Miles Davis famously described jazz as being more about the notes you don’t play rather than the ones you do. While his words may make it seem as though jazz writing must be a highly esoteric (if not a little pretentious) pursuit, Davis actually hints at the central part of an editor’s job. Whether putting together a newspaper or a film, the editor must decide what articles – or scenes – will make the final cut and which will be left on the cutting room floor. When there is a limited space for content, the pieces that are chosen for publication get picked because they fit the best into the overall structure of the work and what it’s trying to accomplish. Running with the example of movies, the director and writers have already decided what themes are underlying the story and how to film scenes to best capture the feelings they want the audience to have. The editor, however, has arguably a more important job when it comes to the final product. Choosing what scenes to leave out – and the order that the remaining pieces should go in – gives the editor the ability to create drastically different finished works. See for yourself in the video below.
The challenge of creating an excellent playlist essentially comes down to the same basic thing: figuring out what to take away. When I put together my Spotify queue for the month, I generally have an idea in mind (a theme) that I want each track to support. Last month, for example, I wanted to capture how it felt of being freshly out of college and adrift in the adult world for the first time without a satisfying job. It is remarkably easy to find songs that match such a feeling, but it was much more difficult to determine which would be taken out of the published list and what in order the remaining tracks would be. With my new playlist for this month, I took this process a step further; I started with an original 3 hour playlist and picked out a few that I knew for sure I wanted to include in the final cut. From there, beginning with “Mr. Blue Sky,” I chose songs that transitioned well into others and eliminated some of the ones from significantly earlier decades. Ultimately, I had a much tighter listing that flowed more easily between its individual components.
Did you notice how the endings of some songs segued with little effort into the beginnings of others? This kind of easy transition is what an editor strives to allow; setting up smooth transitions is just a matter of identifying the two key moments, one at the end and one at the start of two respective songs. Carving the new playlist out of the old just came down to whittling away the tracks that didn’t belong or allow for good transitions. Of course, this isn’t to say that all playlists need to be short to succeed. But removing the tracks that don’t support the desired end result delivers a stronger final list, in addition to making each track a literally larger portion of what’s going to be showcased.
Got some ideas for a killer playlist yourself? I’ll be working hard this summer to give you tips as I serve up new collections – stay tuned, and check me out on Spotify where I blast the best rock collection around: Richard’s Rock Radio!