How to make a perfect mix tape or cd

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How to make a perfect mix tape or cd

A mix CD is a user constructed disc of music, easily to make with a home computer and CD drive. Some people consider making a good mix CD an art form, with some clear guidelines on how to put one together. But whether you need some feel good music for driving, a compilation to get you through a long flight, or special music for a romantic evening, mixing a CD ensures that you have your favorite music just the way you want it.

The easiest way to make a mix CD is by using a music software program such as iTunes®. Not only does the program allow you to arrange playlists and easily burn CDs, it also has a link to the iTunes® store, where you can purchase any last minute necessities for your mix that you don’t yet own. Advanced mixers can also make use of a sound edition program, like Sound forge, to customize levels and fades for a smoother CD.

According to Rob Gordon in High Fidelity, “the making of a great compilation…is hard to do and can take ages longer than it might seem,” but it can still be fun. Choose music that you love, and make CDs for whatever occasion you might need. Try making a mix CD of songs that remind you of summer, or a nostalgic mix of your favorite songs as a teenager.

As you build your playlist, try listening to the end of each song and the beginning of the one next on the list. This can help you discover the flow and rhythm of the CD; it may even tell a story. Decide if you want a CD that has a long build to a climactic finish, or something that stays consistently mellow or consistently hard-core. Listening to how one song leads into another can truly make your mix CD feel seamless.

If you are making a mix CD for someone else, take care to find out what they really like and dislike. A gift CD is not about how good your musical taste is or what message you are trying to send, it is about making something that will make another person smile. While CDs can be a real expression of your individuality and personality, when they are for another person, they should be about them.

Mix CDs can make wonderful and inexpensive gifts. If you’re having a low-budget Christmas holiday, try making a CD of funny and unusual carols to give to family and friends. Be sure to check the lyrics on included songs, however; Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah” may be hilarious to your friends, but might seriously upset Grandma.

The goal of a mix CD is to create an experience you can take with you. Creating the correct mood with song styles and artists can be the difference between a good CD and a classic one. Experiment with new artists and old favorites, and don’t get too bogged down worrying about whether everything fits together perfectly or that the songs are of different genres. Remember that you aren’t being graded, and the experience of making the CD may be nearly as fun as listening to the results.

If your idea of making a mix is hitting shuffle on iTunes and hearing the same 15 songs in a slightly different order, the fine folks at can help you. At the site, users suggest themes for a special mix — recent queries include everything from “a formal dinner party for hipsters” to “what does martha stewart listen to when SHE cleans her kitchen?” — and the site’s “robots” (or rather, their unpaid community of music reviewers) will generate a track listing for your personalized jam session.

Jessica Tylkowski is such a robot/person. She’s been at it for years, making mixes for her father on his birthday, and handling dozens of requests for TinyMixTapes. Recently she bailed out the sad-sack who requested the theme: “After You Left I Had Nothing to Come Home to Anymore.” The mix began and ended with the Mountain Goats — Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and the Unicorns provided the emotional crescendo in between. Now she’s agreed to divulge the secrets to making the perfect mixtape. Listen carefully.

Avoid Obscurity for Obscurity’s Sake. “There’s a reason no one’s heard of that band that plays at the bar down the block every night.”

Themes Are Fun; Kitsch Is Bad. “Don’t just take (a fun theme) as a cop-out and make all the titles cutesy.”

Similar Song Titles Do Not Equal Continuity. “A lot of people will replace song-to-song continuity with making sure the titles sound alright together.”

Don’t Rely on Cover Art. “Album art can be an interesting place to express yourself, but it’s not the be-all, end-all of the mix tape.”

Withhold the Track Listing. “I’m a fan, if at all possible, of giving the person a mix tape, and then giving them the track listing after they’ve listened to it once. People don’t quite know what to expect.”

Use Live Tracks Judiciously. “All the clapping and cheering — it’s got to be something truly special to be worth it.” Examples: “Jews for Jesus Blues” by Clem Snide, “Jealous Guy” by Elliott Smith, or anything by Magnolia Electric Company.

Recognize Your Audience. “A tape I make for my dad on his birthday needs to be drastically different.”

It’s a Mix Tape, Not Your Resume. “I’d rather have things sound good together than to know that you’re into the blues.”

It’s Okay to Be Funny. “If you’re making a mix tape to win someone over, not every song has to be, ‘Please come back to me, please come back to me, oh my God, my life is over without you.’ It’s cool to put ‘Guns of Milan’ by Art Brut (a song about impotence) on it.”

Happy Doesn’t Have to Equal Fast. “There’s a wide enough variety of music available today that you should be able to find songs that are broken-hearted, but still up-tempo (and vice-versa). Pretty much any Okkerville River song will fit on your mopey mix tape, and they’ve got a banjo and some horns.”

Don’t End with Your Best Song. “As Rob Gordon said (in High Fidelity), you don’t want to start with your best song, but if you end with your best song, there’s no denouement.”

Balance Fidelity with Tempo. “If you have a basement recording from John Darnielle, you don’t want to put that next to a Stars song, which is ultra-produced.”

There are millions of CDs available for purchase these days, but they don’t always have exactly what you’re looking for. Maybe you want to personalize a mix tape or CD for a friend or loved one. Or perhaps you want to have the perfect mix tape or CD in your car as you’re cruising down the road. You know it doesn’t exist, so you’re just going to have to make the perfect mix tape or CD yourself. But where do you start? Follow this guide to help you make the perfect mix tape or CD.

Step 1

Think about your audience. Before you can begin to make the perfect mix tape or CD, you need to consider who your intended audience is. Is this a gift for a friend who loved the 70’s? Or is do you want to create something for your rap-loving brother? The preferences of the recipient of this mix tape or CD should really dictate the style and content of the songs you include on the mix tape or CD.

Step 2

Decide on the ‘feel’ you want it to have. You don’t necessarily have to go with the theme or feeling for the entire compilation. You may want to include a variety of songs that offer real contrast for the listener. You need to decide on the message you want the final compilation to convey, whether that’s a feeling or a theme or just plain ol’ good music. This should help you to lay out the songs you’ll include that will make it a perfect mix tape or CD.

Step 3

Come up with a rough draft. Before you start recording any songs to tape or CD, you need to ensure that you’ve chosen the perfect songs. The best way to go about this is to write down all of the songs that you were thinking of including in the compilation. Then, like a rough draft of a story, edit out the ones that don’t perfectly fit in with your goal for this perfect mix tape or CD. Once you’ve narrowed down the list to the right number of songs, think about what order you want to put them in too. You don’t want a fast upbeat song to follow a slow, sappy song. The tracks should kind of flow from one to the next, without any abrupt changes. You will also need to think about how you will start off the compilation and grab the listener’s attention. The first song of a mix tape or CD says a lot about what the listener can expect. Choose that one wisely. When you have a final list of the songs you want to include in the order you want to include them in, you are ready to start burning the songs to CD or tape.

Step 4

Make the perfect mix tape or CD. All you have to do now is to copy your songs to the tape or CD. If you are burning the songs onto CD, make sure that the program you are using inputs breaks between the tracks (or your listener will be frustrated with an hour-long track he can’t skip through). As well, if you are using songs you downloaded, make sure that you listen to the song first to ensure is it, indeed, the song it is saved as, and that is has no blips or incomplete parts. Finish off your perfect mix tape or CD with some great cover art (available at your local office supply store). You will have created the perfect mix tape or CD that you, your friends or loved ones will be excited to receive.

Our Thursday Tip-Off series is a weekly set of tips, suggestions, and tricks for making you a better-informed person. You’re welcome.

If you’re under the age of 20, the era of cassette tapes may have passed you by completely. If you’re sad you missed out, dry those tears, because cassettes are back and better than ever. (Or they’re at least exactly the same as they used to be. but you get the point.) If you’ve never spent 3-5 hours sitting by the radio, waiting for that one Hanson song to come on so you could add it to your mixtape, get pumped: you can now relive that experience, in the year 2015. (Even Hanson is a little bit relevant again, proving time is a flat circle.) If the nostalgia of mixtapes is tugging at your heartstrings but you’ve never made one before, here’s how to make your very own, so you, too, can record an angsty love song about cheerleading and have your crush play it in their boombox.

1. So you want to make a mixtape. Great! First, get yourself a blank tape. Then, get yourself either a boombox cassette player (one that has radio/cassette/CD), or just a simple tape recorder. If you go with a standard tape recorder, you’ll need a radio or CD player to hook it up to so you have something to record from. (You have to work for your mixtape.)

2. Once you’ve got your gear, it’s easy to record. If you’re going to record off CDs, it’s simply a matter of queuing up the songs you’re interested in and recording to the cassette. Make sure to time it properly, though, because iTunes won’t be there to tell you if you’ve gone over your recording limit. To get a clean recording, hit the record button before hitting the play button on your CD to ensure that you get the full song in there. The nice part about mixtapes? If you screw up or change your mind, you can rewind and try again.

3. If you’re recording off the radio, make sure to hit that record button as soon as the song you’re into comes on (and make sure not to get the radio DJ in there, too). While mixtapes are definitely going to be more work than a standard CD mix, think of your 1992 ancestors – this is what they did when they wanted to make a mix, and they’re better for it.

4. When it comes to picking what songs you’d like to include, the fun thing about the mixtape that sets it apart from CDs is that it’s harder to skip from song to song, so most of the time you end up listening to the mix in full. This makes it more of a complete story than a CD. If you’ve ever read High Fidelity or Love Is A Mixtape, then you know that the mixtape narrative is an important one, and can be more exciting to build out than a CD mix.

5. Once you’ve crafted the perfect mix, pop on one of those little label stickers, doodle a few hearts on there, and present to your crush. (Or you know. whoever. Just hope they have a tape player lying around.)

If you’re interested in more cassette tunes that aren’t on a mixtape, Burger Records has been at the forefront of cassette production, and feature a ton of cool bands on cassette if you’re looking to expand your collection. There’s also this great countdown of 2014 cassettes from FACT Mag, proving that there’s a whole underground cassette world out there. Cassette Store Day is also this Saturday (!), which means it’s a great time to get out there and learn more about the format. Let those ’90s vibes wash over you, man.

Pick up your free copy of UO’s Volume 11 Mixtape in all US store on Cassette Store Day, October 17
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How to Make the Perfect Mix (With Mixtape)

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.

How To Make The Perfect Mix Tape

How to make a perfect mix tape or cd

This cut-and-paste hobby is “the most widely practiced American art form” (Geoffrey O’Brien). The time implicit in a mix or playlist is the real gift. It’s one of the purer gifts one can give.

1) Don’t put an average tune up first. It’s like the first sentence of a book. It has to be a striking one.

2) Know your audience’s music proclivities. Proof that you know the genre really well and surprise with some undiscovered and original choices.

3) Employ variety. Singer-songwriter is your theme but 15 to 20 songs of a man and a guitar is lame and boring.

4) Always use a classic tune. or a remix of a classic song.

5) Mix soft and loud tracks. It works. Just find the right balance and flow.

6) Include songs by female vocalists. Especially if the mix is being made for one.

7) There is no limit to the genre range.

8) Give it a title. But it needs to fit your concept. “Happy Birthday Angela.” – bad choice. “Tales of a Tired Decade” or “Music to Cut Veins” – better.

9) Be aware of the lyrical content. Especially if the mix is made for a friend. Modern pop music is largely focused upon love – either wanting it, getting it, or being disgruntled for having had it – it has little place in a platonic mix.

10) Mixes can be pathways to overthinking, and are probably even easier to misinterpret. Spiking mixes with hidden messages is not a good idea. It never works.

Download to read offline

or “Everything I learned about marketing I learned from creating mix tapes.”
I spend my working hours getting inside the heads of different people and thinking of ways brands can create meaningful connections with them – it’s all about empathy. I spend lots of my free time making mixtapes, dating all the way back to my pre-teens. I draw six parallels between the two processes and how empathy is at the core of the experiences we craft.
++ Transcript below has extensive notes! ++

This deck was inspired by an earlier post I wrote:


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    People change. Tastes change. Music changes.
    25 years ago, Jen liked Cocteau Twins and Everything But The Girl, bands I don’t think she’s spun in two decades.

    Life is a moving target. Having “it” figured out probably works for today. That’s all. In this mix tape evolution, I’ve now had to also accommodate a second audience: my daughters. My second audience can validate or destroy my mix tape in seconds, so I have to keep up with their tastes, too. To do all that, I don’t only keep spinning the Pixies and Replacements (or Zeppelin, Beatles, Police) as much as I love them. Constant evolution keeps me fresh. Like Brad Pitt says in World War Z, “Move to survive.” I’m out exploring and finding new stuff I love and in equal parts, new stuff that makes my ears beg for mercy. It’s the only way to stay fresh and it’s ultimately satisfying when I put something like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on a mix tape a good four months before the single’s on heavy radio rotation. Since I know this mix tape won’t be my last, I have permission to keep trying new things. “Good and shipped” trumps “perfect and paralyzed” every time.

  • Whether making a mix tape for the one you love or devising strategies for the brands you love, keeping these six things in mind will ensure success
  • By the way, here’s the mix I made for 2014 Valentine’s Day. It still gets pretty heavy rotation in the mini-van.

    And if you don’t like every song on this list, well, maybe you’re not in my target audience!

    How to Make the Perfect Mix Tape 10.19.01

    How to make a perfect mix tape or cd

    Picture this: You’re in love. Great. Everything’s perfect. Well, at least that’s what you think in the beginning. Slowly you’ll realize there is a missing void, a certain something begging to fart out. And what’s worse is that this certain something is tearing up your relationship. So what is it and how can you fix your relationship? It’s a mix tape is what it is, and you can start by making one.

    Picture this: You just found a new best friend. This new best friend scans your music collection and is on the verge of asking to borrow some. But of course, you are extremely selfish and prefer not to share your CD’s, but at the same time, you are desperate for a friend. So, what do you do? You make a mix tape.

    You’re in the grocery store. You ask someone where’s the cereal aisle. The person points you in the right direction. What do you do? You make a mother fucking mix tape.

    Mix tapes are perfect. Not only are they great for sharing new and old music, but they dig down deep into the bottom of the heart, and expose the bloody organ for all it’s worth. It’s as personal as stripping down naked and saying, “This is me, take it or leave it.” Usually they would just leave it, but with Jack Tripper’s (read: my) help, they will indefinitely take the bait; because as we all know, tricking people into liking us is the best way to live life.

    So what’s a mix tape anyway? It’s just a tape with a whole bunch of songs, right? Just scramble a few songs together and that’s good enough, right? Wrong. Creating a mix tape is one thing, but creating a perfect mix tape is a whole other story. It takes enormous amounts of outlining and planning before executing a perfect mix tape. Sure, you can throw a bunch of random songs together, but don’t come crying to Jack Tripper when that special someone dumps you or your new best friend ditches you — because they will. I promise you, if you follow these little guidelines, you’ll have that special someone or best friend for at least a month longer.

    So where do you start? First of all, you need an audio cassette. Most cassettes found in Wal Mart or Sam Goody will suffice. Mix taping doesn’t imply spending $10 on a tape just to show how much you care. After all, it’s about the execution and design — oh yeah, and the music. On the other hand, you don’t want to use a bad tape, such as a previously used tape or one that has been collecting dust. It’s safest to start clean with a new, moderately priced, blank cassette.

    Now, the question is. What is the recommended length for a mix tape? The most popular lengths are 60-minutes, 90-minutes, 110-minutes, and 120-minute tapes. The choice is ultimately yours, but for your first mix tape, you should play it safe and go with 90-minutes. I mean, after all, this is your first mix tape; if you screw up, wouldn’t you rather be screwing up for only 90-minutes, rather than 120-minutes? So you’re probably wondering, why 90-minutes and not 60-minutes? My answer: don’t ask too many questions, you ungrateful little punk.

    Once you’ve acquired your tape, it’s on to the next topic: themes. Themes are extremely important in the art of “mix taping”. Among the popular themes are “love songs”, “summer songs”, “sad songs”, etc. Only you will be able to choose the appropriate theme for the occasion, so unfortunately, I have to leave that up to you. After your theme is chosen, you will have to whip up a clever title. My recommendation is to keep the theme and title simple for your first attempt.

    After picking a sufficient title and theme, you can begin choosing songs. Choosing songs pertaining to the theme is not too difficult. Just make sure you don’t throw on a song just because you love it — it has to fit the theme. And more importantly, don’t throw on any shitty songs. I don’t think they will appreciate listening to shit. Which leads us to the next step: tracklisting. Tracklisting is the single most crucial aspect of mix taping. After choosing a batch of songs, you must narrow them down to which songs will fit the best, and which are most compatible with one another. Try pairing up songs and working around them. You should create test lists and go through each song making sure they all fit with each other. I cannot stress how important tracklisting is. Radiohead almost broke up over the tracklisting for Kid A — do you get my drift? After some experience, you will be able to pull off two themes on one tape. For example: Side A: “Love Songs for the Retarded” and Side B: “Songs for the Pickup Truck”. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, you have a long way before you will reach that kind of status.

    The most important song is the first song. It can’t be too obvious, cheesy, or predictable. And it can’t be too obscure that the person will be too worried about wondering who it is, or whether they like it or not. The song has to ease the listener in slowly, but confidently. Some people prefer coming up with the first song, then working from there. That’s a good approach, too, and can often be more effective than the “pairing up songs” approach for the tracklisting.

    Joke songs. Yes, they are funny, but do you really think your loved one or best friend will laugh every single time the song is played? There are a couple rules to help you decide whether or not to use joke songs. On rare occasions, a joke song will work on a particular person over and over. If it happens to meet this criteria and you’re 100% confident that it will, go ahead and do it. And if your tape’s theme happens to be “joke songs”, then go ahead and do it; although, that theme is not recommended if you want a relationship over 3 months. Bottom line: If your joke song doesn’t meet these two rules, then it should be left off — or you might as well start looking for a new friend or special someone.

    Transitions between songs play a vital role in mix taping. It depends on your theme, but if the theme calls for variety, making smooth transitions between songs is highly important. Variety is good, but you can’t expect to leap from genre to genre without having any linking songs. Let’s say you throw on a cute rocker, such as “Underground” by Ben Folds Five; and somehow you want to transition to Tortoise’s “Djed”. You can’t just go straight from pop rock to detached, experimental post-rock. You need a link. Come up with songs that may fit in between, and if you can’t find any, then one of those songs has to take a hike.

    Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it right the first time. Mastering the art of mix tapes takes practice, and more importantly, patience — so, expect screw-ups. If you are really serious about mix taping, I recommend finding a temporary best friend or lover to test the tape before using it on the ones you really want to impress. That way you can gain more practice without screwing up any serious relationship you may have in the future. Follow these rules and you’re guaranteed a friend or lover for at least 20-30 business days.