Anyone reading these words will likely belong to one of two groups of people: those who love music mixtapes, and those who haven’t a clue what one is. This article is aimed at both groups, and, consequently, at everybody. It offers a set of simple steps that need to be followed in order to create the perfect mixtape.
Mixtape veterans will likely already know the formula, but will hopefully gain inspiration from this piece to start curating once more. Mixtape virgins will see how easy it is to create a mixtape, and be handed the basic knowledge needed to forge one that will engage and excite the chosen recipient. Whether they be your mother or a lover. As long as they’re not both.
A mixtape can take multiple forms: it can be long or short, varied or similar, on digital or physical formats, and crafted out of a whole myriad of emotions. It is essentially just a collection of songs chosen by someone for someone. And it’s an art form that anyone can practise. That makes it a rather compelling idea that we need to fight for as we enter the digital age.
What follows is the recipe to cooking up the perfect mixtape. The final dish is yours to serve.
The Perfect Recipient
Don’t even think about listening to any songs yet. The first step, before a note is played, is to figure out who you’re creating the mixtape for and about. Mixtapes are usually made for a loved one, and usually for someone you’re romantically involved with. It could be your wife of 20 years, your girlfriend of a few months, or even someone who you adore from afar.
However, this isn’t always the case. You could create a mixtape for a family member, perhaps for reasons of nostalgia, to jog their memories of years gone by. Or you yourself could be the recipient, perhaps using the mixtape to make a musical memory of a certain period of your life. It doesn’t matter who the mixtape is for, as long as you get into their psyche in some way.
Think about the person. What genres of music do they like? What interests do they hold dear? What feelings do they conjure up in you? Create a clear picture in your mind of who you’re crafting the mixtape for before you start finding songs and putting them in a specific order.
TL;DR: Tap into the mindset of the person receiving the mixtape.
The Perfect Message
Wait, it’s still too soon to start listening to any songs. Now you know who you’re creating your mixtape for, you need to figure out what you’re using it to try and say. There are no hard and fast rules here. Some people stick to the titles of songs, some to the lyrics, some to the tempo and timbre. There is no right and wrong methodology, but you need to keep the message you’re trying to convey on point.
A simple exercise is to choose a single word and build a mixtape around that. Love is a rather obvious one, but it’s a solid choice thanks to the sheer number of songs in all genres which use love as their basis. However, not every song with love in the title has the same meaning, so you still need to keep it clear in your mind what message you’re trying to pass to the other person through music and your choice of songs.
Jumping ahead slightly, you’ll have to listen to your completed mixtape through at least once to ensure the message is clear and concise. If a song title or lyric doesn’t fit into your theme then knock it out and replace it with another that does. Which brings us on to song choice.
TL;DR: Keep your overarching message strong and clear throughout.
The Perfect Songs
This is obviously the most important part of the process of making a mixtape. Choose the wrong songs and the whole thing comes crashing down around your ears. Choose the right songs and you’ll have said much more to the person receiving the mixtape than you could ever hope to do alone.
Most people will choose their own library of songs as their starting point. They know these songs, have listened to them numerous times, and understand what the artist is trying to say. But creating a mixtape also offers an opportunity to discover new music for yourself, so be sure to conduct a search online and/or consult one of the many books written about music to find additional songs that could become the icing on the top of your mixtape cupcake.
Listen to any and all songs you think may work, noting down any that fit the bill. Always find more songs than you intend to use; this way you can cut the deadwood at the end in order to be left with the perfect blend that you’re completely satisfied with.
TL;DR: Search your library and beyond for the perfect dozen or so songs.
The Perfect Order
Once you have your list of songs, with the also-rans crossed out, it’s time to put them in the perfect order. I personally always find this the trickiest part of the whole exercise. You’ll want to start and finish strongly, with the first song signaling your intentions, the last being the song the recipient will likely remember the most.
The rest is up to you, but some songs will work together much better than others. At the very least listen to the beginning and end of the songs you’re planning to site next to one another. You may have chosen the perfect songs, but if they don’t complement each other in the running order then the finished mixtape will sound like an amateurish mess.
This is also the time to think about the length of your mixtape. Too short and it loses all meaning, too long and there’s a good chance the recipient will skip tracks in order to make it through.
TL;DR: Start strongly, finish memorably, blend the middle seamlessly.
The Perfect Title
You absolutely cannot have a mixtape without a title. Even if it’s as simple as the name of the recipient, every mixtape has to be called something. It could be the one word you used as inspiration for the song choices, it could be the emotion you feel when you think of the person you crafted the mixtape for, or it could be a play on words which only has meaning for you and the other person.
If the recipient of your mixtape isn’t likely to understand the meaning behind the songs you’ve chosen then give them a clue in the title. Or be mysterious and use a non sequitur to throw them off guard before they press Play. The most important thing is to be original, using the title to augment the meaning of the mixtape you have just spent hours crafting to perfection.
TL;DR: Let your creative juices flow.
If you have followed those simple steps then you should now be the proud owner of a great music mixtape, whether it’s in the form of an audio cassette, a CD, or a collection of MP3s. All that is left to do now is pass it on to the lucky recipient and hope they respond well to your title, selection, ordering, and message.
Are you a fan of mixtapes? Have you ever sent one to someone you love, like, or mildly fancy? Have you ever received one and, if so, how did you react? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
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