How to Assemble a Kick-Ass Music Playlist

Val Haller, who founded ValsList to connect adults to new music. Photo by Katrina Wittkamp

Music is important enough to Val Haller that she founded a business—ValsList—to help the rest of us connect with new and cool music. “It started as a website of playlists of new artists,” she says. “But when we were ready to launch, my sister said, ‘I love your website and your playlists, but I don’t know any of the bands you’re giving to me. Can you put some oldies in here?'” And just like that, Val rethought how she introduced people to new artists. A recent playlist includes Olivia Rodrigo’s “Driver’s License,” as well as Neil Young’s “Pocahontas.” Val is a human curator, out there bridging the gap between what you know and what feels like what you know, but is fresh and new. Her playlists are on her social media pages including Boomerang, an extensive playlist that’s a one-for-one link between a song you know and one by a newer artist. Clever!

We have known Val for many years, working together on articles for various publications, enjoying the house concerts that she and her husband Mark Haller host for up and coming bands at their house, and rocking out to the annual Winnetka Music Festival where Val is the music director. She’s a busy gal! But we played the friend card and asked her to help us update our music choices and construct a playlist of some faves and newer tunes.

Current Music Faves


I like music I can sing to while driving, cooking or cleaning. I’m kind of embarrassed I don’t have more female artists on my list (I’ll always love you Madonna), but I don’t have the vocal chops to keep up with 4-octave powerhouses like Mariah or Kelly Clarkson. My favorite artists tend to be laid-back singer-songwriters like John Mayer, Jack Johnson and Sheryl Crow. I also love upbeat pop songs with a funky dance groove like Bruno Mars tunes or—going old school—Earth, Wind & Fire. As far as new music… well, I’m pretty out of it. So I was thrilled when Val suggested a bunch of upcoming artists that are similar to my old faves. I’d love to see them play live when things open up—as long as I can get a seat. I’m too short to see the stage at standing room only venues and too old to put myself through it.


I love to go to concerts, and I’m hopeful this summer I’ll get to hear live music outdoors, but in my household, my husband is really the music guy. He plans which bands we’ll see and at the end of work day, he’s the one who puts the music on. Left to my own devices, I listen to Taylor Swift’s Evermore (on repeat!), plus a little Haim (I want a new album from them) Lady Gaga (still love the soundtrack from A Star is Born, plus everything else she’s ever done). And if I’m in a mellow mood, it’s Mumford and Sons or for a throwback, Fleetwood Mac. There’s nothing wrong with any of these artists—they’re all popular for a reason—but don’t they feel obvious? Too easy? I sent my list to Val and asked for some help finding more obscure and up-and-coming bands that might have the same vibe.

Val’s Recommendations


Our rocking friend, Val Haller, who gave great band recommendations. Photo by Cynthia Lynn

Here are Val’s recommendations based on who I listen to now:

John Mayer: Zach Heckendorf, COBI, Dylan LeBlanc

Sheryl Crow: The Sisterhood Band, Grace Potter (new), Lion Babe

Bruno Mars: Spencer Ludwig, Still Woozy, Roosevelt,

Jack Johnson: Riley Pearce, Noah Reid, Neal Francis, Jose Gonzales

Earth Wind & Fire: Jacob Collier, JUNGLE, Black Pumas, The Teskey Brothers

It was so fun to listen to all these cool artists! I feel instantly hipper. I chose songs for my playlist on Spotify based on sing- and danceability. Hope you enjoy it!

And in the meantime, check out this super uplifting collaboration between established musician Bruno Mars and newer artists Anderson .Paak and Silk Sonic:


Here are Val’s recommendations based on my faves:

Taylor Swift (singer-songwriter vibe): Ashe, Ivory Layne, Nicole Atkins, Shaed

Lady Gaga (get up and dance): H.E.R., CLOVES, The Vindys, Janelle Monae, Demi Lovato and Lido Pimienta

HAIM (indie pop): Maggie Rogers, MUNA, Christine and the Queens

Mumford & Sons (modern folk): Billy Strings, Fruit Bats, Yonder Mountain String Band

Fleetwood Mac (Oldie): Sea Wolf, Arcade Fire, Larkin Poe, Half Moon Run, Dorothy

I had so much fun making this playlist on Spotify. My go-to is Apple Music, but Spotify makes putting together a playlist pretty easy!

And until we can go to live concerts again, check out this video of Dorothy performing live. You will want to dance!

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