Posts Tagged ‘Making a Mix-Tape’

I know, I know, nobody has tapes anymore, and even CDs have pretty much died a slow death. Still, I call my CD Mixes Mix-Tapes. Deal with it. Hell, I remember making mixes for people back when I was recording from LPs to 8-Tracks. I’d be willing to bet I’ve made over a thousand mixes in my time, and I’ve taken great pride in “spreading the word” if you will. I’ve had students come up to me with tapes I made for them back in the early 80’s that they still listen to, and that makes me feel really good. I’ve also been asked to make several wedding reception mixes for friends, so you’re talking to a pro here – listen up.

There are several rules I adhere to when considering the Art of the Mix. Grab a pen or pencil and take notes:

  • Artwork is a must. See that picture up there? That’s a prime example of how not to do it. Show the person receiving the tape (and by tape I now mean CD of course) that you care, that this is important to you. You want them to give a nod of approval and a smile before even listening to a second of  the music. I must admit I’ve become lax over the years, even emailing the playlists to people and just scrawling the title on the CD. Blasphemous, and I hate myself for it. I hereby vow never to do it again. Damn, this is cleansing. And oh, NEVER use a computer to design your artwork.
  • Sign the mix. You gotta let ‘em know where it came from. Give it a signiture. My mix covers always end with “A Shoe Archives Collection.” Egotistical? Maybe. But be proud of your contribution in spreading the word.
  • Start the mix with a kick-ass song. Never, ever start your mix with a  ballad or love song. Save that one for at least song #3. You must begin with something that will grab their attention and get their  head bobbin’.
  • Always have an original tune at the end, something surprising, maybe an obscure live version of a song or an alternative acoustic version of something familiar. This can also be used to see if the listener actually played the mix all the way through. A couple of weeks after giving the mix to your friend, ask what they thought of that last song. If they can’t answer, remove them from your mix gift list. Screw ’em and their close-minded musical attitude.
  • Don’t waste a lot of time considering the listener. I know, that sounds cold, but assume that you know more about music than they do, and make a mix that you just know they’ll like if they give it a listen. This doesn’t always work, as when I gave Aunt Ruthie my infamous “Death Metal ’96” mix, but hey, I gave it a shot. My point is that the Mix-Tape should be a foray into the musical unknown for the listener.
  • Themes are recommended but not mandatory. There’s something about hearing Dylan and Snoop back-to-back that makes me, well, queasy. But hey, eclecticity is not a bad thing so go nuts if you feel your listener will appreciate it. Still, themed mixes are nice for certain times. My “Outer Banks ‘08 Mix” was, I must say, a classic. Then again, I once made a mix called “Songs About Superman” that a lot of people didn’t quite get. For those interested, the song list includes “O Superman” by Laurie Anderson (great song), “Superman’s Song” by Crash Test Dummies, “Superman’s Ghost” by Don McLean, “Superman” by Five for Fighting, “I Am Superman” by REM, (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” by The Kinks, and “Black Superman” by The Kinshasa Band. Oh, and I have a mix with 18 different versions of “Over the Rainbow” but now I’m just rambling. Just so ya know, I get carried away sometimes.
  • Hope for feedback. There’s nothing worse than spending time making someone a mix and not hearing a damn thing about it, ever. Ideally, you want to receive a phone call in a couple of days with a breakdown of what the listener liked and disliked about the mix. A little respect, fellas.

Finally, no discussion of Mix-Tapes would be complete without a quote from Hi Fidelity, one of the greatest music movies ever. This is from Rob, played by Jon Cusack. Read on:

To me, making a tape is like writing a letter. There’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You’ve got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention (I started with “Got to Get You Off My Mind,” but then realized that she might not get any further than track one, side one if I delivered what she wanted straightaway, so I buried it in the middle of side two), and then you’ve got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can’t have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can’t have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you’ve done the whole thing in pairs and…oh, there are loads of rules.”

I worry that, with the arrival of iPods and digital downloads, that the Art of the Mix-Tape will die a slow, agonizing death. It’s the last bastion of a dying era. Most of my friends will give me CD mixes that I transfer from CD to Laptop to iPod, but I don’t see a lot of young folks doing the same. Years ago Mix-Tapes were the only way anybody shared music. I fear those days may be long gone. Still, we must keep fighting the good fight. Be strong and we will keep the Mix-Tape alive.

One final story. For many years as a teacher I would make an end-of-the-year mix for a select group of students, the ones that “got it” if you will and wanted to expand their musical horizons. As with all my mix tapes, I would think of a catchy name for it and do all the artwork by hand, usually on the old Maxell cover. Looking back at some of these, I must say I’m pretty proud at how far ahead I was on the musical curve. OK, OK, I had some misses as well. But hey, who didn’t think Deadeye Dick was going to be huge? Anyway, one year I called a mix “The Ungodly Nuggets” which seemed cool at the time. Probably a year after giving this mix out to maybe 25 kids, I was getting new tires for my car in Chillicothe at a little out of the way garage. The guys taking care of my tires looked like they’d be into Conway Twitty, so imagine my surprise when an obscure alternative song came blasting out of their tape deck. I was a bit amused when the next song up was also one of my favorite new alt bands. It was on song three that I noticed the pattern. These cats were listening to my Mix-Tape from the previous year. I asked one of the grease monkeys who they were listening to and he replied, “It’s some group called the Ungodly Nuggets. We love it.” That, my friends, was a life highlight. I walked over to their tape player and the cassette case was laying there. Sure enough, it was my mix, but the cover and tape had been copied and redistributed. I was never more proud than at that moment.

So there you have it. The art of making the mix-tape.