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Office Playlists and Why Yours Might Suck

by Patrick Feary on Monday, October 30, 2017

Last week our office decided to try the exercise in team-building and musical elitism that is a collaborative playlist. After all, other than wearing band t-shirts to work or having a visible Bon Jovi tattoo, the most effective way to demonstrate your musical preference to your colleagues is by contributing to a publicly visible list of personal taste.

The benefits of a collaborative playlist at work are too many to mention?—?but in the interest of padding out this intro, here’s a couple;

  • Never talk about the weather again! Kitchen small talk can now be dominated by shared interests in 70s prog rock and hushed, judgemental musings about the intern who’s unapologetically passionate about Peruvian pan flute.
  • Expand your horizons! Explore your co-workers’ musical tastes without having to listen to them obnoxiously shove recommendations down your throat.
  • Finally, some time to think! With music playing you won’t feel pressured to talk to people in order to fill those awkward post-lunch silences.

Whilst these and other untold benefits may have convinced you that a collaborative workplace playlist is a done-deal, be warned! Music, like food, is always subject to people’s wild and weird personal tastes?—?if there are people in the world that would willingly put pineapple on a pizza, you better believe someone’s gonna try and cram something in your playlist that doesn’t belong.

Fear not though, if you’re determined to create a playlist to simultaneously alienate and unite groups of staff members based on trivial preferences, then here are some illusions of control to make yourself think you can stop it from sucking.

Read the Room

If your workplace is anything like our office, music usually comes from one of two sources;

  1. It’s governed by a select few that can be bothered meticulously grooming a playlist and queuing up track after track to suit both the mood of the office and the time of day.
  2. We put on the radio because we don’t have time to groom ourselves let alone a highly-nuanced, mood complementing soundtrack to our workday.

There are many other situations where you may find a collaborative office playlist is a solution, but it’s more important to understand where a collaborative playlist won’t work for you.

  • If you work from home. Alone.
  • If you work with teenagers. Seriously, don’t even risk it?—?you’ll be both confused and enraged.
  • If you work in a business where the presence of explicit language may offend people?—?like a nursing home, cemetery or nursing home that is cruelly, if not conveniently located next to a cemetery.

Starting tracks

Like an electrical outlet smeared with peanut butter, you need to make your initial tracks inviting enough to encourage input and not intimidate anyone thinking of having a go themselves.

As a rule of thumb, you’ll want starter tracks in a couple of key genres for some variety:

  • Classic Hip-Hop?—?make sure it’s something that people danced to at a primary school disco but also makes them gyrate at a club on a Friday night.
    Recommended Track: ‘Jump Around’ by House of Pain
  • Musical Standards?—?Anything by The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin or The Beatles is a safe bet. You need to remember that this early playlist filler will be played more, so you need tracks that bear repeating. If anyone complains about these classics, remind them that it’s genuinely incorrect to dislike these songs, not a matter of personal taste. Recommended Track: ‘When the Levee Breaks’ by Led Zeppelin
  • Hair Metal?—?People will either love this addition or at the very least, feel assured that they’re free to add in braver, weirder tracks
    Recommended Track: ‘Kickstart My Heart’ by Mötley Crue
  • An Indie/Mainstream crossover hit?—?This is how you lure in those that naively think they can also contribute other ‘niche underground artists’?—?musicians that in reality are probably getting absolutely flogged on high radio rotation.
    Recommended Track: anything by Tame Impala or Kendrick Lamar
  • Return Of The Mack?—?Just put Return Of The Mack on there. Thank me later.
    Essential Track: ‘Return Of The Mack’ by Mark Morrison

Know Your Audience

If you’re still willing to engage in the folly of an office playlist, here’s a rundown of the personality types you’re likely to uncover in the playlist process.

Normal People

Most people will enjoy expanding their sonic knowledge and the collaborative process of adding in foot-tappers, deep cuts and absolute bangers. They might discover something new from a co-worker’s contribution, share a laugh when a goofy track comes on and will generally enjoy the shared experience of an office playlist. You do not need to worry about these people.

The Vocal Opponents

These are those that find a variety of excuses to actively oppose the idea of a collaborative playlist. This is where you’ll find your FLAC aficionados, torrenters and those that decry streaming services for not having enough minimalist horrorcore, Inuit beat poetry or Taylor Swift’s 1989.
You will not convert these people, leave them to their inexplicable elitism.

The People That Never Use It

These people come in a couple of flavours and most often are those that genuinely have no interest in contributing, which is fine. However, every now and then, amongst the obsessive podcast preferrers and the disharmonious hummers, you’ll get those that laugh nervously when the playlist is brought up in conversation and deflect by trying to ally themselves with the The Vocal Opponents. In reality, these select few people harbour musical secrets so dark or bizarre that they don’t dare reveal them to their co-workers. Assume that they’re probably Juggalos.

Logan

I mention Logan specifically as there’s always a Logan in a collaborative playlist. He goes by many names though?—?The Trouble Maker, The Stress Tester, The One Who Just Wants To Watch The World Burn. Logan exists purely to push the envelope both in terms of the playlist and your patience. You know you have a Logan in the playlist when you start hearing this from him in the office:

“Is there a maximum length to the songs we can add?”

“Can I put 13 hours of Motörhead’s discography in the playlist?”

“My mate made me add a bunch of stuff to the playlist on the weekend. You can’t delete it.”

Before you know it, your playlist is flooded with hour-long stoner doom tracks, unnecessarily explicit rap, Kelly Clarkson and 15 copies of that song by the Scatman.
There’s not much that can be done about Logan. We tried beating him at his own game by adding 10 different covers of Kelis’ Milkshake but it only strengthened his resolve.
If you work out how to defeat your playlist’s Logan, please let me know.

Try it yourself

Armed with the above information, hopefully you’re now sufficiently cautioned, encouraged and equipped to make a collaborative office playlist that doesn’t suck.
If it does, you can always contribute to our joy/misery at https://open.spotify.com/user/1231417587/playlist/18qBUuyFUX0QLX5xH2vUDS

About the Author

Creative Strategist, occasional filmmaker and reluctant interpretive dancer.