Ah, the Mix-tape:
We don’t think much about cassettes anymore. They were inherently a horrible medium for sound quality. Every time you played one you’d get audio loss, eventually warped sound, or in the worst case, a snapped ribbon of tape meaning one more piece of plastic chucked in the trash, resting in a landfill permanently, given their popularity was before recycling was common practice.
But from the mid 80’s to mid 90’s, the blank cassette was the perfect medium for self-expression with the advent of the Mix-tape.
Compiling songs together for you, your friends, or the object of your affection was always a gratifying experience. I, in particular, became obsessed with segues. Can I make the guitar feedback/strings/keyboard sound that ends one song flow into another song that starts with similar said sound? That was always soooo satisfying. Be it romance, something to keep you from driving off the road on a long trip, or to help spur creativity, the right collection of songs can do wonders.
Since cassettes are now impractical for most, you now have 2 options. The Cd burner is still the most convenient. For those who co-habitate, the shared iTunes account isn’t ideal, but it can work. You just have to give the exact track listing order to your significant other. Okay, for most people, that might not matter (here I go again with the segues. But even if my Wife puts it on shuffle on her iPod making it all for nought, it’s the bow on the ribbon that I must tie.)
Making a mix is your persona in audio form . No, you didn’t write and record these songs yourself, but they spoke to you, and are now part of your musical DNA. When you make them for yourself, you’re just putting the pieces together that work for you best. I was particularly proud of one I recently made for my iPod. I made it strictly songs I’d have only heard on “120 Minutes” in the mid to late 80’s. I would be ashamed to tell you how much time I spent on this endeavor, but I have to go one better than the basic rock genre categories, and the iTunes Genius Mixes just don’t have the sonic ability that I can bring to the table.
And I also won’t go into excessive detail about how long I worked to put together iPod mixes for our wedding (the only part of the ceremony where I requested creative control), except that it took many, many, many, (did I say many?) hours. I don’t even know if most of it got played, but dammit I fine tuned it to the finest detail. I doubt you’ll ever hear anything played so great at any other wedding you’ll be at anytime soon (unless you want to borrow the mix list from me, feel free to ask).
When you’re making a mix for someone else, you’re hoping:
- that they will love what you pick
- that they won’ t hate what you picked so much that your relationship is now in peril
- hopefully they haven’t heard everything you’ve come up with so you can turn them on to something new, showing of your sonic repertoire and :
- that they pay attention to the lyrics when you find something that communicates exactly what you think about them, or that illustrates a moment that you both shared.
I go hard-core music nerd when I make mixes for my wife. I even include liner notes, with a full track listing, and why I selected each song. I make them for pretty much every special occasion (about to work on one for our upcoming wedding anniversary in fact). I know that she enjoys them, but I feel compelled to make them. Somehow it scratches an itch for my personality.
So after 20 years of mix tape expertise, I think I’ve come up with some hard and fast rules to make any mix beyond reproach. If you’re lacking inspiration, or just want ideas, feel free to borrow. I’ve added Amazon links at the bottom for some that you might like to add to your collection:
- If you’re making a mix for either a gym workout any of these bands are golden: The Cult (obviously) , NIN, Danzig, Faith No More, Ministry, Killing Joke, Pantera, early Metallica, or Prong. For diversity be sure to throw in some old techno (Prodigy or Chemical Brothers work well), or something more current like Sleigh Bells. Be sure to stick in a few psychedelic stoner rock anthems (Sabbath, Kyuss, QOTSA , Monster Magnet, or Mastodon will satisfy).
- If you are on a long road trip, all the above will work. But just make sure you add a few weird, humorous things to the mix to keep your attention (Ween, Mr Bungle, and some of William Shatner’s albums work for me).
- If you’re’ suffering from insomnia, any of Brian Eno’s, Gavin Bryar’s, Aphex Twin’s or Moby’s ambient works will do wonders.
If you’re looking to make a romantic mix, you can’t go wrong with any of these:
- All Depeche Mode ballads are golden, esp if Martin Gore sings them (i.e. “Somebody”), same with any of the Cure’s less morose tunes.
- I usually allow myself one classic rock cheese ball selection (“Love Hurts” by Nazareth comes to mind)
- Make sure to add some nice electronic lounge music (anything by Air) or one of the mellower songs by Massive Attack, Portishead, or Garbage. For more recent artists, you can do no better than a selection off the “Drive” soundtrack, or anything off the XX’s début album. One of M83’s more wistful tunes is equally appropriate.
- An atmospheric number by the Cocteau Twins, The Church, or Slowdive will do just fine.
- Don’t forget a few acoustic gems. The obvious choices like Nick Drake or Leonard Cohen are solid, but you can also add some stuff by the very underrated Mojave 3 (this song rules), and the one Beck album worthy of more acclaim, the atmospheric “Sea Change”.
- Try this track “747” by a band you likely haven’t heard of, Kent. It’s excellent.
- If you have anything by Sade, use it. She knows what she’s doing.
- Anything by Roxy Music off “Avalon” or practically anything off any Bryan Ferry solo album is mandatory. He’s the smoothest dude in the world, and “Avalon” is one of the best of its kind.
Does anyone else still work on mixes? If so, what are your go to’s? Feel free to comment while I get back to work on making that anniversary mix….