Some of my old mixes from back in the day.
Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.
I've been making mix tapes since high school in the early 80s when my best friend spent a year in New Zealand. It kept going in college for high school friends, then it kept up when college buddies went their separate ways. As friends got older and had families, it became my go-to New Year present, as it is a way to show you value your friends while spending minimal cash & not obligating them to buy you anything after spending all their money on presents for family members.
I've gone from tape to CD to online playlists, although I still do CDs for presents so people have something tangible. In the old days, when my only computer was a TRS-80 model 100, I went to Kinko's with some art to copy and cut up and the song list hand-written in large type to reduce to fit a cassette case. Now I have DiscLabel software for that, or I can just upload songs and screenshots to 8tracks.
One thing hasn't changed, though, are certain rules I have more making a good mix, based on years of experience and trial and error.
RULES FOR MAKING A GOOD MIX:
- Pick your mix type first. Mixes can be personal (geared to one person) or public. Other main organizational principals are - time period, genre, mood, subject of song, season, region, and mixes inspired by other media (usually a book or movie). To have a good mix, start with an appealing organizational principle.
- Variety is key. Back in my college DJ days, I learned the rule of three. DJs typically play 3 or 4 songs and then tell you what songs they play. Of course, with mixes you don't have to take breaks, but it's still a good principle to group similar songs and then change it up a bit every 3-4 songs. Ideally, I try to have some connection from every song to the next from the beginning to the end, whether it's type of vocals, genre, time period, mood, both are cover versions, etc., but if it's a case of connections vs variety, variety always wins. Even if you are doing a mix that is all punk or metal, you have to mix it up with subgenres, types of vocals, eras, a bit harder or softer, more or less poppy, etc. More than one song by the same person or group should be avoided in most cases. Basically, a mix that is all the same is a boring one.
- Know your audience. If you are making a private mix for one person, you need to keep their preferences in mind. For example, one person told me they hate female vocalists who sound like little kids, so no MIA. Conversely, if you feel pretty sure someone already has the song, no need to add it to their mix, unless it's a case of a song that reminds you of a certain special time or event. For a public mix online, swearing in a song will limit when people can listen. I sometimes have swearing in my public 8tracks mixes, but label them "NSFW" in case people I know would be offended. Also, good to avoid too much audible swearing for a party mix or anything that might be listened to by children.
- Don't be too obvious. If you are doing a Minnesota mix, you may want to consider that everyone who wants to own the music of Bob Dylan or Prince probably already has it. If you are including a famous artist, at least find a more obscure track. For me, a mix has two purposes - to entertain by creating a mood, and to inform the listener of music they don't already know about. That doesn't mean you have to be a expert. For example, I have a "Bollywood & Bhangra" mix, but I'm not an expert on the genres by any means. However, it's my most listened-to mix on 8tracks, possibly because the genre is not well-represented on the service, so it fills a niche.