Since the dawn of tape decks, lovers have exchanged mixtapes as a sign of alternative intimacy. Cassettes, and later CDs, gave the music-sharing experience a physical form representing a desire to grow closer through the sharing of tastes.
But these days, mixtapes survive only in spirit. The playlist has taken the place of cassettes. Gone are the tedious hours of stopping and starting a tape deck at just the right moments to compose an entirely unique entity. So with the extinction of this physical medium goes the hours of effort, and what’s left is an opportunity to just as easily say, “I put a lot of thought into this playlist,” as, “I was too lazy to buy you flowers.”
As noted by John Cusack’s character Rob Gordon in High Fidelity, “You’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing.” The making of a mixtape is a subtle art, and mastering it takes trial and error. Here are a few tips to fast–track your journey to greatness.
Step 1: Say More with Less
Don’t be too ambitious. Chances are if you send someone a fifty song playlist, they’re never going to get through the whole thing. Shoot for ten to twelve songs, but make sure that each one counts.
Step 2: Do Your Research
This isn’t an episode of YOU on Netflix, but it's also 2019. Online stalking is totally acceptable. Definitely take advantage of Spotify or Apple Music’s social features, and visit the profile of the person you’re making the playlist for. This reconnaissance will provide a better idea of what someone's listening habits are.
Step 3: Peak in the Middle and Work Backwards
It might seem counterintuitive, but the fifth and sixth songs should be the first two chosen. These songs are the peak of the mountain, the two strongest around which all the rest should be centered. Songs five and six should be sonically and thematically consistent while the rest of the songs can be more tangential.
Step 4: Start Off With a Banger
There’s never a second chance to make a first impression, so the first song must draw in the listener and prepare them for the sonic journey they imminently will embark on. This song must be the tone–setter; if the first song is sad, chances are the listener will assume the rest is, too.
Step 5: Throw in an Artist They Like
The second or third song should be from an artist they know and like. Preferably a deeper cut; you don’t want to look “basic.” The meeting of minds can only occur if there is some kind of a connection, and this song is a chance to establish that.
Step 6: Cool It Off
You’re only mortal, and not all songs can be bangers. More importantly, you’ve to keep a few tricks up your sleeve for the (hopefully) future playlists to come. Start to cool things down around track 8 with more mellow tracks to ease them away from the ecstasy that was songs five and six.
Step 7: Send them the Link
Godspeed, kid. You’ve packed your emotions into a 12–song tracklist, and now it’s time to set them free (see: Freebird). If luck is on your side, someone will be sending you a mixtape of your own soon enough.