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Musically Motivated? Playlist Hacks for Emotional Activation

Whether for auditions, live performances or fast-paced set life, having ready access to your emotions is crucial for any actor. When you don’t have time to go through an entire exercise, utilizing sensory stimulation can be a great emotional shortcut. Music is one of the easiest and most accessible ways to do this. A trick I like to have up my sleeve is to have playlists already curated and on deck, so I’m not wasting time searching for that one song that made me feel that specific way in the moment. Here are some handy playlists you can start cultivating to be ready in a pinch!



Having tears at the ready takes skill and practice, so give yourself a leg up and put together those songs that get you right in the feels. As you’re selecting material, think of all the different flavors “sadness” encompasses. Grief, melancholy, depression, loneliness, heartbreak, disappointment…you can create an entire story arc within your playlist. Or if one of those is more difficult for you to access, perhaps it gets its own playlist. 



True, grounded anger can be difficult to work up to quickly, especially as many of us are socialized to ignore, invalidate, and suppress it. Find music that inhabits rage, frustration, misuse, injustice, resentment. Get creative with your source material. Mainstream music is great, but if you’re not finding what you need, branch out into classical, opera, musical theatre… find something that helps you take up space and connect to that primal, wild sense of real anger.



Everyone needs a pump-up playlist. Whether you’re heading into an audition or trying to connect to your character’s scene of triumph, having a playlist that makes you feel empowered and exhilarated is a great one to have in the bag.


Villain Origin Story.

This is one of my favorites. Especially if you tend to be cast as the villains, social outcasts or rebels, curate a collection of music that makes you feel like a baddie. 



A chill, calming playlist is crucial to have on hand for audition days, first day on set, any situation where you might need to settle your nerves. It can also be great inspiration for more zen and centered characters!


In Love.

True, organic, grounded love can be another tricky one for some. Find the songs that make you melt; the sappy, sweet, tender music that strips away irony and judgment.


Character Curated.

Having emotionally charged playlists on hand is great, but once you’re working on getting in your character’s head, you may want to mix and match. Here’s where you can get specific. Maybe you want music written in your character’s time period, music that tracks the mood and evolution of your character throughout the script. Maybe you want music that your character would have listened to at various points of their life. 


Remember, there are no rules to this. The point is to come up with a tool that gets you emotionally engaged and present, so whatever activates your imagination and visceral response is the right way to go. The better you know yourself as an actor, the more you’ll be able to determine what emotional stimulus you find yourself most often in need of. Music is just one way to make this actor’s homework personal and joyful.