Whether you’re trying to make the cross country roadtrip with your buddies more memorable or attempting to win the affections of your biology lab crush, a good mixtape may be the solution. Imagine “Star Wars” without its iconic opening music or picture “Super Mario Bros.” without its background theme. Somehow, it’s just not as exciting. You, too, can have your very own epic soundtrack for all your adventures or make that special someone think fondly of you when they hear the opening notes of... “You Sexy Thing.”
Unfortunately, achieving perfection isn’t as simple as one would think. As Nick Hornby describes the practice in his novel “High Fidelity,” “You’ve got to kick it off with a corker, to hold the attention … and you can’t have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you’ve done the whole thing in pairs... oh, there are loads of rules.” Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Select a Theme
Depending on the end goal, certain songs fit differently. If you’re going on a six-hour drive, then listening to a seven-minute song that drags on about the musician’s most recent heartbreak may not be the ideal choice. A theme is important when selecting the tracks because it makes sure that your message gets across.
Don’t Rely on Track Titles
A mixtape is a venue to express your creativity. If you want to woo someone, then tacking every song with “love” in the title is a bit dull, if not very cheesy. And if you’re dealing with a musical afficionado, you may find yourself at a loss when he or she asks whether it was the clever use of cultural instruments, the excessive use of hidden double entendres in the lyrics, or the fact that the artist managed to fit in five different movements in one song.
Utilize Social Media
If you’re planning on giving a mixtape as a gift, you may want to ensure that your target audience will enjoy your selections. Don’t worry you won’t have to break into the person’s apartment just to browse their CD collection. Social media has made this a little easier. Just log in to Pandora or Last.fm and check out their recently played list. If you’re lucky, that information may also be available on his or her Facebook profile.
Hide a Few Gems
It’s always a good idea to include a few “blasts from the past.” Some songs just evoke a certain emotion. If you don’t believe me, play any popular Spice Girls or Backstreet Boys song to group of girls (and a few boys) who grew up in the ‘90s and you’ll automatically get a sing-along going. In the same sense, “Living On A Prayer” and “Closing Time” are often choice last call songs in bars, depending on the average age of the tenants.
Avoid Obscurity for Obscurity’s Sake
A mixtape is a good place to discover new music, and it’s a good idea to include a song or two that you think the person may like. Just be careful; avoid filling your mixtape with songs no one has ever heard of. Familiarity brings about a feeling of connectivity that you don’t want to overlook.
Continuity Versus Variety
A mixtape doesn’t have to be your résumé; it doesn’t have to reflect your entire music collection. And if you have a broad musical taste, it certainly won’t. Yes, some may judge you based on your selections, but a mixtape is like a story: it has to rise and fall, and flow. And on a somewhat related note, you don’t want to start or end on your best song — there’s no denouement.
Perfect the Packaging
When all is said and done, don’t forget about the tiny details. Adding a title and album art may be tedious, but it’ll totally take it to the next level. If you aren’t as confident with your art skills (or if you aren’t in the mood to burn a CD), Think Geek has got you covered. They have a 128 MB USB drive that comes packaged as an old analog audio cassette tape.
Forget the Track List
One of the best experiences of listening to a mixtape is wondering what’ll come next. The anticipation can heighten the feeling of pleasant surprise when your all-time favorite song blasts through the speakers or when that ridiculous ‘80s pop song comes out of nowhere. Plus, it gives the recipient a reason to ask you about track titles, if breaking the ice is what you’re going for.