One of the biggest frustrations almost all indoor cycling instructors have is with the music. This is not just the case with new instructors (though it is one of the most common worries I hear from them); even if you feel confident about finding and using music based on the beat, energy, and emotion of the music, it can still be a time-consuming process for instructors who care about a quality product.
In my opinion, the key to cutting down the time required to create interesting and varied playlists with a wide range of genres is to have large playlist “buckets” from which to draw. Bucket playlists are large playlists that meet a certain criterium that you’ve set. They are not the same as the playlists that you create for one specific class.
The criteria for your bucket can be a theme such as a seasonal theme (winter, Valentine’s Day, Back to School, etc.), a tempo (beats per minute), how you would use the song (warm-up, cool-down, recovery, sprints, FTP tests, etc.), how the song makes you feel (motivating tracks, funny songs, emotional finishes, etc.), length of the song, genres and years (classic rock, female artists, 1990s hip-hop, 1980s retro, disco, etc.), songs with certain words (Hey!, Go!, ready, boom, colors, cities in the US, songs about water, etc.) and so much more. There are so many ways to categorize your music. (As of this writing, I have almost 2,000 playlists on Spotify, including my profile playlists and over 500 themed bucket playlists.)
I’ve been curating these bucket playlists on Spotify since 2016 (when I finally made the leap from iTunes to Spotify, begrudgingly at first, then thankfully). We’ve shared well over a hundred of them on ICA, mostly theme playlists, and I have many more to share with ICA members.
For example here are all the 6-minute songs you’ll ever need broken down by bpm (five buckets, currently over 550 tracks and growing). I originally created these for profiles that need 6-minute tracks for long intervals, such as 3-2-1 intervals and 6-minute over/under intervals but they can be used in steady-state or any other profiles as well. Here at ICA, I am constantly adding more bucket playlists as I come up with new themes and ideas. (You can find 3-2-1 interval profiles here and here.)
Bucket playlists based on bpm (or rpm if you prefer—you’ll see I address both bpm and rpm in the titles of my bucket playlists) are going to be some of the most-used playlists in your music quiver as you seek out songs for your profiles.
Below are 10 of my bucket playlists broken down by the cadence (rpm) you would attach to that song. I further divide them by music genre, either electronic (including trance, dance, club, downtempo, ambient, world, dub, etc.) or pop/rock/indie/alternative music. (Some EDM tracks may be filed in either or both genre buckets depending on how much the song leans towards pop music.)
Even if you don’t teach by pedaling to the beat, these bpm/rpm categories can still come in handy. You’ll find that the tempo of the song is often (but not always) similar to the energy of the song. For non-beat-riding instructors, you may choose to categorize your playlist buckets more by terrain and energy, such as “climbing songs,” “attacks on a hill,” “flat road moderate,” “surges,” or similar categories.
How to Use These Bucket Playlists to Quickly Create Playlists for Your Profiles
Suppose you are creating an interval profile that will have progressively longer intervals from 3 minutes to 4 minutes to 5 minutes. You will have two songs of each length and you want the cadence in each set to alternate with a slower climbing cadence and a faster flat road cadence. (Sound familiar? That’s the “Dueling Intervals” profile—now you will know how to create an endless number of versions of this profile!) For the first set, you need two songs of around 3 minutes long; for the second set, you’ll need two songs around 4 minutes, and so on. These bucket playlists below are already divided by genre; to find the specific length you need, simply sort each playlist by duration. (Click on the down arrow above the length column. It allows you to select to sort the entire playlist by title, artist, album, date added, and duration.)
In each bucket playlist, click on a few songs in the duration range you want, and when you find one that has the energy you desire, drag it into your new playlist. Add two to three for each cadence range and length. Now you will have several song options for each rpm. Simply listen to them again and decide which ones you want to keep.
Now, you need to add your recovery songs—we’ve got you covered with 5,000 song options! Do the same with these songs—sort by duration, select a few more than you need, and drag them into your new playlist. Then you can make your final choice and place them between each interval.
Finally, you need your warm-up and cool-down songs (or perhaps you prefer to add those to your playlist first). But of course ICA has huge bucket playlists for those as well! Here are about 1,400 songs to choose from.
For Non-Spotify Users
If you don’t currently use Spotify to teach, not to worry—you can still use these buckets and greatly benefit from them. But you’re going to want to at least get yourself a free Spotify account. That way, you can still create these large playlist buckets and categorize tracks you enjoy. Use the ICA suggestions (both profile playlists and bucket playlists) and “follow” them to add them to your Spotify account. Then you can decide if you like the song(s) in that playlist and either duplicate a similar playlist in your preferred streaming music resource (such as Apple Music) or purchase the tracks and add them to your own iTunes library. Bucket playlists can be created in any of the popular streaming music sources.
Personally, I do still use my iTunes for some playlists. One of the nice things about Spotify is that if you can’t find a track in their library, or if you have a special hard-to-find remix that is no longer available anywhere else, Spotify can also access tracks from your local library. (It takes a little doing; you will have to Google the instructions on how to attach your local library to your Spotify account.)
However…my best advice? Take the plunge and get Spotify premium!
Below, ICA members can access thousands of songs divided into 10 different buckets based on bpm and genre! As of April 2023, there are currently almost 7,200 songs in these 10 bucket playlists for you to use. This represents many dozens (if not over a hundred) hours over the years I’ve been curating these playlists…and ICA members can get it all now.