For those of you that don’t know, I just got back from a year long foreign exchange program in Japan. I wanted to learn Japanese super bad, so I decided the best way to do it was to go there. I found out later that you don’t need to go anywhere to learn a language, but, well, that’s another story altogether. Using the advice from Khatzumoto, I started making Japanese my life. I switched Firefox into Japanese, I tried reading stuff on Wikipedia in Japanese, I tossed out almost all of my books that were in English, I stopped hanging out with English speaking people as much as possible, and most of all – I completely quit listening to music in English. That was really tough for me, because it’s obviously a huge part of my life, and provides the life force for my entire existence. And so I had to find a way to get good Japanese music, get it quick, and get it cheap. I signed up for an account on imeem, and immediately started building a playlist of music that I liked. It was free, easy to use, and I could access it anywhere I had a computer. Since I spent most of my time studying with a memorization program on my computer (Anki if your interested), I listened to that playlist almost every day. Needless to say, after listening to this playlist almost every day for 10 months, I started memorizing songs that I couldn’t even understand yet. I’d go to karaoke with my friends, and be able to sing a ton of songs in Japanese while my other foreign friends were stuck singing in English. As you can probably imagine, a thought was sparked in my head, which in turn began an on-going project that I hope will help you in your quest to collect all the pieces of the triforce become a better musician.
You can probably see what’s coming next. You’re going to want to take all of your most favorite music, and build what I like to call “The Playlist”. Yup, your favorite music. Now you’re reading this post, and you’re thinking “What the heck John, who hasn’t done that. I mean seriously, everybody and their aunt’s FedEx delivery-man has a playlist of their favorite music … gosh dang it!” And in saying that, yeah you’re probably right. The reality is that it’s just that: a playlist. But it’s a collection of the music that fuels your passion, the songs that made you start playing in the first place, the music that is so good that it gives you goose-bumps, the music that you can’t help dancing to – even when other people are around. It’s much more than just a “playlist”.
Constructing The Playlist
To start out, you want to embrace the life of a minimalist for a bit, and make sure that all of your music is in the same place. Having files spread across computers, different programs, CDs, tapes, and vinyl, and other various places is a nightmare. You can’t quite immediately get all of your analog media (tapes, vinyl, etc.) onto the computer, but just get everything in the same place. Use your favorite audio software program to collect all your digital media in one place. I use Media Monkey, and could rave about it all day, but I certainly can’t tell you which program to use. If you’re in a band, I suggest you all agree on using the same media player and file format.
So now you’ve got all your files in one place and begin by making a playlist called, well, “The Playlist”, or anything you want I guess. Just make sure it’s not just another playlist on top of all the other “my favs”, “grandma’s music”, and “mix tape for Henrietta” playlists you’ve made. It’s gotta be recognizable instantly by anyone who sees it. Add a zero in front of it if you want it to show up first alphabetically. Now you want to systematically choose the songs that you like the most. You need to suppress your feeling a little bit while doing this, mostly because if you’re like me, you have about 500 favorite songs. Most media players such as iTunes or Windows Media Player keep track of the number of times you listen to each song your own, so let’s start there. iTunes even has an automatic “Top 25 Most Played” playlist, unless you deleted it. Add the top 25 or so songs to start out, and more if you feel like it.
If you’re like me, some songs with have a ridiculous play count. Not because you listen to them a lot, but rather because you’ve been practicing them for a long time. In my playlist for example, Karma by Bump of Chicken has been played 184 times, simply because I had to practice it so many times before I got good at it (it’s boat hard remembering lyrics in a second language). You can choose to leave those songs in or take them out, depending on how much you actually like them.
Depending on how old you are (yeah, sorry to point it out like this, but it’s pretty obvious), you’re going to have more or less analog media. Accept the fact that your music is outdated, in an inconvenient package, and that the sound quality is not nearly as good. I know some people love the vinyl sound, or the tape sound, or the scratchy-overcompressed-radio sound, but for our purposes you need something more portable. You’re gonna need to get it on your computer somehow. Since you can’t readily add it like digital media, you have only a few options. The first thing you wanna do is make a list of the analog songs that you actually like. To do that, make a pile in the middle of your living room of all your analog stuff, and separate it into two piles – the “really good” pile and the “not as good” pile (you don’t still own all crappy music do you? why?). Go through the “good” pile and make a list of all your favorite songs. Choose specific songs and not just whole albums. Take that list and hold on to it for the next part.
Next we want to choose songs that might have been missed by the play count (or if you don’t listen to music much on your computer). You’ll have to manually go through your entire playlist and find all the songs you consider top notch. These are 5 star songs, the cream of the crop. Try to eliminate as much “good” music as you can. This is your favorite music of all time isn’t it? It might be time consuming depending on how much music you have, and will probably result in some nostalgia too :). But at the same time, don’t get distracted! After adding these songs you should have a rather sizable list. It might be upwards of 100 or 150 songs if you have a considerably large music collection, or you were just too generous when choosing your songs. Including your analog songs, this list should be somewhere around 150 songs. If you have more, take some out; if you have less, don’t worry too much.
At this time, you’re going to want to have your analog songs in your computer somehow. I’ve never done it, but there are some ways that you can record your tapes and records onto your computer, but I imagine it will seriously be a pain in the butt. If you’ve had a different experience, tell me about it in the comments. Rather, my suggestion is to just buy brand new songs online. Yeah, it’s like buying the song twice, and yeah, you already own it. But seriously, this music is awesome right? That probably means the artists spent a lot of time and hard work writing that song. They deserve to be paid. You’re gonna want to listen to it everywhere you go, so it’s worth the extra price. I plan on posting a How To soon about buying songs online, so check that out when it comes, and get those songs into 1’s and 0’s.
Further Notes on your The Playlist
Please realize that this playlist is not static, but rather, it’s very very dynamic. Adding songs and deleting songs should be a regular occurrence. It’s also a really great tool for a person pursuing a career in music. Here are some examples of things I do/could do with my playlist:
- The 50 songs number is just a target, so don’t be afraid if your playlist is swelling to 75 or more songs. When I find a new band or album I like, I add all of their music to the playlist. I find that the list quickly goes back down to 50 or so as I delete songs that aren’t awesome.
- I add songs that my band is practicing, kind of as an addition to the list. Meaning I get to listen to them often (very important) because they are in the list, but I don’t include them in the 50 song limit.
- Show it to your friends or band-members. They might be inspired to do the same, thus improving the quality of music you end up playing.
- Like I said before, use it when forming/joining a new band to define the direction you want to go.
- And the ever so blindingly obvious: to enjoy it.
Upon completion, you’ll have made your very own The Playlist. It is the best of the best of the best. Your very own representation of the greatest music on the face of the earth. You’ve also done something on top of defining greatness, and not only created your very own inspiration tool, but have defined the path that your own music should take. If this music has changed your life, or constantly brings you pleasure, then you should write music similar to that. It is your responsibility to start writing that music, and take the step from passive reception into active transcendence, adding richness to the world by passing on inspiration and encouragement to others through your music.