Have you ever made a mixtape? Like, a real one? Maybe you sat eagerly by the stereo, waiting for your song to play, winding the take-up reel on the cassette by hand so you could get that perfect transition timing. Or sat in a locked bedroom with your friends playing a “borrowed” tape/CD from a sibling on one recorder (eyes watering with the effort required to resist making fart noises) as you recorded your favourite tracks to share on another? Maybe someone made you one? Could you have compiled an eight-track pack of your favorite lusty songs for a secret crush? Even if these activities didn't occur during your childhood, you could hardly have lived through the ’90s/00s without encountering the NOW! Mixes, movie soundtracks, or more recently, the compilation albums sent out by record labels featuring mixes from all the bands they're promoting. There's even a pretty decent website called 8track where anyone can upload their mixes. Mixtapes (albeit in various forms) are all around you. You can't avoid them, so get amongst it.
Don't be frightened. There seems to be a lot of snobbery surrounding mixtapes. I find this a little curious given that they're usually made for a very small audience, so opportunities for judgment will be pretty limited. Surely you can make a tape of whatever YOU want, right? Not everyone enjoys seeking out obscure bands or spending hours getting the transition between songs just right (I do, but I also like fashioning small armies of critters out of discarded bread-bag ties, so what the hell do I know?).
I grew up with mixtapes. A friend of my dad's routinely sent him hilarious compilations on cassettes. They were always pretty botched jobs: the songs would cut out 20 seconds early, or there would be inexplicable interludes of random songs in the middle of others, or he would mumble to himself in the middle of the recordings. BUT they were always incredible mixes. Aside from the entertainment factor, exposure to the art of mixtaping from a young age instilled in me a life-long love for the craft, and with that devotion came a little knowledge. I'm certainly no authority, but I like to think that there are a few rules one should consider:
Don't be put off including tracks because the band/song has a stupid name. In fact, you could gift a mixtape sans track listings. Try withholding the names until after the first listen in order to shield your recipient from the unavoidable human reflex of judgment.
Try not to make the tape too long. Traditionally cassettes had room for eight tracks, so that's always a good starting point.
Don't just throw it together like some kind of audio Rorschach test – that’s plain bad manners. Think about it a little. Nobody wants to listen to the theme from Star Wars right after T-Pain's “Church”... that's just stressful!
However, don't fall into the trap of playing lots of songs that sound the same either. Everyone loves a theme, but you've got to keep things interesting.
You can find ways to make the tape more interactive. I once made a compilation for someone's 21st birthday, and wrote a story incorporating all the song titles (I wouldn't recommend that too highly though, it took FOREVER). Or you can line up tracks to play as you follow a recipe – a mixtape cake, if you will. “Cream butter and sugar for as long as it takes John Lennon to Twist and Shout” – you get the idea.
But sometimes the best way is to be a maverick and do whatever the hell you want. I'm sure someone will want to listen to your two-hour compilation of Alvin and the Chipmunks singing Muddy Waters covers.
So, here is my mixtape for you today. It's compiled of songs that came to mind (God knows why) as I listened to the one before. My starting point was Dead and Lovely – Tom Waits:
1.Winter – The Dodos, 2. Steak Knives – Man Man, 3. Riot Rhythm – Sleigh Bells, 4. Are You Pretty Enough – The Murderchord, 5. There There – Radiohead, 6. See America Right – The Mountain Goats, 7. Gamma Ray – Beck, 8. There Are Birds – The Ruby Suns. Check it out.
So go on, make a tape. Send one to whoever has had some kind of musical influence on your life. Slip one under your flatmate's door, drop it in a stranger’s mailbox, whatever. Just make one – because it's fun.