How To Build Your Perfect Summer Playlist

Playlist Frame of Mind

There’s something special about the moment that your favorite song starts playing. Whether you’re in the grocery store or at the orthodontist, it’s as if any immediate irritations around you shrink away for those few stolen moments, and all the good feels associated with your song come flooding in. You are transported to “that” place, the one that always leaves you in a better mood than you were five minutes earlier.

We’ve come a long way from the days of waiting by the radio with our tape recorders, creating double-sided mix tapes, song by truncated song. No longer do you have to miss out on the first ten seconds of your favorite hair-band ballad or the last round of that killer chorus that wouldn’t fit on Side A.

So set aside a few minutes, grab your favorite drink, and let’s get down to the business of building your utterly modern, perfect summer playlist!

What You'll Need

When it comes to necessary tools and equipment, the options are fairly broad. Digital downloads and streaming services have made it possible to access even the most alternative of tunes and to broaden your musical horizons with complementary artists and sounds.

Create playlists using your phone or laptop along with any number of mobile or web-based apps. Free streaming services such as Pandora learn your preferences, especially if you’re willing to invest the time and attention to teaching them what you do and do not like. Services such as Amazon Music and Spotify allow you to create and customize your own playlists as well as offering pre-built playlists at a relatively small cost. These options also offer the luxury of allowing you to simply sign in and launch your list from wherever you happen to be.

If you prefer a take-along hard-copy, you can also use software such as iTunes to purchase digital versions of songs or albums, and/or you can download your CDs directly into the program. Once you have your music all in one place, you can comb through the database, dragging and dropping songs into a static playlist that can then be loaded onto your phone or another memory device. iTunes also travels as an app on your mobile or laptop.

The Playlist Trifecta

There are three main concepts to keep in mind when building your perfect summer playlist: vibe, theme, and audience. Each of these components is independent enough to be the basis for any playlist that you may wish to create, but the PERFECT summer playlist will take all of them into consideration in some capacity or another.


Vibe is all about the way that the music makes you feel. Consider the following scenarios:

  • Car windows down, radio cranking, belting out your favorite tunes with your favorite people.
  • House lights low, music gentle and slow, moving in time with sweet, wordless melodies.
  • Sun on your face, popular tunes carried on the wind, catchy lyrics obscured by laughter.

Chances are that each of these situations evokes a different emotion for you. That feelings-based context is the "vibe" that will be set and supported by your playlist.

Remember too that your summer vibe may very well change according to your activities, and therefore your perfect summer playlist may actually be several shorter lists. For example, the travel trip to your Sunset Beach vacation rental will likely be entirely upbeat and full of excitement, and so your vibe-based car-ride playlist should reflect this anticipated mood. For this playlist, you'll want to pick songs that most everyone knows and likes and loves to sing along with.

Later, while you're at the beach, you'll likely be relaxed and the pace of life may slow down a notch. In that case, you'll likely want a playlist that supports these changes in attitude (Jimmy Buffet, anyone?). Finally, the vibe surrounding the trip home may combine the moods reflected by playlists one and two, or may compel a separate list of its own. 

Building a playlist based on vibe is essentially just the method of cultivating a selection of songs based upon a desired feeling.


What does summer mean to you? For some, summer is all about salt water and sandy beaches. For others, the appeal of summer revolves around the steaming hot days and deliciously cool nights. Maybe to you summer means more time to relax, or maybe you prefer to pack some extra hustle into these longer days and shorter nights.

Choosing a theme for your perfect summer playlist can be as straight-forward as picking a central word or as hazy as defining a concept. While vibe is about how the playlist makes you feel overall, theme is the thread that sews the individual songs together. Theme can and often does transcend genre and era, so long as the concept remains clear.

Since we're working on the perfect summer playlist, let's use that word/concept to illustrate the process.

If you were using the theme "summer" in a direct sense, you may decide to organize your playlist theme by choosing songs that have the word "summer" in their song titles. In that case, your playlist may begin something like this:

  • Summertime, by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
  • In Summer, by Olaf (Frozen film soundtrack)
  • The Boys of Summer, by Don Henley
  • Summer Nights, by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John

However, if you were using the theme "summer" just as an organizing concept, your list may look more like this:

  • Walking On Sunshine, by Katrina & The Waves
  • School's Out, by Alice Cooper
  • California Girls, by The Beach Boys
  • Hot In Herre, by Nelly

Notice that while the summer theme remains consistent with both of these methods, the vibe of each collection of songs is somewhat different. 


Finally, it's important to consider who will be listening to your playlist. While your playlist should appeal first and foremost to yourself, a really GREAT playlist will be enjoyable to everyone and will allow all listeners to tap into the vibe and/or theme that is being promoted.

Nobody knows the musical tastes of your summer squad better than you do. Be playful with your playlist choices and throw in a surprise selection every now and again. Somewhere between No Diggity and No Doubt is a throwback song that everyone will love, and including a song by Kanye or Kane is sure to get the approval of all the kids, young and young-at-heart.

You may also choose to interpret the concept of audience as those moments in which you and your crew were members at a great show. These types of playlists often end up heavy on one artist or another, or depending on how often you attend concerts, may even wind up as a sort of greatest hits collection by a series of musicians and bands. 

Build a perfect Sunset Beach summer playlist by including songs from the artists playing in this year's Sunset Beach Concert Series!

Whether your design is based on vibe, theme, or audience, there's no wrong way to build your perfect summer playlist! Just pull your songs together, gather your friends and family, and press play on your perfect summer day.

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