danielions’ guide to playlist curation (on youtube)

*This is all to the best of my knowledge, things may have changed or I may be mistaken. I am not an expert on this but have experience through my years managing my YouTube channels* 

Part 1: Copyright Issues?

So you wanna be a music curator huh? But you’re worried about copyright?

Well copyright issues basically comes down to ONE big thing: Will I get a copyright strike on my channel for posting this video? If you get three within three months, your channel will get deleted. I’ve gotten two before and was hella concerned. Otherwise, if copyrighted materials are detected, there’ll just be ads automatically run on the videos.

So how do we avoid this? Get the artist’s permission for the music you post.
When you contact them (via DM, email, or whatever) it’ll range from getting straight up ignored to them being super grateful for the support. However, on rare occasion I’ve still gotten a couple strikes from this. Sometimes an artist will sign with a company and they’ll re-release an old song and block other channels videos that have been posted by removing the video via copyright strike. All strikes are required to have an email attached to them so you can try asking nicely for them to remove the strike in exchange for you deleting your own video – but they truly are able to do whatever they want since they own the materials. 

Background info and other considerations: 
Artists, their labels, or third-party distribution companies upload their copyrighted tracks YouTube’s content ID system. That system automatically detects songs and the company/artist will have the ability to let you post the video but run ads on it, block in certain/all countries, or give you a copyright strike.

  1. Some underground artists don’t have the means to do this so their tracks will run ad-free on your channel. No copyright detected since they didn’t upload it to the content ID system.
  2. Sometimes artists will use free/leased beats. These beats are available to everyone (unless they purchase exclusive rights) so that’s why you’ll hear different songs with the same beats. The really unfortunate thing about this is that some artists (worldwide) will use a free/leased beat but then upload their song to a distribution company like CDBaby, amuse, tunecore, etc, which will then be submitted to the content id system. So EVERY song with that beat will be detected as being copyrighted. That particular artist will get the $ from all content id recognized songs, including those that they have nothing to do with. I usually dispute these claims cause I think its pretty shady. Some distribution companies are better than others for accepting these disputes.
  3. For playlists, if an artist/label decides to block a song on your video, no one will be able to view it anymore. However, I believe you can trim your video with YouTube’s editing tool in order to cut out the song if your video is under 100,000 views.

My experience:
For danielions music (single song posts): honestly, I started out by just posting whatever I wanted but now I always ask artists permissions before posting. Occasionally, I’ll delete the songs by request of the artist (usually if they sign with a company or make an official release).

But…I’m kind of a hypocrite with danielions playlists. For the “best of 20XX (k-indie)” series, some of the artists/companies flat-out ignore my inquiries but I post them anyway because I still want to showcase the best music I can in those compilations. There’s definitely a risk of getting my channel shutdown when posting those songs. I try to always get artist permission for posting k-underground playlists.

Now we got that out of the way, it’s time for the fun part.

Part 2: Creative Process.

This is actually something I’ve been asked a lot and sorta answered in my old Q&A video. But I’ll dive in much deeper in this blog post. Again, this is just what I do. There are prob a million ways to create your own playlist but this is my preference.

General tips:

      1. Listen to a LOT of music. 
        The more music you have to choose from, the more options you’ll have and the better your playlists will be. I can’t stress this point enough. If you want to curate and select good music, you’d better be finding the cream of the crop – which entails listening to a lot of trash (sorry). Where do I find the tracks I post? Soundcloud, spotify (related artists is bomb), e-mail submissions, recommendations, other youtube/spotfiy playlists, blogs etc.

      2. Organize the music you listen to.
        Sometimes I’ll create secret playlists as a way to sort the music I like. For example, I created a general “k-indie 2019” playlist at the beginning of last year and just threw in all the songs I at least sorta liked. Making these year-end compilations is a huge task because there’s sooo much music available and it’s always easier to trim songs from a playlist than to go on a search to find more. I usually sort mine by r&b, hiphop, and indie.

      3. Once you think you have enough songs for a playlist, gather and listen to them all again. 
        That way you’ll be able to get a general “sense” of each song. You want your playlists to flow well but also want to start it off really strong so listeners will be hooked. I’ll either start the playlist with my favourite track and make it flow from there or have a mood-setting song as the first track. I know all the songs in your playlist will probably be the same genre but they’ll still differ slightly and you’ll want similar sounding songs grouped together with “transition” songs between them. This sounds ridiculous when I type it out and it’s really difficult to explain! Maybe I need to make a video with examples…But for now, lets take a look at my playlist “ paper and pigment” as a case study.

        I knew I wanted to start with “2 Things” and “Blue” since they were my fav off the list and had a similar mood. They both had a tinge of sadness with an overall optimistic feel. The next three songs were happier but still chill, which leads us perfectly to “Can’t Nobody” and “you was right”, our happiest/most upbeat songs on the list. “still friends, not lovers” is our transition song as we’re going to dive into some sexy r&b to close out the list.

        As you can see, I’ve separated these songs (which are all r&b) into five categories:
        1. slower/chill (tracks 1,2)
        2. chill/happier (tracks 3,4,5)
        3. happy/upbeat (tracks 6,7)
        4. sorta happy/kinda sexy (track 8)
        5. sexy (tracks 9,10,11,12)

        It’s pretty jarring if you skip from Track 1 to Track 12 but flows pretty smoothly if you listen to the songs in order. I don’t do this actively by writing down each sub-genre or mood but I think I subconsciously group them together as I listen to the songs. You can play around with the order of the tracks in your media player until you find a smooth listening experience.

        Don’t forget, you don’t have to use EVERY song you’ve gathered. You can always save a song that doesn’t quite fit for the next playlist!

      4. Pick a great background photo.
        Humans are visual creatures. Even though music is the focal point, it doesn’t hurt to have a background image evoke a certain emotion to complement your music. You guys have probably noticed but I personally like dark/moody/rainy images for R&B and bright/white for indie or upbeat hiphop. I usually find the images I use from tumblr, instagram, or the occasional Korean magazine photoshoot. Sometimes you’ll need to edit these photos to fit your background. Lately I’ve been liking using GIFs from retro anime or the occasional Wong Kar Wai screenshot. But you should probably try to get permission from the photographer….
        (shout out to my hometown friends @wanderies_  and @albertchaang for letting me use some of theirs)

      5. Compile the images and the songs.
        I use Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premier Pro cause I had a buddy hook me up (s/o barrz___) but you can use free alternatives like iMovie and Windows Movie Maker or the plethora of other video editors. I personally like using Photoshop to edit in the track list and indicator but my very first playlist (♫ urban8 – korean underground hiphop/r&b playlist) was made using Windows Media Maker. It’s ugly as sin but the songs were good so I got lucky and it went viral, amassing 2.8 million views.

Related to part 1: The label, HIGHGRND, actually issued me a copyright strike including OFFONOFF songs without permission (it was my first playlist and I didn’t think to ask permissions from anyone) but I emailed them and explained that all money from ads go to the artists and the point of the playlist was to increase the exposure of underrated Korean talent, including theirs. And by some miracle, they revoked the strike and let me keep the video up.

Random tip 1: If you’re worried a song is gonna be blocked, you can upload a low quality video with all the songs you want to include and check the copyright status. It’ll save you time editing the video/image and stuff. For the indie playlist, I throw all the songs into Windows Movie Maker with a black background and export using the lowest resolution.

Random tip 2: Your playlist probably isn’t going to get a lot of views/go viral. That’s just the nature of youtube. Especially now since you’re going to be competing against a tonnnn of new channels. Make them for yourself. Make them because it helps you express your creative side. Make them because it’ll teach you the basics of video and photo editing. Don’t make them cause you’re trying to get popular.

Random tip 3: Template your photoshop image files to save time. It used to take me a while to create each image but now I can use my old photoshop files. Swap image, change tracklist, minor edits to positioning, etc. Way better than starting from scratch each time.

Hmmm am I missing anything else? Let me know in the comments if you have any other questions!


  • Hansheng

    If you ever want to use a pic that has no people in it off my Instagram you have my permission~ I’m sure your playlists have gotten me through many situations and emotions throughout the years I’ve been listening. I’d hire you to be my dj at my wedding~

    I loved reading about your process! How many times do you rework a playlist on average before you’re happy or satisfied or do you keep working till you feel it’s what you want to portray?

    • danielions

      Thanks Hansheng! Oddly enough, I created a dinner playlist for a friend’s wedding a couple years ago hahah.
      Honestly, I’ve gotten pretty good at making playlists these days so I don’t need to rework them much. It takes me a bit to try to organize the songs but thats about it. Back when I posted 1 playlist per week, it was more difficult since the library of songs I had were getting used more quickly. Then again, I definitely listened to more music back then.

  • Jasmine

    Hi, I really liked the advice you gave in this blog post! I was wondering how you download songs from Soundcloud/Spotify/YouTube? Especially Soundcloud because a lot of profiles don’t offer a free download link. Do you ask for permission first and then they give you the file?

    I want to use some music in my vlogs that are on Soundcloud but not sure how to go about it. Thanks for the help!

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