The mix tape: that remnant of a bygone era when free recordings were hard to come by and music was played on Walkmen and home stereos. It was also a staple of relationships of the 80s and 90s — a great mix tape can show that you truly understand someone and care enough about them to sit by the radio and wait for the DJ to play each song so you could record it. In today’s world, where every piece of recorded music is merely a click away, is a mix tape a meaningful enough gift to give your loved one?
Precisely because music is so plentiful, mix tapes are useful now more than ever. With all that’s out there, making a playlist that’s more than a jumble of songs with “love” in the title takes time and skill. And so, with Valentine’s Day just a day away, I’m here to guide you on your way to creating a great mix tape for your special someone.
The most important thing to remember when making a mix tape for someone else is that it is for someone else — make it something they want to actually listen to, not something that shows off your impeccable taste in obscure music. This means making it a manageable length (I usually aim for 45 minutes), having a cohesive theme and knowing what your recipient likes.
The beginning of the playlist should have some pep to it; this is the section whose momentum will power the slower romantic songs coming up. I also think the beginning is the place to throw in the more kitschy, cute choices. For this year’s playlist, I’ve chosen to open with Alabama Shakes’ catchy blues number, “I Found You,” following it up with “Do You Believe In Love” by Huey Lewis and the News. This playlist should outlast the mushy emotions of Valentine’s Day; I could see someone jamming out to these songs in their car on any day of the week. Other songs that could conceivably go in this section: “Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy” – Queen; “Angel” – Shaggy; “Girl” – Das Racist.
So, you’ve pressed play and you’ve got your body moving — now’s the time to transition into the slower, romantic part of the playlist. You should pick music to which you’re able to dance like you’re a classy couple from the 50s (with slightly less sexual restraint). The songs in this segment are great for a Valentine’s Day playlist not only because they’re timeless and beautiful, but also because they’re likely to pave the way to some sexy sex. What’s going on my playlist: “Cheek to Cheek” – Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, “Here, There and Everywhere” – The Beatles, “Pra Machucar Meu Coração” – Getz/Gilberto, and “Crazy Love” – Van Morrison.
It is crucial to get this section right. While all the songs I’ve listed above are somewhat formulaically “Valentine’s Day,” they are also songs that mean a lot to the person for whom I’m making this playlist. Even if you don’t share an extensive history together, try to pick songs that resonate with the way your relationship functions. If you think Nickelback’s “Figured You Out” will work…more power to you. But I want to stress this point: pick songs that mean something about your relationship.
Now, we move on to the final section of the playlist. I see this as a kind of cool-down with cutesy and fun tunes that you can just lie around and cuddle to, though my second-to-last song is meant to inject some energy. Feel free to use this segment to show off your indie love song-choosing prowess. For my playlist, I’ve gone with: “Lorelai” – Fleet Foxes, “In My Life” – The Beatles, “When U Love Somebody” – Fruit Bats, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” – Stevie Wonder and “Going to Port Washington” – The Mountain Goats. (I might be guilty of having put that last one on every single playlist I’ve ever created; it’s a beautiful song.)
Phew — feel free to take the opportunity to pat yourself on the back: you’ve created an awesome mix tape. But you’re not done quite yet. How do you give your loved one your newly completed masterpiece of music aggregation?
Over the years, formats for media transmittance have come and gone almost as quickly as the top 40 hits on the radio; if you gave anyone your mix tape on an actual tape, they probably wouldn’t know what to do with it. (In a misguided attempt to combine sincerity and irony, I once gave a high school girlfriend a mix tape on cassette. It turned out all right, but in retrospect I feel like a schmuck.)
So how do you present your gift: MP3? FLAC? Do you simply Dropbox the playlist? Create a Soundcloud profile? Make a Tumblr replete with GIFs and quotes from Wes Anderson films? Just burn a CD?
These are all viable options, but the rules I’ve listed in this article guiding function also guide form: put work into your presentation and make it something meaningful that your recipient will like! If your boyfriend’s a Twitter fanatic, tweet a link to each song with a unique hashtag. If you want to go with a simple CD, design some album art in Photoshop.
“High Fidelity,” the film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel of the same name, proffers some wisdom about the creation of a mix tape: “The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem.” Unlike breaking up, however, it can be a fun and rewarding experience — I’d say it’s more like forming an awesome relationship. Rob, the main character of the film, puts his finger on one similarity of a relationship and a great mix: “This is a delicate thing.” So, take care and start the former with the latter.