Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Disturbance in the Force

Playlists are kind of an artistic expression for me.  When I put them together, the method I use is sort of similar to how I put quilts together. There's sort of this intangible undercurrent that needs to flow smoothly between each song, and needs to stay laminar, or at least consistently turbulent.  I guess you could say the list needs to have harmony.  I think that's true of all art, which is why the piece we may view as peaceful and soothing today could be traumatic or at least obnoxious tomorrow - our definition of what's harmonious changes daily, since our experience of what the world is like changes daily.

That said, picking a list that's "harmonious" is a pretty vague way to put it.  The process is a little more concrete than that.  I put together my profile first, always.  The point of Spin is the exercise - the music is a means to an end.  The profile arrangement is another discussion entirely (and frankly, right now I do a lot of borrowing on those).  Once I have the profile decided, I pull songs that roughly match the lengths of the segments (for example, this week each hill is a 6-3-6-3, so I pulled a bunch of 3-, 4-, and 5-minute songs, thinking I could combine them in a way that they'd just about line up with cue changes).  I don't put them in order right away - I just skim my iTunes library and see what catches my eye.  Once I've either skimmed the whole list or hit a point where I feel like I have enough songs to grab from, I go to the playlist and start ordering.  I look primarily for song length, trying to line up song breaks with cues as best I can (that doesn't always happen smoothly, so it's not crucial).  I'll then play through the playlist, sampling the transitions (first and last 10 seconds of each song and how it flows into the next song). It's a pretty iterative process, and on occasion I'll hear one song and think of another that's not on the list, and pull it in too.   I move stuff around to make the transitions right, then listen to the whole list at least once or twice through before calling it good enough. I check for volume levels, making note of what songs might get loud fast (our gym requires headphones for Spin classes, so this is critical) and what songs might need bass/treble adjustments.  I usually also include a few songs that didn't quite make the cut but that gel with the rest of the playlist well enough, at the end of the list, just in case I feel like making changes during class. Finally, if I'm happy with it all, I export the list for later use, just in case iTunes does what it does...again.  :-)

All this to say, I had a playlist yesterday that had a lot of songs I liked, but that didn't play well together.  It would have been ok.  I like to have a profile and a playlist on hand every time I go to the gym, just in never know when the bat symbol is gonna fly, right?  Kidding.  Seriously though, I always have a ride in the back of my mind, just in case.  Last night, if I'd needed to teach, I could have used this playlist (well, sort turns out iTunes had kindly erased the whole thing on me, just because) but it wasn't...right.  It didn't feel good.  There was, as the title states, a Disturbance in the Force.  Fortunately, iTunes did what it does sometimes and deleted my playlist for me (I had it written down elsewhere, don't worry) so I started from scratch and came up with what I think is a winner.  Without further ado, I present to you the musical accompaniment for tonight's ride, "Just Two Hills":

See  you there!

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