An Expert’s Guide to Building the Best Summer Playlist

Producer and songwriter Poolside gives advice to make sure you're always on aux

Poolside....in the Pool

By Neil Patrick Harris

This story is an exclusive from Wondercade, the newsletter from Neil Patrick Harris produced in partnership with InsideHook Studios. You can sign up — for free — to receive it right here. NPH personally guarantees it’ll be the best thing you’ve ever done.* (*Give or take lots of other stuff you’ve done.)


Summer isn’t so much a season as it is a vibe. Cocktail in hand. Toes in the water. Music…everywhere. And who better to detail the art of crafting the ultimate summer party playlist than a dude who goes by the name of Poolside?

This is the musical alter ego of L.A.-based producer/songwriter/cabana enthusiast Jeffrey Paradise, and he has been pumping out remixes for the likes of Billy Idol and Jack Johnson, and performing with everyone from LCD Soundsystem to Kacey Musgraves.   

He also makes playlists for a living. Known as Daytime Disco, Poolside’s effortless sets blend chilled out tunes with the type of groovier fare that’ll have you swaying your hips as you glide from the beach chair to the bar and back again. And since he’s the expert, I had to ask Poolside to share his rules for making a perfect party playlist — some pro tips from a prolific and proficient playlist producer. Perfect! He broke it down into 6 easy steps…and for good measure, made a party playlist just for you. Good vibes indeed. Take it away, Poolside!

Hi there! Poolside here (in my office, not at the side of a pool) with a few tips on how to craft the ultimate summer playlist. To me, making a good playlist is a lot like DJing a good set. Here’s my approach:

  1. You want to keep it nice and chill in the beginning. You don’t want to give anyone the illusion that they’re about to be wowed with a perfect party mix. But they are.
  2. After about 1/4 or 1/3 of the playlist you throw in a jam — not a “hit them over the head” jam, but a chill jam. Get people thinking, “Oh man, this might be good, I’m starting to feel a little turnt up!”
  3. Then you go back down and make things a little more low-key…not mellow, but songs people don’t know or don’t hear on the radio every day, but are familiar in some way: nostalgic, good vibes, they make people feel comfortable.
  4. Pretty soon you’ll reach the moment when people get to thinking that they can either turn it up or go home…so you want to turn it up. Hit them with a song that’s really going to get them feeling good and maybe even start dancing.
  5. At this point people are ready for more, and things get tricky. If you start nailing them with hits they’re going to get used to it, so you have to tease it a little bit. Play some fun, upbeat songs, but then throw in something that isn’t so well known but still upbeat — or not upbeat, but well known. You need to get playful with it. Remember, it’s a playlist.
  6. Once you’re about 80% of the way through your playlist, you need to hit people with something that catches them off guard — maybe a song that they forgot they loved, or something that’s just undeniably great that they haven’t heard before. If you nail this step you’ll have everyone hooked and you can do whatever you want to close it out!

Ever share a playlist? Yeah, me too. Feels good, right? Nice to have a common experience with your friends and family. But hear me out…sharing Wondercade feels even better! Playlists are a one-and-done thing; Wondercade emails are every week — so turn up the volume of your sharing.-NPH