Monday, October 15, 2007

How to Make a Mixtape

One of the best things about being a music fan is the homemade music mix. I’m not talking about putting an iPod on shuffle and randomly putting songs on a disc. A true mix requires thought, sweat and a lot of frustration. The process has gotten slightly easier thanks to the CD burner, but making a mix can be a frustrating ordeal. In this week’s column, I will try to alleviate some frustration.

Step One: Start With A Bang

The first track of the mixtape should grab the listener’s attention. If you start with a ballad, there is a high probability that the listener will get bored and not listen to the rest. Therefore, it’s always best to start with an up-tempo number, because it gets the listener involved in the record. It also sets the tone for the rest of the tape. If you have a really great opener, the chances of a great tape dramatically improve.

Step Two: Cool It Down

Now that you have attention, you need to bring things down a bit. This does not mean you come out with ballad guns blazing. The third track is a good time to break out a mid-tempo song. It gives the listener time to recover from the opening onslaught and sets up the next up-tempo song. Here is an example. If I were making an AC/DC mix, I would open up with the double whammy of “Whole Lotta Rosie” and “Girl’s Got Rhythm.” Then I would cool things down with “The Jack,” which is the perfect lead in to “Givin’ the Dog a Bone.” Remember: The listener needs to catch their breath.

Step Three: Album Tracks Are Your Friend!

Let’s say you were making a Beastie Boys mix for someone who had never heard them before. Obviously you would need to include “Fight for Your Right” and “Sabotage.” However, The Beasties’ best work has always been the non-singles. Shake it up a bit! Use stuff like “Slow and Low,” or “Shake Your Rump” or “Johnny Royal.” “Fight For Your Right” is great, but it’s been done a million times. By using album tracks to your advantage, you introduce someone to songs they would never hear on the radio.

Step Four: Make Sure It Flows!

.You can have the best tracklist in the world, but if it doesn’t flow, it doesn’t work. How do you avoid bad flow? Every time you add a new track, listen to 30 seconds of the track that came before. Then listen to 30 seconds of the new track. Then ask yourself: “Do these go together?” If not, it’s no big deal. Either delete the track, or move it to a different spot. Before you burn the disc, give it a full listen. However, it should be noted that proficiency in this step comes with experience. If you don’t get it the first couple of times, don’t be discouraged.

Making a mix is not easy, but I think it is an important skill. You learn a lot about music, because it forces you to think about how each song fits within the context of a record. It’s also a great way to make friends and to introduce someone to music that they have never been exposed to. But most importantly: It’s a lot of fun.

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