The Art of the Mixtape


Look at that outdated technology!

Look at that outdated technology!

From Elvis’s Presley’s “All Shook Up” to Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby”, from Big Black’s “Precious Thing” from their album “Songs About F*****g” to Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl”, popular music is largely about love; sexual, platonic, unrequited, or otherwise.  This wealth of material is what makes the mixtape a fantastic courting mechanism for all the boys and girls too shy to walk up to their loved one and begin playing the Velvet Underground’s “After Hours”.


However, shyness does not correspond to fantastic musical taste, no matter what indie pop bands may have convinced you of.  So, in order to help all you people who would give the girl, boy, transsexual, eunuch, whatever of your dreams a mix filled with emo, nü metal, and 90s industrial rock, I have written this guide to make perfect mixtapes, or at least ones that won’t get you a restraining order.  There are four rules to making great mixtapes, and here they are.  

1. The lower fidelity the song, the more sensitive you will appear.  Compare Spoon’s “The Agony of Laffitte”, a vitriolic attack on a A&R man, with Oasis’s “Wonderwall”, a sappy and soaring love song.  Despite all the strings and cheesily romantic rhymes (‘maybe’ and ‘save me’ stick out in particular), “Wonderwall” doesn’t seem more endearing than “The Agony of Laffitte”, which is not a love song by any means.  From this we can begin to gauge the awesome powers of lo-fidelity.  Like all rules, this has an exception; badly recorded live bootlegs are not the best mixtape material…

2. …unless they are by the Velvet Underground.  Everything the Velvet Underground ever released can be put on a mixtape, except for 30-minute jams on Sister Ray.  And even that will work sometimes.  But seriously- if no other popular music existed besides the Velvets, mixtapes would still work perfectly.  From live recordings (“We’re Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together”) to proto-shoegaze demos of songs Lou Reed would later make worse as a solo artist (“Ocean”), to the actual studio tracks, every single song is a mixtape gem.  An added note; the easiest way to make a great mix is to simply burn a CD/make a tape of the third and fourth albums by the Velvet Underground, “The Velvet Underground” and “Loaded”, respectively.  

3.  B-sides and demos are your god.  The problem with the mixtape is that ultimately, you’re going to find somebody with good music taste.  This means that there is no excuse for you to give he or she a mixtape.  But fear not- there is a way around this; the almighty B-sides and demos.  Unless your beloved has impeccable music taste, they will not have these tracks.  And neither will you.  But if you love this person and have no guts, you will get these tracks.  This of course complicates the situation; it can be tough to find the perfect b-side, when so many are filler or bad live tracks.  Demos are even worse; though I said before that lo-fi is fantastic, there may also be a point when it goes too far.  The optimal collection of demos are the one for Wilco’s 2002 album “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”, which would be a mixtape staple if everybody didn’t own it already.  These demos are great for two reasons; 1) the person you are giving this mixtape to probably already likes Wilco and 2) if he or she doesn’t, these songs are probably better than the released version of YHF and should win him or her over.  Not all demos can be like this, but the closer a demo or b-side comes to this standard, the better it will be on your mixtape.

4. Resist the urge to put Belle and Sebastian on your mixtape.  Yes, they’re indie.  Yes, they’re sensitive.  Yes, they’re literate.  Yes, they’re lo-fi.  Yes, they’re Scottish.  Yes, they’re shy and you can probably identify wit that.  But please, please, please put the Smiths on instead.


One Response to “The Art of the Mixtape”

  1. very good suggestions. Throw in a soul song and you are homefree; or a Diana & Marvin to show communion in voices; or a Ramones to indicate you know a good time when you see one.

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