Archive for March, 2011

PlaylisTinkering

When I bought my first car about two years ago, I was excited to finally have a car to myself. I really have no complaints about it, with the exception of one thing: the CD player. If I had gotten a car that was older or newer, I would have gotten a tape deck or an additional auxiliary input, respectively. As it is, I cannot just plug my mp3 player into the car stereo and listen to my music. I’m too cheap and lazy to upgrade the CD player, and I’ve found the local radio stations to be banal at best. As a result, I’ve burned a bunch of CDs to play in my car. In doing so, I’ve come across something interesting.

Of course, when burning CD-Rs, I am one of those people who will get as close to that 80 minute cut-off mark as they can. I feel that anything short of that is just wasted space. When I started burning discs for my car, I would find artists that either had an album and an EP, or two shorter albums and I would put one right after the other on one disc. I was surprised at how many discs ended up being the entire discography of a band on one 80 minute CD-R. This worked for quite a few of my favorite bands and I was able to quickly fill my car with music from a variety of musicians.

As I continued, there were a few artists that didn’t quite fit into the 80 minute limit. This is where some judgment came into play. I’d try and keep as much of the albums as I could on the CD, only omitting one or two songs that pushed the total time over the edge. These were usually songs that I didn’t particularly care for anyways, so there was no real loss.

Then came the challenge of artists that I enjoy, but have far too much material to easily filter down to a set that would fit within the boundaries. At first, I would do the same filtering process as before, but this time I would be looking for the songs that I really enjoyed, instead of merely removing the songs that I didn’t care for. I burned a few of these, but I was not very creative in the ordering of the songs. I chose an alphabetical order, mainly for convenience, but also because I figured I would listen to these discs on a shuffling, or random, mode.

As I’m sure my brother already knows, with the two compilations of music from Colorado musicians he’s already made, creating the perfect mix-tape is more of an art than merely choosing what music you want to listen to. I now have an appreciation for this art as well. For example’s sake, let’s take a hypothetical CD I would burn for a CD player alarm clock (of which I do not actually own):

1. “Morgenstimmung (Morning Mood)” by Edvard Grieg from Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46
2.  “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles from Abbey Road
3. “Good Morning Good Morning” by The Beatles from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
4.  “Good Day Sunshine” by The Beatles from Revolver
5.  “Good Morning Starshine” by Strawberry Alarm Clock from Incense and Peppermints
6.  “Blue Morning, Blue Day” by Foreigner from Complete Greatest Hits
7.  “Alarm Clock” by The W’s from Fourth From the Last
8.  “Woke Up This Morning” by A3 from The Sopranos
9.  “Pachuca Sunrise” by Minus the Bear from Menos el Oso
10. “Sunday Sun” by The Cinematics from A Strange Education
11. “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely hearts Club Band

For this example, I followed the concept of free association. That is, expanding a subject by including the first words and phrases that pop into your head. In doing so, I have expanded my initial idea of “alarm clock” to include “morning/good morning”, “sun/sunshine/sunrise”, and “day”. Strangely enough, a lot of these tracks are songs by The Beatles, of which I have absolutely no qualms. Still, this is only one aspect of creating a mix. This isn’t really any different than what I was doing with the musicians that I had too much material from. This next example goes into the flow of a mix:

1.    Theme from New York, New York
2.    My Kind of Town
3.    South of the Border
4.    Fly Me to the Moon
5.    All or Nothing at All
6.    Nice ‘N’ Easy
7.    The Best is Yet to Come
8.    I’ve Got the World on a String
9.    You Make Me Feel so Young
10.  I Get a Kick Out of You
11.  I’ve Got You Under My Skin
12.  Luck Be a Lady
13.  The Lady is a Tramp
14.  Love and Marriage
15.  (Love Is) The Tender Trap
16.  Witchcraft
17.  Learnin’ the Blues
18.  Night and Day
19.  The Way You Look Tonight
20.  Strangers in the Night
21.  In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning
22.  It Was a Very Good Year
23.  The Last Dance
24.  My Way

This example was created by selecting the songs by Frank Sinatra that I liked. Once I had the total time underneath the 80 minute threshold, I started moving tracks around. Most songs on this list fall into pretty clear-cut categories, so I tried to group the songs together based on their subject matter. Once that was accomplished, I would move whole chunks of songs around to get the desired flow. Right off the bat, I wanted the songs revolving around the night to finish off the mix, so I set those at the end. From there, I wanted to start the mix with the songs about various locales, thus cementing the start of the mix. In between there were the “women songs”, which were further split up to sub-categories. The main point with this mix was to get a good flow from one song to another based not only on lyrical content, but on tempo as well. Of course, with a lot of the songs having the “big band” sound, it was fairly easy to have a natural progression between them. Finally, this last example uses the ideas from the Sinatra mix and applies them to a variety of artists like the Morning mix did:

1.   “White Lines and Lipstick” by A Change of Pace from Prepare the Masses
2.   “Squeaking Wheels and White Lights” by This Providence from Who Are You Now?
3.   “Armistice” by MUTEMATH from Armistice
4.   “Is This Tomorrow?” by As Tall as Lions from You Can’t Take it With You
5.   “Little Kids” by Kings of Convenience from Quiet is the New Loud
6.   “Eleanor Put Your Boots On” by Franz Ferdinand from You Could Have it So Much Better
7.   “Words & Music” by Sondre Lerche from Heartbeat Radio
8.   “Boring Fountain” by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin from Pershing
9.   “Saturday Night” by Blitzen Trapper from Furr
10. “Junkie Weight” by Gooding from Tiny Heart Attacks
11. “Devil” by Cat-a-Tac from Cat-a-Tac
12. “Calling on You” by Paulson from All at Once
13. “Pachuca Sunrise” by Minus the Bear from Menos el Oso
14. “Keep Forgetting” by The Cinematics from A Strange Education
15. “This is Not the End” by The Bravery from The Sun and the Moon
16. “The Name of the Train is the Hurricane” by Men, Women & Children from Men, Women & Children
17. “Too Too Too Fast” by Ra Ra Riot from The Rhumb Line
18. “M79” by Vampire Weekend from Vampire Weekend
19. “Itch U Can’t Skratch” by Junior Senior from Hey Hey My My Yo Yo
20. “Sublime” by Supreme Beings of Leisure from Supreme Beings of Leisure
21. “The Rot” by Ian Cooke from The Fall I Fell
22. “Wake” by Annuals from Such Fun

The idea behind this last mix was to introduce someone to the variety of bands that I like. Even though I might be labeled a hipster for the lack of mainstream music on this mix, I do feel that it is a gateway for people to discover some pretty great musicians that they might not have known about otherwise. As such, I spent a very large amount of time picking out the tracks for this mix. There was a lot of back and forth to try and get it just right, and now I believe I have arrived at something that I will enjoy listening to.

One aspect that I found helps with mixes like this is the way that songs begin and end. Getting a good flow of tempos is good, and even progressing through different musical styles lends itself well to a good mix, but what really gets songs stuck together is if one starts in the same way that the previous one ended. For instance, if there is a fade out on the last song, then if the next song started with a fade in, it just naturally fits together.

What I’ve found through making these mixes, is that the truly good mixes make it so that when you listen to the songs away from the compilation, the next song from the mix automatically will come to mind when the song is done playing. I am by no means an expert on this subject, but these have been my thoughts on creating a good mix. Consider this post to be tips from a music enthusiast, and nothing more than that.

Advertisements