
  • 1 song you feel is the most romantic thing you’ve ever heard.
  • 1 song that represents your greatest regret.
  • 1 song that represents your greatest triumph.
  • 1 song you’d want played during the closing credits of a movie about your life.
  • 1 song you’d want played during the intro credits of a movie about your life.
  • 1 instrumental.
  • 1 guilty pleasure song.

Any additional space you have left can be used however you see fit and if you run overtime you can always trim the multiple song categories down, but this is the template I’m using.

So what do you think? Does this cover all the bases? Is the format flawed? What would your Mix sound like? Use the comments below or contact me at paul@ironsoap.org with feedback and I’ll be back tomorrow to let you know what I came up with.

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