Rules of the Road: Music Edition

“Does anybody have any song requests?”

Once again, the entire van goes quiet. Even with Spotify Premium, an AUX cord, and 200 miles of I-35 separating its passengers from their final destination.

We spend the majority of our lives listening to music, but when put on the spot to request a song, we’re unable – or unwilling – to offer up our thoughts.

Is this a problem? Yes. Major? You bet. More so than most people think.

This past week, I took 30 students and 6 adults to Oklahoma City for our Youth Spring Break Mission Trip. It was a fantastic trip: a perfect combination of work and fun. We partnered with several wonderful organizations in the area, such as The Refuge and the OKC Regional Food Bank. For rest, we attended Tuesday night’s Thunder/Trailblazers game and watched Russell Westbrook score a career-high 58 points. We shared meals, laughs, sleepless nights, a couple harmless pranks, and long van rides – during which my van, in particular, was forced to learn the art of picking good songs.

Choosing music may not seem like a paramount issue to you, but it’s a task more challenging than most people think. Let’s examine the issues:

  1. Genre – Everybody has their own individual taste in music. I like country. My co-pilot likes alternative and punk. Some like rock. Others like rap. Where is the middle ground, offering an acceptable choice for all tastes? It’s not easy to find.
  2. Content – As Christians, we should always be conscious of the type of music we listen to, and the way it affects our minds and our worldview. On a mission trip, this is a top concern, eliminating many current popular songs with inappropriate lyrics or messages.
  3. Tempo – Any good playlist must rise and fall. You can’t begin a trip with a slow song, when you should be setting an upbeat and positive mood for the trip ahead. At the same time, you can’t play loud, fast music while the entire car (minus the driver) is asleep). Understand the situation when choosing your music.
  4. Personality – Music is a reflection of identity. We’re quick to judge others based on their preferred genre of music. Maybe this is why some people are hesitant to suggest a song. They might wonder, what will others think of me if I ask for this song? If I’m in a car full of Disney music fans and I ask for an AC/DC song, will I fit in? If R&B has been playing for the last half hour and I request a George Strait song, what will they think of me?

Hopefully by now you’re starting to understand the dimensions of this problem. Maybe you can think back on a time when poor song choices made a long road trip unbearable, or when good song choices created a trip where getting there really was half the fun.

So, how can you use music to pass the time, cultivate a fun environment, and create a positive memory for all passengers? Let me offer a few tips:

  1. Be prepared – Think through, ahead of time, what songs you might suggest when it’s your turn to make a request. This gets easier with experience. Suggest the fast songs first, to create some energy and excitement for the rest of the trip, and keep a few slow songs in your back pocket for the occasional change-of-pace.
  2. Establish 2-3 “theme songs” – This happens best organically, but it’s important that the driver or DJ has the awareness to understand when the group is growing “attached” to a certain song. If a song is repeated 2-3 times and the van seems to “come alive” when that song is played, your group may be starting to identify with a particular song. In case you were wondering, on our OKC trip, we really grew fond of “House of Gold” by Twenty One Pilots.
  3. Let everyone have a say – Not everyone will want to offer up a song suggestion, but everyone should have an opportunity for their voice to be heard. Allowing others to make requests will give everyone a chance to take ownership of the trip.
  4. Change it up – Don’t listen to the same genre of music the whole way. The best playlists, like the best buffets, offer a little of everything. Listen to alternative music, but don’t be afraid to throw in some classic country. Listen to classic rock, but don’t be afraid to throw in some show tunes. Expanding your horizons may help you realize that you like a type of music you never knew you had an interest in!
  5. Have fun! Music is as much fun as you make it. Crank up the volume. Sing along. Ham it up. Set a positive mood and you’re well on your way to a great road trip.

Check out my new Spotify Playlist, Mastering the AUX Cord, and let me know in the comments what songs you would add to the list!

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