Mixtapes and Mix cd’s are on the rise! It’s a growing trend from the yesteryears; much like retro fashion is making a big comeback. I grew up in the 90’s among spoiled little brats who listened to pop music, the ever-annoying radio stations and MTV Asia, with one, just one alternative music show that aired once a week for 30 minutes (20 minutes if deduct the countless, annoying advertisements). I never really made mixtapes as I was still too young to do anything and cassette players were technologically-advanced for me at the time. Whatever the medium is, CD or cassette or a simple playlist on your iTunes created using the drag and drop tool, I still think the concept of the mixtape is here to stay.
At 16, I utilized the internet, looking for different music and listened to a lot of alternative music and indie bands, and having discovered Lime Wire and SoulSeek , I went on a limb. I got the music I wanted, and burned them all into a CD so that I could listen to the music I liked on the go. The first proper mix I ever made was my Work-Out Mix for the gym featuring Marilyn Manson’s The Beautiful People as the opening track. And Missy Elliot’s Ugly too. Yes, I compiled upbeat tracks about (good and bad) self-image, and went nuts on the cross-trainer. Oh, teenage angst!
Eventually, compiling music became a habit, and I started making mixes for myself, and the person I love, my boyfriend. We both have very different tastes in music, and mine happens to be brimming with obscure bands. Although he disagrees with some of my choices, I still manage to excite him with some rare gems. His current obsession, Mariachi El Bronx.
If you’re like me, and never really made mixtapes for anyone but yourself, start with your partner, best friends, etc. More importantly, someone who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is, and of course someone who is actually open to good music. You don’t want to make a “The Best of R.E.M. According to Me” mixtape to someone who listens to a lot Nicky Minaj, Justin Bieber and the like. My boyfriend has a wide taste in music and he listens to tracks old and new, popular, alternative and unique, and generally anything that suits his mood, so getting input from him is always great. But be prepared, though. There is a possibility that you may not like what you hear, but always start with a mixtape that features the music that you like, especially songs that represent you. It could be the beat, the lyrics, the use of synths that define your first mixtape. But when you specify that the mix is all about what you like, there is a chance that your partner might go easy on you. I said ‘MIGHT’.
Based on extensive research, trial and error, and opinions, I compiled some easy and comprehensive tips for making a mixtape, mix CD, or playlist for that special someone.
1. Decide on a theme, and stick to it!
Whether its a mixtape for you or for a partner, think hard on what message you intend to convey in your mix. If your best friend is constantly moping about her ex-boyfriend, consider a theme to help her get through the week with a list of upbeat tracks about her man being no-good and how she can move on. Or you can always make a mix for your boyfriend with the means of conveying how much you love him. Or even for that friend whose a mixtape nerd and constantly bugs everyone for their mix. Once you’ve decided on your theme, it gives you a chance to get creative with the title. No need to be complex, but a catchy title always helps (eg The Single and Available Mix for the newly-single crowd). Remember to never limit yourself to a genre. Too much synthesizers can be a pain to hear (to some people), so always play around with genres and moods when it comes to songs. Depending on your theme, you can always include some mediocre tracks for giggles, but remember to monitor the lyrics in the songs. You don’t want your girl friend hearing All By Myself in the Single and Available Mix.
2. Know Your Audience
I wouldn’t describe the art of mixtapes as a business, but as an art, to actually attract a crowd, you need to know who your crowd is. As I’ve mentioned earlier, you don’t want to give a mixtape brimming with alternative bands to a person who likes listening to the current Top 20′s. So, before you list down all your songs, understand the listener in every way possible. In a nutshell, what is their personality? What do they generally like? Are they open enough to hear what I’ve compiled? The number of questions are endless, but this is also where selecting the right theme will come in handy.
3. Start Compiling Your Songs
There isn’t really a limit to how many songs you want to fit into your tape (with the exception of the limit of your medium), but I always like to make my mixes short and sweet. I think a good number would be between 10 to 15. I like to gather about 30 to 40 songs and then narrow them down to the best 15 songs for my mix. This part may actually be one of the hardest; you always want to get the best song to convey the message. But here’s the best bit. You don’t just have to limit yourself to just music. If you know your listener likes a part of a movie, you can always incorporate that bit into the mixtape and I am sure it will brighten up your listeners mood! Also be sure to make variety the best feature of your mixtape.
4. Track Arrangements
One of the trickiest bits about making your mix is getting the right flow of songs, so arranging your tracks the right way is key. Here are some additional key notes:
i. Open with a track with a catchy beat. First impressions are always important. With that said, you’ll want to get your listener to continue listening with a really good opening track. It doesn’t really have to be upbeat, but remember to use a song that will linger.
ii. Don’t put more than two songs by the same artist. This is always tricky sometimes, but unless if your theme embraces the whole ‘back-to-back’ performance, its fine. But in the event that you feel that you want to list a variety of songs by the same artist, here’s a trick; Cover versions! Why? There is a chance it will sound different, and if you’re lucky enough, your listener will love this new version! And in some cases, cover versions sound a lot better than the original as well, so you may have just made yourself look good.
iii. Make sure there is flow. Can’t stress this enough, though. The opening track is always key, and I always like to mellow down my mix towards the middle and pick it up again. I think the middle is the best time to choose the most powerful song that represents your theme. Also, here is a quote from J.R. ‘Please excuse my Joan of Arc reference’ Brubaker.
“The last three songs are VERY IMPORTANT…the last one should always be something very soft, like an epilogue of sorts (I always like to do stuff with lyrics like “Everything’s quiet when the record ends…” The second to last and last song should be a combination of something very beautiful and almost a restatement of the thesis (Which should be stated subtley all along). The second to last song should be the out and out thesis, while the last song should be very dramatic, something big and ‘larger than life’ in some way.”
5. Surprise Your Listener
I like to share my good experiences with my boyfriend, especially when I stumble upon a band with a really good sound. You can always be a little adventurous. A mixtape gives you the advantage of showing your vast variety and taste in music, so why not actually prove that. If you have a knack for collecting some really obscure demos, B-sides, covers or remixes, definitely feel free to incorporate that into the mix!
6. Be Creative
An extra mention about first impressions, album covers! Let’s put attraction aside, and focus one thing. Personality. Giving someone a mixtape is more than just showing them how much of a music nerd you are. But you also show the listener that you care enough about them to actually take the time and effort to make something. Designing cover art can be tedious. You’ll have to get your hands dirty with arts and crafts, or you’ll sit yourself down on the computer, compiling a bunch of images and then fusing them together to personalize it, and then typing down the track list and unifying them with an appropriate background image, etc. Its hard work, but when someone actually acknowledges how hard you’ve work for it, they know you care!
Before of after the 7th step, always take the time to listen to the mix. Listen attentively to the flow of the music, or let someone hear it so you have an opinion. There is always room for improvement in a mix. I was happy with a mix I made once, but a week later, I changed it completely! Its hard work!
So there you have it. A quick, comprehensive guide on making mixtapes. This is mediocre, but its such a strong quote from High Fidelity and I just have to end my post with it.
“Do not underestimate the importance and significance of a mixtape”