How to Consistently Compile Perfect Mixtapes

Tamar McCollom, Staff Writer

“A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do,” wrote Nick Hornby in his famous novel High Fidelity. Oh, how right you are Mr. Hornby.  Now regarded as the unofficial Bible of the Art of the Mixtape, High Fidelity outlines a rigid formula for making the perfect compilation. More than 25 years later, many rules remain relevant, but the Holy Scriptures could use a few minor revisions and some modern flair. Here are a few basic rules to help get you started on all of your mixtaping endeavors.

  1. Always start big.
    In the days of cassettes, when you literally couldn’t skip a track, your listener might have been more willing to wait for you to hit your stride. They might endure a few duds in hopes of getting to the gold later in. However, in the era of CDs, it only takes a dull 45 seconds or so for someone to start skipping through all of your hard work. What this means is that you have to draw your audience in right from the get-go. This is not the time for long, drawn out introductions or slow yet beautifully written ballads.  Set the stage. Start bold.
  2. Don’t be afraid to be eclectic.
    Yes, the flow of a mixtape is vitally important and should never ever be neglected. However, the bigger sin is to not take risks and to stay confined to one genre. No one wants to hear the same song in a slightly different form over and over again. After a while, everything runs together regardless of how amazing you happen to think it is. Try to juxtapose different moods, eras, genders, genres, tempos, etc. If you’ve just hit your audience with a MC5-Stooges one-two punch, it’s time to turn it down a notch, perhaps several. If you just placed Belle and Sebastian next to Yo La Tengo, it’s time to turn it up. Hammering your audience with power ballads won’t keep their attention. The best way to keep your audience interested is to keep them guessing and to introduce a wide array of material.
  3. Not everything is suited for a mixtape.
    Sometimes, try as you might, a certain artist or song just isn’t going to work into a mixtape. It’s not that it isn’t a good song. It is simply that that particular song isn’t built to commingle with other songs. Oftentimes, these songs are just too unique to work into the flow of your average mixtape. There’s making a statement, and then there’s just coming out of left field. Perfect example: Minnie Riperton, lovely gal, beautiful voice. However, I will personally deliver a check, Ed McMahon style, to anyone who can successfully place “Loving You” on a mix tape.
  4. There is nothing wrong with picking favorites.
    I have made a good amount of mix tapes in my day, and a fair amount of them contain at least one Velvet Underground track, most of the time “Sweet Jane.” Is it repetitive? Admittedly, yes. But the truth is that the Velvet Underground is awesome, and “Sweet Jane” is the perfect mix tape song. As long as it isn’t used ad nauseam and you avoid giving it to the same person twice, don’t worry about it. However, never, I repeat never, put two songs by the same artist in one mix tape. There is a  huge  difference between love and lunacy.
  5. Keep it short and sweet.
    Perhaps the largest rookie mistake is going past the hour mark. No mix tape, no matter how good or how important should ever be longer than one hour.  Mix tapes should be listened to in one sitting, and no one has the time or the desire to sit through an hour of material. Having a long run time diminishes the impact and the quality of the tape. Learn to edit. Always try to keep the length within 48 minutes or so, and try not to exceed 14 tracks.

Tamar’s “Perfect” Mixtape

  1. “The Modern Age”- The Strokes
  2. “Sweet Jane”- The Velvet Underground
  3. “City With No Children”- Arcade Fire
  4. “Everyday People”- Sly & the Family Stone
  5. “Don’t Worry Baby”- Beach Boys
  6. “Last Night at the Jetty”- Panda Bear
  7. “Carolina”- Girls
  8. “Weekend”- Smith Westerns
  9. “Go Outside”- Cults
  10. “In the Sun”- She & Him
  11. “The Laws Have Changed”- The New Pornographers
  12. “And She Was”- Talking Heads