Monday, March 24, 2008

Zen and the Mixtape

If there is one totally lost art that can be attributed to the home CD burner and the rife availability of free/illegal music on The Internet, it's got to be the mix tape. It seems to me that now there are mix tapes being made, but not good ones. It seems as if the idea of just making a mix tape to entertain someone has gone totally out the window.

On the one hand, you've got your John-Cusack-Inner-Monologue-High-Fidelity mix tape maker who's putting together a mix tape because he or she feels that they aren't articulate enough to make a strong case as for why the mix tape reciever should sleep with them. This, I find, is laughable. If you can't talk your way into those pants, how is a mix of songs going to do that? I mean, it's really rare to find someone who cares about music just as much as you do, which is the only way that I could see that working. If they weren't into music the way you are, you'd spend the whole mix tape explaining artist and songs and why they are important, and if they are way more into music, you're just exposing to them how boring you are.

On the other hand, you've got your Hipster-Indie-Look-At-How-Many-Bands-I-Know-That-You-Don't mix tape maker. This person drives me up a wall. I can understand where this idea comes from, but I don't condone this kind of behavior. I mean, we all want to expose our friends and relations to cool shit that we know and they don't, but a mix-tape is not where this should happen. Especially in the modern era, where music is pretty much free to everyone, and it becomes harder and harder to find new music, you end up reaching into the corners of your library and pulling out shit that you don't actually listen to just to be impressive. These mixes tend to jump all over the spectrum, from hip-hop, classic rock, R&B, to metal and the rest, and they are usually unlistenable.

And the last sect of shitty mix makers can't even really be called mix makers. I've been given shitty mix tapes that are nothing more than playlists. Now, playlists are cool, like the, "hey man, you're going to the beach? Righteous, pop this mix in, bra, and it will be all good," playlist, and the, "you trying to get laid tonight? Totally put this on man, she'll be down on ya before track three," playlist; those are both great things to have on hand, but a playlist is not a mix-tape.

So I've put together a list of rules for making a good mix tape, and hopefully, it will help you.

1. Make sure the songs flow together and have a nice pacing to them. A disjointed mix will seem tossed together.

2. Consider your audience. If your intended mixee is a casual listener, stick with singles and songs that they may have heard before. Take into account music that they like and introduce some stuff they may not have heard, but don't go crazy.

3. Watch out for incredibly long songs. You want your intended to listen to every song all the way through, and they aren't going to like every song on the mix. A skipped track is a missed opportunity.

4. If you have romantic motives, avoid the all love songs mix. Love songs are great, but if you want your mix to get listened to more than once, you've got to consider how boring love songs can get one after another.

5. Time travel helps. Sample music from different temporal areas, unless you want your mix to sound like one hours worth of a 80s radio station, but avoid the mix that samples one style of music through a long period of time. Too many times the "Metal, 1975-2005" retrospective has ruined a friendship.

6. If you want to go really obscure, but don't want to alienate your listeners, try using a a cover song, or a popular band covering them.

7. If you reason for putting a song on a mix would take longer than the intro of the song to explain, then it doesn't belong. Every song on the mix should be obvious, after listening.

8. Don't put music you don't listen to on it. Sure, tossing in some classical music makes you seem sophisticated, but when you say, "Gee, I sure love Brahms," and they say, "Actually, it's Stravinsky," you definately won't get laid.

9. Be careful with instrumentals. Some people don't take the music part of music very seriously, and are only listening for lyrical content. A quick test can help you decide whether or not a instrumental will work. Does this person like to have music on in the background while doing other things? If so, an instrumental will be in good taste.

10. Just because CD-R's can hold a lot of music, doesn't mean you have to use it all. 30-45 minutes is a good length to shoot for. That's long enough to put a wide variety in, but not so long that it will be a chore to get all the way through.

10.1. Pick out more songs than you plan to use, put them all together, listen to them all and pick your order. The listen to the mix all the way through to make sure you haven't got any skips or mislabled songs. Pear it down to your final length and then listen again. If you can get through without skipping, then you're golden.

11. Hand write the play list along with artist name and the record it came from. This will make it easier for the listener to download or buy more music by the artist, if you succeed in amusing them. A printed track list, while more legible, is less personal. The disc should also have a date on it.

12. Be careful with cover art. If you want to decorate the case, make it something cool, but not over involved. You're trying to showcase the music, and glitter will just draw away from it. I personally like to have the play list right on the front of the jewel case. That being said, ALWAYS use a jewel case. A blank CD without a case will be lost or destroyed long before it's full effect can be felt by the recipient.

So there you have it. A mix-tape in 12 easy steps. Now go get your CD wallet, your vinyl collection, your iPod together and make some tasteful mixes.


teddy.bear.function said...

i won jess and drew over with a indie-alternative-scenester/hipster mix tape......but then again none of it was music that i found on my own so i suppose that i lose at life.....and yes i read your blog. i like when you actually write down the shit you should say in public.......people call me an asshole for putting them down.....but they call you one for such a better reason........the pompous tone you do so well that i completely fucked.......i would recommend stealing some of my moms pain medication........its cool you get fucked up but get to have the guilt of my moms broken arm on your gonna stop sexy man.......

Kevin Convery said...

yo fuck you, Metal 1975-2005 has never hurt any relationship ever: FACT. If anything its made said relationships more brutal and nothing is wrong with being brutal.