The Art of the Mixtape

The mixtape. Not just any mixtape. The mixtape. What we have here is an indie-rock dating ritual. If you're at all like me, a ridiculous amount of thought goes into every aspect of that mixtape. If you're at all like me, you're probably pausing to note that so far your ridiculous amount of thought has amounted to nothing. But I digress. What follows represents an incomplete checklist of the intricacies that contribute to the larger 'Art' form. Additions are welcome.

 Sami "Ladies Man" Jano says:

I always make good mix tapes for romantic purposes, and here is the secret:

Record yourself between tracks.

Say some stupid stuff halfway between one side. Not only does the person learn of your musical taste, but they also get to hear you, and learn of you, at that moment in time. Plus they will always assiociate you with that tape, even years after. It works, trust me.

 Mark Matienzo says:

1.) If you share musical taste with someone in terms of indie rock and emo, NEVER put on the promise ring. The worst tapes I've gotten have the promise ring on them. I like them, but I really don't need to hear them more than i already do. That goes for any other "emo" band that is popular at the time, including rainer maria.

2.) If you and another person have unrelated musical taste except for, say, the cure, then by all means use some sort of easily accessible pop tune that might be considered overkill on a tape for your pal who drives you to shows. Conversely, don't put grind on a tape for someone who listens to the beatles more than anything else.

3.) Yes, use alternate, live, or otherwise rare versions of well known songs.

4.) If you're going to use cover songs, make sure they're good ones; particularly, avoid any covers by red house painters or braid.

5.) Once you put "There is a Light That Never Goes Out," either the original or the cover, there is no turning back. This is merely an extension of taking note of the lyrics to songs.

6.) Never design your tape liner or cover on a computer. Do everything by hand. Use various weights and colors of paper.

7.) Just like with records, side b should start with a kicker as much as side a does, particularly if you close side a with something mellow.

8.) I'm sick of this "opposite sex" bullshit. If you are want to be cute on a tape & you happen to like someone of the same gender as you, fucking go for it!

9.) If you're going to leave out info on the tape's liner due to space or what not, abandon song titles. Getting lists of the bands on the tape is cool.

10.) I like the actual boxes wrapped in something else, and I tend to do that too.

11.) If you want to go all out, make a small booklet.

12.) Make sure your tape sounds good. I have gotten fucking DUBS of mix tapes before, and they sound like ass because the levels are so low.

13.) Don't be afraid of the mainstream, particularly to get silly.

14.) Best tape i made recently:

Side A

c-clamp - in glory, in wire
satisfact - locate
lovesick - we will be avenged
evergreen - untitled
evergreen - trudy pushpin
sleater-kinney - it's enough
rachel's - those pearls...
busta rhymes - gimme some mo
flaming lips - mountain side
yesteryear - colder every year
ida - treasure chest
smashing pumpkins - luna

Side B

superchunk - on the mouth
guided by voices - blue moon fruit
calm - moonraker
sonic youth - dirty boots
jawbreaker - in saddling around
secret stars - nightengale
of montreal - born a girl
huggy bear - carn't kiss
uncle wiggly - ferry to oslo
low - hands
orange cake mix - a wish to wonder
pohgoh - bernadette
robert schipul - there is a light that never goes out

 Christopher Taylor says:

1.) "Little League" by Cap'n Jazz is a MUST. No question about it. "What A Wonderful Puddle" by Braid is up there too.

2.) If you give a tape to a friend that has a crush on you, but you don't like them WATCH IT. Cute Promise Ring songs are great for boy or girl friends, but it can be risky bussiness. So watch out.

 Jen Soir says:

i dont wish to repeat all of the lovely things that have been said, but i do have one comment to make about technology.

just two days ago i made my first mix cd for a friend. it was a foreign experience, and yet... beautiful. i played with the songs i wished to use before hand... by quickly thinking of every component i would like to have on the tape... i rearranged these songs using winamp... until i found the perfect flow (lyrically and rhythmically) .. it was beautiful. i mixed jazz, hardcore, emo, screemo, poprock, ska, and even a little hip hop... into a beautiful composition... that i was most proud of. i almost couldn't bear to give it away. oh well.

The best thing about summer? plenty of time for mix tapes, and now...mix cds.

 Heather Weil says:

1.) Themes are annoying.

2.) Choppy tapes are annoying (No flow. There has to be flow.)

3.) Don't put more than *2* songs by a band on the tape. If you want to put two songs on by the same band, but want to put a song in between them, don't. It's either one after the other, or on totally different sides.

4.) Use samples, but make sure they're not retarded.

5.) Obscure stuff is better than the new band that *every one* is talking about.

6.) Start the tape of with an attention getter. Slow songs at the beginning is NOT the way to go.

7.) Follow that song up with whatever you think of next when you're listening it.

8.) Try not to get interrupted, this will obviously get you off the track of flow.

9.) Flow, flow, flow.

10.) The worst tape I've ever gotten:

side 1:

pulp-disco 2000
buffalo tom-summer
smashing pumpkins-landslide
cibo matto-black hole sun
rem-country feedback
the rugburns-war
jill sobule-super model
tori amos-doughnut song

side 2:

veruca salt-seether
love spit love-jigsaw
the cure-trust
the murmurs-you suck
wesley willis-nirvana
bare naked ladies-old apartment

Why this tape is terrible:
Obviously the person that made it for me had no idea what i was into. Note every band is fairly to widely well known. There's no flow, and all the bands for the most part sound the same (ie. no variety). I listened to it once and it's sat in my tape collection gathering dust since I got it my junior year of high school.

Best tape I've made:

Side 1:

they might be giants-getting sentimental over you (slow paced, but drum machine is attention getter)
joan of arc-this live cumulative
superchunk-nu bruises
poster children-dynamite chair
sunny day real estate-dynamite chair
dinosaur jr-out there
body jar-next to you
servotron-electric avenue
servotron-3 laws abolished
transam-television eyes

Side 2:

go nuts-bad apple
atom and his package-waiting room
pet shop boys-dont' know what you want, but i can't give it anymore
eiffel65-silicon world
moby-feeling so real
portishead-sour grapes
black tape for a blue girl-sawdust scatter
pizzicato5-twiggy twiggy
notorious-l'ombra depassi
notorious-lo schiavo
they live-game over
they live-visions of lineland
lack of interest-mislead and destroyed
pitboss 2000-fed up
bane-every effort made
side by side-violence to fade
endpoint-pushed too far
warzone-free at last

 George Viebranz says:

1.) One thing that's always been fun for me is connecting songs by their last and first words. i.e.: Blur's "To the End" > "End of the Century" by the Ramones > "Century City" by Galactic. If you can make a whole tape following that rule, you have an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, and my hat's off to you!

 Sabina A. Holber says:

1.) If you make several mix tapes for one person (ie a significant other) start making "theme" tapes. (The first tape you make for someone should be a broad overview of your musical interests intertwined with things you think they would like.) I once made a tape for someone leaving my state once so I used only songs that mentioned California in them. It's fun and it makes you think about the lyrics to each song you're putting on. The theme can also be as simple as putting Make*Up speaches between every few songs.

2.) Buy a cheap-o little spiral notebook to write down every mix tape you make for someone. Nothing fancy. I learned my lesson when a friend came up to me and asked "You know that mix tape you made for Jenny? Can you make me a copy?" Needless to say, I had no idea what I had put on the mixtape for Jenny.

3.) Always put a song on by your favorite local band. This is especially when you're making tapes for someone that lives out of town. The local scene can always be spread and supported some more.

4.) If there is a show coming up with a band that the person you're making the tape for, put a song or two of that band on and invite the person to come with you. They'll listen to the tape and go with you if they decide if they like the band.

5.) Always write out what songs you are thinking of putting on the tape before you make it. And always use good quality tapes, never 120 minutes. In theory it sounds good but they break too often and there is nothing worse than a broken mix tape that you love. Never 60 minutes. Always 90 minutes.

6.) Decorate. Personally, I like the look of hand cut magazines taped in over photoshop images. I also cover my collages with clear packaging tape to keep a smooth finish over everything. I also decorate the plastic tape case as well but I'm the first person I've found to do this.

7.) When you are naming the tape, there are two routes you can go for: (a) coming up with a name yourself, ie "Texas Punk & Junk #1" (b) use a lyric that you especially like from one of the songs. this also gets the reciever of the tape to listen for that line.

 Troy 'Nude as the News' says:

1.) My roommate and I once made an eclectic but personality-filled combo mix tape for our future third roommate, who was living 6 states away at the time. We took turns choosing songs from our large collection, and only gave each other two minutes from the end of each song to choose the next. Our tastes are somewhat complementary, and the tape turned out to be a nice aural postcard to our friend, as basically a musical sampling of what he was going to get into moving in with us. I recommend the experience of making a collaborative mix, if you have a situation that befits it. It gives the finished mix an interesting dynamic, because not only are both of you keeping the audience in mind, you have to keep each other's tastes in mind while creating it. And you can end up with a nice blend that neither of you would have been able to create on your own.

2.) Another modern twist is that CD recorders are becoming more prevalent. If you or one of your friends can get a hold of one of these, it brings an entirely different aesthetic to making a mix. Instead of two, evenly timed sides, you have 74 consecutive minutes to fill. Although flow still matters to the creator, the mix recipient will be able to skip around to different tracks, so keep that in mind. One important thing here is that you've got to know your audience's equipment. If you're making a road trip CD mix for a friend and she only has a tape player in her car, obviously there will be a problem. On the other hand, a lot of new cars these days are coming with CD players but no tape players.

 Graeme 'My first name is cooler than your first name' Mcmillan says:

1.) Oh my lord, you all think about mix tapes too much. In my opinion, you should just start with a song you like, then make it up as you go along... I barely (if ever) plan out the tapes I make for friends, and they're probably the better for it; that way, the music and feeling flows, instead of following some prescribed recipe. A variety of types of music (not just boys with guitars, for example) helps; these days my tapes include stuff like Nina Simone, Billy Preston, Frank Sinatra, and so on besides the established Elliott Smiths, Beatles, Blurs, yadda yadda yadda...

2.) ...but I go along with the "listen to the lyrics" thing; years ago, I made a tape for a girlfriend with the demo of "All things must pass" on it. Single within a month.

 'Chief Flatfoot' says:

1.) Gear. If you're serious about making mixtapes, you should consider buying a mixer. I purchased one a couple of years ago at Radio Shack for another project that had nothing to do with making tapes, but I found it changed my thinking on the whole mixtape enterprise completely. With my Discman, turntable and regular CD player connected, I have the flexibility to blend records and (sometimes) create something new out of the juxtapositions. For instance, I once faded an ancient 7-inch of a post-race interview with Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics into a song from Will Oldham's Arise, Therefore. Hearing that scratchy 45 and Owens' poorly recorded voice segueing into Oldham's spare music worked perfectly, and the friend who heard the tape thought it was a cool part of the original song. A mixer also allows me to make a 90-minute mixtape in 90 minutes, fading between components in real time. Though there is certainly something to be said for meticulous planning and making lists, the tension in having to come up with the perfect song in three minutes while another song is playing makes for an intense taping experience, and sometimes can lead to inspired choices (it's a stretch, but I suppose this is one of the principles behind improvisation.)

3.) Odd asides. Spoken word bits, sound effects and short, weird songs can lend a nice "arty" feel to a tape, but its important to not overdue it. Keep in mind that you want someone to enjoy the tape over time, and minute-long jokes eventually get old.

 Mark 'Westy' Donohue says:

1.) When in doubt, go for willful eclecticism. A single-genre mixtape can lead to big problems. To writ: a former amour of mine once made an CDR of ENTIRELY acoustic blues music, which was nice, but as I know nothing about acoustic blues, it made it difficult for me to distinguish one track from another. When she asked me what I liked on the mix, I was unable to to give a decent answer, making it seem like I was either an idiot, hadn't listened to it all, or both. This was not good.

2.) How wildly variant your mixtape needs to be depends on how well you understand the tape recipient's tastes. If you know for a fact they listen to tons of Weezer/Get Up Kids poppy rock guitar bands, they'll probably have the attention span to listen to a tape of entirely Kid Million/Number One Cup/Barcelona type stuff. If there's very little overlap between your usual stuff and theirs, try and make every song on the tape very distinctive.

3.) A good way to draw a listener's attention to a song on the middle of the tape that you consider important is to precede it with something loud and short that will unfailingly make the person stop whatever they are doing and listen closely. Examples: "I Like Food" by the Descendents, "Calling All Girls" by Half Japanese, anything by Minor Threat or Kid Dynamite, the shorter the better.

4.) Jarring shifts are not necessarily fatal as long as they are not overused. Of course, in this last sentence, "jarring" and "overused" are both entirely subjective.

5.) I personal like to challenge myself to make tapes with no songs the recipient is familiar with, but if you don't trust the person to give the tape a serious listen, it's probably permissible to cheat and put a few things you know they already like. Distribute these well.

6.) Always aim over your head. Try to make yourself seem way cooler than you actually are. Give the impression that you have the largest record collection ever. Make sure you subtly draw attention to song's obscurities by using parenthetical qualifiers like "(alternate take)," (original 7" version)," "(extremely rare import CD5 that cost me $35 now sleep with me god damn you)."

7.) I'm not a really visual person, but artwise, weirdly cropped clip art and onelinedrawing have always worked for me.

 Kevin 'W. Churchhill' M. says:

So many have come before me, and done an extremely good job with the rules of the mix tape. However, never to be outdone, I shall add a few addendums, provisos, and quid pro quos of my own.

1.) High Fidelity was right: making a mix tape is like writing a letter using someone else's poetry as your words. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPORTANCE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF A MIXTAPE. This holds even if you are just throwing some songs together for one of your cronies. This is even more the case if it is someone of the opposite sex, whether you have any intentions of dating them or not.

2.) Carry a theme. It may be quirky, it may be corny, but a theme throughout can unify the ENTIRE tape, and also helps you get away with songs you normally wouldn't, provided they stay within a theme. Example one: I made a tape for a girl i worked with called "The Gender Gap" (see rules for titles, below) where the entire first side was male artists, and the entire second side was female artists. I called one side "Yin" and the other "Yang" respectively. The final product was structured and it helped to give purpose for me while i was making the tape. Example two: On a recent road trip down South, I used a 60 minute tape where the first side had a song corresponding to every state we drove through (which allowed me to put "Ohio" by Crosby Stills and Nash, "Tennesee" by Arrested Development, "Midnight Train to Georgia" and "New Orleans is Sinking" by the Tragically Hip among others on the same tape) in the order we drove through them. The second side consisted entirely of "road" songs.

3.) Titles. A mix tape MUST have a title. It must be original, even if it's as simple as "The world according to [fill in name here]". Not only can this help to prepare the listener for the theme of the tape (see above) but it also has the practical use of distinguishing it from the other tapes strewn about your listener's dashboard/living quarters.

4.) Tempo/hardness of core. This is, I feel, apart from some of my tape-making brethren, a little more open. The tape takes these things into account on a macro or a micro level. That is, there can be some overarching movement from start to finish, but there is something to be said as well by just considering song to song. Of course, a true mixtape sensei will take both of these into account simultaneously, but as was stated before, a lot of times you want flow, but sometimes you need a jolt as a kick in the ass.

5.) Cover. If this is someone you even remotely care about, there should be at least a minimal effort put into presentation. This is the first thing the listener is going to know about the tape. Pictures from magazines are totally kosher, but if you really want to impress someone, Adobe Photoshop and your own imagination are your new best friends. I must also depart from some of the others on this point, when i say if the tape is just for one of yr homeys, there's nothing wrong with writing in the song titles by hand. It's personal, and for god's sake you're probably not going to get any from them anyway, so have a KitKat and give yourself a break.

6.) Keep the audience in mind. A mixtape is your own manifesto which must blend what YOU know is cool with what you know is listenable. A mix tape that never gets any play is as useless as soap at a Phish concert. Its nice to have around but it sure doesn't do anyone a whole lot of good. So don't be afraid of something just because it's mainstream. The listener does expect some surprises, but there also has to be the impetus for them to put the tape in consistently so that you may share your musical wisdom with them.

7.) Make sure the tape is clean. No cut off songs. No ka-whump sounds inbetween tracks. Make that shit sound as professional as possible. If at all possible, leave no empty space between songs or at the end of sides. This is where TV theme songs and all those 4, 13, 31 and 47 second snippets that many bands have on their albums actually get useful. If you can swing it, movie quotes are appropriate. -And yes, make sure the thing plays properly before you give it away. Duh.

 'Warholbaby' says:

1.) Never insult a person's collection of mixtapes. An ex-boyfriend once commented on my plethera of mix tapes collected throughout the years, and I threw him and his new sneakers on his sorry republican ass.

2.) Do not include the MASH theme song "suicide is painless" on a tape for someone who just got out of the psych ward.

3.) Mayhap a loud ending might segue into a fade in of a purty song, do not be afraid to make mistakes, it might turn out to be genius.

4.) When making a tape for a boy or girl you like, do not be shy of cheez. Some indie girls LIKE Elton John. You never can tell. Slayer, however...

5.) If you make a lot of mix tapes, make lists, so you don't put the same Pavement song on the second mix tape you make for the person (I have that problem with "here").

6.) Be creative. Snippets of dialogue. Kids in the hall monologues. A kitty.

7.) Does anyone want to trade mix tapes? [email]

 Erik Koppin says:

1.) Start it out with a bang! An attention-getter is a must. Personally, I like to start out with an upbeat song that might be referred to as 'A hit that everyone can sing along to.'

2.) Mix it up. I have a bad habit of just putting whatever I'm listening to at the time on the tape, and it usually grows old fast. Put on a variety of songs you love; including those from the past with those that you adore today.

3.) Don't be afraid to be emo. Show some emotion. By this I do not mean limit yourself to songs with cute lyrics. Sometimes the music alone can show that special someone how you are feeling.

4.) The Promise Ring. No matter who you are making a tape for, the Promise Ring can always be used.

5.) Rarities. Not only does the receiver of the tape appreciate songs that they may never have heard or been able to get a hold of, but it also gives you those indie credit points that you're always striving to accumulate.

6.) Covers. Very important. Either a picture that says something, or a catchy title. For example if you are making a tape for someone who has really bad taste in music and enjoys the way Tori Amos humps her piano, title it "Tori Sucks". Feel free to make multiple volumes.

7.) The slow jam. Do not hesitate to end a tape with a slow jam, to 'put your baby to sleep.'

 J.R. 'Please excuse my Joan of Arc reference' Brubaker says:

1.) I have found that, whereas making tapes off of records is a lot of work, if the person likes records, they will be very impressed and realize that it was more time consuming than usual.

2.) Sometimes I like to find transition songs, like intsrumentals...i find these in wierd places, like italian 60s film soundtracks, Blur records, experimental records, excerpts of dialogue from films, and even jazz, or classical.

3.) Always make the tape diverse, but try to stay in the ranges of the subject's taste.

4.) I sometimes like to include clips of lyrics for some of the songs, especially songs whose lyrics might be unintelligble. Sort of as a way of accenting those moments.

5.) I always like to start soft, with an overture of sorts...something very subtle and pretty. Then I always go into something rocking. The only exception to this is if i am making a mix tape for someone going on a roadtrip, then the first song always has to be very upbeat and fun.

6.)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.

7.) Finally, use the ends of each side as a sort of intermission. Use side A to build up, and then bring it back down a little bit for side B...and then begin building again.

 Katie 'A girl who loves getting mixtapes' Glick says:

1.) If it's for someone you know well, make sure to include at least one song with some specific memory or inside joke attached to it. Then whenever they listen to the tape they will remember.

2.) Mix tapes for people who are new friends should be a mix of music that they know, but don't own and music that you think they haven't heard but will like. Then they will think you are cool and listen to your musical advice.

3.) Mix tapes for good friends or boy/girlfriends should be like letters written completely in lyrics. If a girl gets a mix tape from a guy she's always thinking: "What does this song mean? Why did he put it on?" So even if you really like a song, but it says something like "I want to break up with you." don't put it on.

 Chris Ostafinski says:

1.) Progress gradually from loud songs to soft, or similarly: happy songs to sad. For example, Superchunk's "Hyper Enough" to Elliott Smith's "Say Yes" is wrong. "Hyper Enough" to Green Day's "Christie Road" to "Say yes" would work better.

2.) I like to include one or two (rarely more than two) "classic" songs on a tape ("Hey Jealousy", or "Grey Cell Green" for example) just to make the listener say "where did THAT come from?!" but still enjoy it.

3.) Decorate the tape (magazine clippings, drawings) if it's for a female that you are romantically interested in. If it's not, type out the songs. A clever title for the tape is essential.

4.) If you're going to use a band everybody knows like Sloan or Weezer, use rare songs ("Laying Blame", or "Jamie (acoustic version)".

 Jesse James Garrett says:

1.) Know your audience. Mix tapes you make for yourself can be good, but mix tapes you make for other people can be great. Even if that person may never hear the tape, have someone in mind and make your selections for them. What you like is naturally going to come through anyway; focusing on what they like can provide a connecting thread to tie the whole tape together.

2.) Give them surprises. Sometimes the best thing a mix tape can do is introduce someone to something unexpectedly wonderful. Sure, it's good to have a few reliable favorites in the mix, but keep these as anchor points between slightly more adventurous, less familiar choices. In addition to introducing your audience to completely new music, show them a different side of bands they already love with the occasional obscure B-side, remix, or side project they haven't heard before.

3.) Sequence is everything. Don't just record songs as they pop into your head. Make a list first, then think about how the songs should fit together. Mix tapes have a sort of emotional storyline to them. Each song carries the emotional tone of the tape forward to the next. Listen to the spaces between your songs: play the last few seconds of one song followed by the first few seconds of the next. Is the transition smooth or jarring? (Not all transitions have to be the same, of course. Sometimes jarring is exactly what you want.) Pay extra attention to the first two and last two songs on each side of the tape -- these are like the opening and closing scenes of a movie.

4.) Complete the package. I often have at least as much fun doing the insert card for the tape as doing the tape itself. Whether your style is Photoshop and Illustrator or scissors and glue, put your mark on what's outside as well as what's inside.

 Jason Schad says:

1.) Know your purpose! I once heard someone say that there are two types of mixtapes:
a.) A tape to show someone you don't know very well how cool you are.
b.) A tape to show someone you know very well a particular emotion that you are experiencing.
I don't know if it's quite that cut and dried, but you should always have some sort of purpose.

2.) Pick songs that match your purpose. If you are trying to win over a cute girl DO include Promise Ring songs (any will do nicely), DON'T include "Sounds Like Violence". It doesn't exactly send loving images.

2b.) Pick songs that match the recipient (i.e. don't use Fugazi for sorority girls and no Elton John for indie chicks).

2c.) Never use Elton John on a mixtape.

3.) People subconsciencly want order to help them process information (thank you Tech Comm class), so order the songs some how. I perfer to put all the slow songs on the first side and the fast ones on the other side. Once I had the songs increase in tempo all the way through the tape. That was a lot of work though.

4.) Make your own tape cover. Even if it's just construction paper with computer printed song titles, it's better than the card that comes with it. I like to cut stuff out of magazines. But I'm a dork.

5.) Listen to the tape and make sure it plays. Self-explanatory.


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