Psychedelic playlists should minimize lyrics, focus on building an emotional arc, and other helpful tips to improve your trips.
Music is one of the foundational pillars of the psychedelic experience. It’s a tool that can further open the doors of perception during a trip, and therefore, one of the most important areas of preparation.
I have been a club DJ for nearly 20 years, and the pressure to make sure I select the perfect song at the perfect moment is even greater when procuring music for psychedelic journeys. My heart knows that music can serve as a guide, and help others have positive transformational experiences, but with so much of the psychedelic journey being unique and unpredictable, it can feel like a daunting task.
Within each song lies a near-infinite number of possible experiences from catalyzing deep healing and transformation to inhibiting, overwhelming, and distracting the listener. With some journeys requiring playlists with upwards of 8-12 hours of music, the potential for unpredictable experiences is immense. But, so is the potential for profound healing. If you embrace this challenge with a heart of service, hold the intention to help heal and uplift others, and follow some of these guidelines, I have no doubt you will curate transformational psychedelic playlists for yourself or others.
Music on Psychedelics
As psychedelics pioneer Stan Grof says in his book The Way of the Psychonaut, “In order to use music as a catalyst for deep self-exploration and experiential work, it is necessary to learn a new way of listening and relating to music in a manner that is alien to our culture.” Psychedelic substances teach us to appreciate music in a completely different and astoundingly more complex manner.
A 2017 study published on the LSD-induced neural response to dynamic changes in music noted that “psychedelic drugs […] have substantial effects on the perception, cognition, and emotional experience [of music].” Furthermore, the study states that LSD in particular “has been shown to increase the personal relevance of both meaningless and meaningful music and alter functioning of brain areas involved in processing the meaningfulness of stimuli.” This is why many psychedelic journeyers describe their first experience of music with psychedelics as like hearing it for the very first time.
Build the Arc
Just as a DJ set has an arc, so does a psychedelic journey. A skilled DJ wouldn’t open their set at the club with the biggest, most intense, foot-stomping, fist-pumping song in their arsenal. In the DJ scene, these are known as “peak tracks”. Peak tracks need setup and a come down. Similarly, the arc of a psychedelic playlist should begin with less intensity and gradually build into more evocative, energetic “peak tracks,” then taper down in intensity as the journey comes toward an end. It’s as if you’re weaving a beautiful bell curve-shaped sonic tapestry – lifting, holding, and gently laying someone back down over the duration of the experience.
Algorithms Can Be an Ally
There is a near-infinite number of buried treasure songs that can be found using the “suggested songs” feature available in many popular streaming platforms. Seek to incorporate a variety of genres, tempos, instruments, and emotional styles in your psychedelic playlists. Listen to anything and everything. Be willing to listen outside of your preferred genres. Not everyone will like every song you select, and it can actually be wonderfully transformational for someone to work through the discomfort of listening to a song they “don’t like” during a journey.
Music Carries Emotion
The best DJs are able to take their listeners on an emotional journey through the music they select. The same is true with a psychedelic playlist. Music carries emotional and energetic tones. Become emotionally acquainted with the music you select. Tune into how a song makes you feel when you listen to it and select songs that will bring intended emotional themes into the specific journey. Be aware that certain genres (such as Heavy Metal) typically carry underlying energy of anger, rage, and/or hate, and these genres might not bring productive energy into a journey.
Minimize Lyrics for a Greater Trip
For most psychedelic journeying, it is best to minimize the use of songs that have identifiable lyrics. Language can be distracting and suggestive, which can detract from the internal dialogue that may be unfolding for someone during their journey. Lyrics in foreign languages as well as chanting and non-lyric vocals are wonderful additions that bring a human element to the music, but are less likely to distract the journeyer.
Above all, keep an open heart and an open mind. Seek out music for your psychedelic playlists that moves you and urges you to explore your thoughts and emotions. Be willing to listen to feedback from those you share playlists with. Imagine that you are at the precipice of a tremendous shift in consciousness and feel gratitude for your calling to hold space for others through music.