I’m a little obsessed with playlists. My recent discovery of the website 8tracks, where you can listen to themed playlists created by the denizens of the Internet, has only made the problem worse. In my search for playlists that I love, I’ve noticed there’s an art to creating good playlists that’s very similar to the art of creating good website content. Both require an awareness of structure, the ability to appeal to a specific audience, a balance of coherence and variety and a talent not just for grabbing attention but for holding it.
When I’m listening to playlists, I have a two-song rule. If I don’t like the first song, I’ll wait for the second, but if I don’t like that one, I start searching for a new choice. The first songs not only determine whether or not I keep listening, but also establish the tone. A playlist that starts with a gentle introduction by Bon Iver instantly feels different than one that starts by blasting Katy Perry. The first sentence of a paragraph, second of a video or glimpse of the home page fulfill a similar function. You need to immediately establish the tone and insist your audience keep reading or listening, and then keep them engaged with the rest of your content.
It’s not only the opening that matters though. Besides the first, the song I’m most likely to remember from any playlist is the last. Just as a strong playlist saves its last spot for a memorable song that embodies its theme, good content saves its final sentence or camera shot for an especially appealing detail or striking image that will stick in the mind.
Music is one of the most specific of all tastes. No two people have exactly the same iTunes collection, and even people who like the same genres have divided opinions on specific artists. This means no playlist can appeal to everyone, and the key is not to try. More people will listen to an “alternative rock for summer” or “coffee shop acoustic” playlist than a playlist themed around “good music.” Sometimes when I write content I catch myself writing a “good content” paragraph rather than a paragraph with specific details and a target audience. Thinking about music gives me a helpful reminder that rather than appealing to everyone, generalized content tends to appeal to no one.
Coherence vs. Variety
In order to target a specific audience, you need a playlist that not only has a clear theme but follows through on it. If a playlist starts with two indie rock songs before switching exclusively to country, few people will keep listening. Even if they like both genres, they’ll feel tricked. If in the first sentence you promise your reader that you’re describing a striking contemporary accommodation for an experienced business traveler, you need to follow through on that promise with the rest of your description.
However, coherence does not mean sameness. A playlist where all songs have the same tempo, instrumentation and vocal style gets boring fast. You need to stick to a theme while allowing for enough variety to keep your listener engaged. Don’t fill your alternative rock for summer playlist with country, pop and hip-hop, but do include both fast-paced songs for driving in the car with the windows down and gentler songs for lying in the grass looking at the stars. Similarly, when writing content for the same brand, it’s essential to be able to maintain a consistent identity without using the same descriptions or even the same sentences over and over again.
8tracks playlists come with titles and cover art, and I will confess that sometimes I click on a playlist because I like the picture. But no matter how much I enjoyed the artistically staged cup of coffee in front of a window, I won’t keep listening to the playlist unless I like the songs enough. In the same way, a catchy headline or striking photograph may grab a reader’s attention, but it won’t hold that attention unless it’s backed by engaging, meaningful content. Too often marketing focuses on getting people to look at a page instead of whether the page was worth looking at. Playlists can’t get away with that, and content marketing shouldn’t either. Give your audience something they want, whether that’s an unexpected Beatles song or a description of the most popular museums in the city they want to visit.
Does music help inspire your content? What techniques for choosing songs or sentences did I miss? Let me know! (Playlist recommendations will also be accepted.)
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Taylor Davidson – Content Marketing Writer