Playlists are Laura Ohls’ bread and butter.

Ohls, the senior editor for rock & alternative at Spotify, is responsible for the curation of many of the music streamer’s biggest playlists. Her job requires her to be immersed in the local culture around the genres and keep her finger on the pulse of new developments in rock, alternative, metal and punk.

“Our team is there to really bring a human touch to the music curation on the platform,” she says. “We’re there to connect audiences with artists, with music, in a way that really keeps emotion and connection feeling organic and real.”

She’s a seasoned professional at creating playlists both for her own personal consumption as well as ones that will have mass appeal.

Ohls sat down with CNBC Make It to discuss her approach to curating playlists. The method is simple and straightforward, but effective.

These are the three main factors that Ohls keeps in mind while building a playlist.

1. Know your audience

It may sound like a no-brainer, but Ohls says knowing your listener is the most important factor to consider when coming up with a new playlist.

“Who is the playlist for? And what is the purpose of the playlist? What is the intention behind it?” she tells Make It. “Those are the similar questions we’re asking ourselves as editors any time we’re curating a new playlist.”

When I see a good playlist, I can clearly understand that the curator behind it has a real understanding of the audience they’re trying to reach with it.

Laura Ohls

Sr. Editor, Spotify

In other words, a playlist shouldn’t just be a random assortment of music you like: it should be a collection of songs that are together for a reason.

“When I see a good playlist, I can clearly understand that the curator behind it has a real understanding of the audience they’re trying to reach with it, and that there’s a clear vibe or intention behind the playlist itself,” she says.

“If it’s for me, what kind of emotion am I trying to evoke from this playlist?” she adds. “Is this a post-breakup playlist and I’m trying to be in my feelings? Or is this a playlist that’s intended to get me ready to go out?”

2. Envision where your playlist will be listened to

If understanding your audience is step one, step two is understanding the setting of your playlist.

Ohls gives the example of a friend who asked her to create a playlist for her to listen to while running a half marathon. Knowing what the playlist was for helped her determine what songs to pick, because she wanted to create a listening experience that was more active than passive.

In a playlist meant for passive listening, the order of the songs you select might not be as important as the overall vibe you’re trying to set. But over the course of a 13.1 mile run, the music needs to build.

Ohls knew that this playlist would be used as a motivator during the half marathon. She focused on the sequencing and the playlist arc to make sure that she wasn’t starting too strong.

“I knew she was gonna start the run at 6 a.m., so I started with some chiller tracks,” she says. “I needed to build a playlist arc that essentially started off a little slower and then built momentum as she was leading into crossing that finish line.”

Envisioning where your playlist will be listened to can help you make sure you curate one that will keep your listener engaged and stop them from switching to something else.

“When you can’t really tell the theme of the playlist, who it’s for and why it was created, I think it can be difficult to keep engaged as a listener,” she says.

3. Hook your listeners from the start

A great playlist can be kneecapped by placing the wrong songs up front. The opening songs of your playlist should be carefully selected to set the tone for the listener.

“I think considering what I call ‘hook songs’ at the beginning of a playlist, as well as throughout the playlist itself can be really important,” she says.

Hook songs are songs that you know your listener will be familiar with, or from an artist that they are familiar with. Use them to signal the theme and intention of your playlist to your listener.

“It also keeps them interested. It’s a nice delight for them,” she tells Make It. “Because it kind of indicates what the purpose of the playlist is, and they can engage with it in a way that’s a little bit more organic than when you’re surprising a listener with some discoveries throughout the place itself.”

And remember that before someone hits play on the carefully curated playlist you made, they’re going to judge it based on the title and artwork. These are just as important as the music you select in creating a playlist that your listeners will want to sink into.

“Keep in mind the name of the playlist and the artwork,” she says. “Really using every aspect of a playlist to communicate the vibe, the intention and the theme is going to be helpful in creating a playlist that really speaks to the listener.”

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