Monday, April 6, 2009

Musical Etiquette: The Subtle Art Of The Mixtape

Dear Musical Etiquette,
There's this guy at the gas station that I'm totally crushing on ! <3 He's sooooooo HAWT and I totally don't know what to do. My BFF sez I should make him a mixtape to let him know how I feel. Should I do this or is it way too creepy?

Thanks! XXXXXX

Mixtapes are a wonderful tradition. It gives you a chance to let someone know how you feel about them with music and it can be a very special gift to receive. It's also a great way to share your musical tastes with someone you've just started seeing without an awkward romp through your record collection. Making a mixtape can be a very rewarding experience or the source of a very frustrating late night worrying about the meaning of every song and laboring over every decision you make. Relax! You're more than capable of getting through this process, you're awesome, remember?

Like most things in life a little knowledge and experience can help guide you through the darkest corridors of the dating world. Let's start out with why you're making this mix. You want to convey your emotions clearly, letting the other person know that you like them, love them or are stalking them at work.Though the goal is bold and clear, the way to achieve it is a delicate and nuanced process. You want to sketch around the space where your emotions lay and let the recipient draw the picture. If you're stalking someone, it can achieve a level of creepiness unlike anything shy of being in their house when they get home. Mixtapes are not a tool for direct communication. If that is your goal, I may recommend the spoken and written word, it has served our ancestors well in conveying concepts directly.

Be Yourself

You are a wonderful person. Honestly if you're reading this post then you're already up in my book, you're seeking advice and being proactive! So when you're making this mixtape, I want you to express yourself as much as possible. Don't play to your beau's tastes too much. Obviously if your date only really listens to Jack Johnson and John Mayer you may want to avoid the Norwegian Black Metal tracks that remind you of them but don't choose songs solely on the basis of the other persons taste. It's OK to be different, why would you date someone that is identical to you in every way? Remember, this is a chance for them to learn more about you as well as an opportunity to express your emotions or be creepy as shit!

Don't Be A Cheap Bastard

You're not hollow are you? Then ensure that your gift has some meaning and depth to it. This is an expression of yourself, your tastes and emotions condensed into physical form not a recitation of someone else's idea of you. You may be using other people's art to express yourself but no one else can select and arrange these songs like you. Likewise the physical form of the mixtape should be a mirror of yourself. In an age of Amazon MP3 downloads and instant access to digital media, nothing says that you care like a hand made CD cover. If you prefer to use MP3s, I recommend a specially purchased USB drive that matches their tastes (a quick Google search should yield something suitable). An actual analog tape may be preferable depending on the person you're giving it to but be sure to check first, not everyone shares an obsession with archaic media. At no time is e-mailing a playlist acceptable, this is widely considered a Dick Move by experts in the field.

Balance Is Key

Keeping the mix balanced is very important. You don't want to bore them with a radio playlist and you shouldn't assume that they are interested in extremely esoteric music either. Filling a mix with Javanese Court Gamelan and Tibetan Throat Singing is appropriate for an exceptionally small fraction of the population. Likewise shuffling the track order of Britney Spears' discography might mean a better chance of recognition but shows a staggering lack of taste or care. The seriousness of the songs should keep an even balance, don't attempt to craft the greatest dramatically romantic soundtrack ever conceived but do not appear flippant and uncaring. The tempo of songs should vary as well. Mix upbeat tracks with mid-tempo and slower songs evenly without jarring the listener too harshly. Even the worst DJ in the world would balk at moving from Morphine into Yelle.

Order And Chaos

Figuring out the order of the playlist can take more time than anything else when crafting a proper mixtape. Each song is a sentence in this poem of your feelings and this is where many people get trapped. Often times the mixer is locked in their room at three in the morning, chain smoking and laboring over the placement of one song, rearranging the entire list 30 or 40 times before crying themselves to sleep in the dawn. Do not be this person! The way this plays out can be very important but remember that if you have balanced your selections out and picked out a good range of songs it can make up for many deficiencies in the arrangement of the tracks. There comes a point at which the mix is finished and it's time to let it rest. Learning the point at which this has come is the difference between a good mixtape and a legend.

Leave The Roses At Home

Romantic feelings are wonderful, they can have you flying high and smiling in one moment and digging through a stranger's garbage in the next. They are one of the largest sources of artistic creativity and expression there are. They can however be a little overwhelming if laid on too thickly. This of course depends on the situation. Making a mixtape for your spouse is a very different from a person you've been on three good dates with. Don't rush it! A mix of your favorite Whitney Houston epic love ballads is not the right thing to give that person you're just starting to stalk! You also don't want to shy away from songs that are honest about how you feel. This requires a considerable amount of good judgment, which many people lack. You're caught in the fog of hormones and emotions that cloud your judgment which is why you should:

Get An Editor

Let's face it. You're a wreck. If you're making mixtapes for a guy who you don't really know then you're probably in an unstable state and could use some advice. I can only help you so far from the Internet. What you really need is the advice of someone who knows you and the situation well to make sure you're not making a complete ass of yourself. Even the greatest mixtape artists in the world need to be checked and on occasion, checked into a psychiatric ward. Listen carefully to the advice of people who aren't completely awash in a sea of lust, they generally have clearer picture of the situation than you. For the more emotionally stable persons, I still recommend you have someone check your work and offer feedback, it can greatly improve your mixtape game.

I hope this helps you out, and keep the letters coming in!

Eriq Nelson.

Image: Awesome necklace from Maitreya at Craftog.


Jess Gulbranson said...

Dude, I was a mixtape champion in high school. These days, with the mp3s and the digital and the hurm... people forget all about the important cutting and splicing and segues. My best:

1. Straight from Live's "Waterboy" into an old filmstrip of people singing "Coming In On A Wing And A Prayer", then an atom bomb going off, then as soon as the filmstrip beeps it goes into "Misirlou."

2. Cutting back and forth between Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine" and Voivod's cover of it

3. I didn't do this one, but passed it on... the legendary 'Senior Tape "Geoduck" Song' which is indescribable, but involves prepared piano, Kenny Loggins, and Satan.

I hope more people break out their cracked DAWs and rekindle the art of the shitty seque in the mixtape.

Leah! said...

This is an amazingly written piece, I love it. Crafted mix tapes are the best.