The Art of the Mix

"The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don't wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules." ~ High Fidelity

If you've ever received or made a great mix, you know the truth of Rob's words. It is an art form, and it's one that is often overlooked.

In order to be truly great, a mix must (in my opinion, obviously) meet the following standards:
  • The songs need to fit together cohesively, although not necessarily by genre of music. There should be some sort of overarching theme. When I'm creating one, I like to start with a color or a quote or a situation/mood.
  • The music should take you through some sort of emotional arc, similar to a good story: exposition, rising action (with smaller rises and falls within it), climax, falling action, resolution. (This arc is, incidentally, something that I think is missing from a lot of commercial albums.) There needs to be some sort of build, and no random, jarring transitions between songs (ironic transitions, however, can be fun and display a sense of subtlety). The order the songs are put in, then, is incredibly important--and this is the biggest difference, I think, between a playlist and a mix.
  • Ideal mixes should expand the musical tastes of the listeners, but not attempt to teach or school them into something different than they like (condescension sucks). New or rare songs by artists one loves and a smattering of people one hasn't heard of before are best. Mixes that are entirely songs one knows are not as fun.
  • Rarely, if ever, should the same artist be repeated on a mix (unless it is entirely a mix of one artist, which is different and much harder to do effectively). It smacks of . . . well, almost laziness.
  • Mixes given as gifts should always be accompanied by a tracklist with the full song title and artist. Bonus points are given for cover art.
If you are lucky enough to find someone who is good at mixes, make sure you stay close friends. They are invaluable and should be treated as such.


  1. I totally agree. I still have amazing mixes from friends that I have never forgotten. I have fallen out of touch with some of them, though, tragically. Cynthia Saunders. Andrew Grafe. My sister, Hollis. I was known to make a great mix tape in my day, too. Unfortunately, I just don't have the equipment to really do it the way I like anymore.

  2. Oh my goose, I love making mix CDs!! It truly is an art form, one I am confident that I am good at.


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