How to Make the Perfect Mix (With Mixtape)

November 4, 2007 at 7:42 pm 2 comments

So this is part of an upcoming article I think I’m going to write for the Dovecote, the literary magazine of which I am design/web editor. I really like making mixes. In the article I plan to go into the difference between CDs and tapes and between “whatever” mixes and mixes with specific themes. Below are my instructions on how to best create one of the former or a mix with a very general theme. I’ve made a mix inspired out of silliness and jubilation, and you can get it here for 7 days. After that, let me know and I’ll get it to you.

I realized that I the text file in the download makes no sense, so here’s the playlist from the mix I have hosted above.

1. Enjoy the Silence – Depeche Mode
2. Gay Bar – Electric Six
3. Besame Mucho – The Beatles
4. Hotel Expressionism –  The Streets
5. “toshchi station”
6. Beauty Is Only Skin Deep – The Temptations
7. Prince Ali – Disney’s Aladdin
8. Bowling Machine – Thee Machine Gun Elephant
9. Ocean Man – Ween
10. Skanky Panky – Kid Koala
11. Mongoloid – Devo
12. Fig Leaf Bi Carbonate – MF Doom
13. Type B for Me – Melt Banana
14. Same Girl Remix – R. Kelly ft. Ush & T.
15. Dukes of Hazard Theme – Weezer

Pick good songs. This is really the crux of it. Pick songs you enjoy and your personality will automatically come through in the mix. This is most important part of it, but the next three notes relate to song choice.

Choose with variety in mind. You should try to vary track lengths, genres and artists so that your listener is engaged. Too many songs over four minutes and you’re going to lose all attention. You most definitely can use the same band twice effectively on the same mix, but only if you do it purposefully.

Don’t discount pop singles. I’ve never heard anyone say “I don’t use pop singles,” but a lot of people subscribe to that policy indirectly and I think it’s a bit elitist. I think Art Brut said it best: “He made me a tape of bootlegs and b-sides. And every song, every single song on that tape said exactly the same thing, ‘why don’t our parents worry about us?’” Interpret that however you wish.

Avoid songs mired in other meanings. This is not a hard and fast rule, but I usually avoid songs that are irreplaceably linked to the albums they are on. For instance, I would probably not use “Only Shallow” by My Bloody Valentine because it’s the beginning of “Loveless” and really known for opening that album. You don’t want to detract from your mix as an album itself. This is more subjective, but worth thinking about.

Thoughtfully organize your songs. It might not be something you could write an essay on, but you should get a sort of feeling from the way your mix is heading. After picking a lot of songs you want to work with, think about which would be good to start and end with. Is it a good idea to have multiple instrumental songs in a row? Do you want all your loud songs together? There are plenty of things to consider.

Use interludes. This is really important to me when I make mixes. Ever wonder why some albums have those short under a minute tracks between songs? They can do the same thing for your mixes that they do for their original albums—break up the action, set the pace, or give a quick breather. You probably have more than you think. If you use iTunes or a program like it, click on “time” so the shortest tracks are at the top.

Make sure the songs flow together. When I have things lined up like I think I might like them, I listen to the beginnings and endings of each song one after another and make sure it makes sense and everything jives. This is probably the hardest part.

Balance the sound. It’s the worst when you go from a soft song to a really intense one and there’s a huge disparity in the sound, unless you are trying to make the listener really uncomfortable. In iTunes, it’s as simple as looking in the Advanced options and making sure “sound check” is checked.

Listen to it before you give it away. When you think you’re done, step back and take your best objective look at the mix. Listen to the whole thing through and decide if you would listen to it yourself. Tinker where necessary. Did you notice anything exceptionally cool that you accidentally did while making it?

Give a playlist or MP3 files. Make sure you give enough info to specifically look up the songs if you are just giving a playlist and audio CD. If just giving a burned audio CD, I like to email or yousendit an archive of the MP3s so the listener can easily put the tracks on their computer. iTunes will “export song list” if you right-click on the playlist.

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Entry filed under: art, mixes, music, pop music.

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Shit Just Got Real

Josh Kramer is a blogger, cartoonist, journalist, etc. I'm the Editor of The Cartoon Picayune. I live in Washington, DC and I just graduated from the Center for Cartoon Studies. See work by me and my classmates.

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