The making of a great compilation tape…

While I’ve previously discussed some of the technical aspects of making a mix, along with some meta-analysis of “that which is Procrastination Dance Party,” I feel like I haven’t talked as much about the why of PDP.

My process is long, listening to the core tracks of a playlist over, and over, and over — sometimes over a period of months. As such, the track selection reflects a snap shot into my musical interests both during a temporal period and, more generally, somewhat autobiographically.

In part that’s because I listen to the playlist most closely while in transit, to and from work/school and cultural events, and taking evening walks — times when I tend to be the most introspective. The bond between a song/artist and the projects I was working on at a particular time or various happenings of my social life is almost inevitable. Listening to a playlist-in-progress is intensely personal, and I can identify tracks that do or don’t fit even if I’m not consciously sure why that is.

When I feel the urge to start compiling a new mixtape, I’ll set up a playlist on the music service I’m using (previously iTunes, these days Rdio) where I can slowly add tracks. Often they’re from artists I’ve newly discovered or from a recently released album by one of my all-time, desert island, top favs.

Once I have around 70% of a mix it’s time to start concentrating more closely on the overall theme/feel of the mix. This generally emerges organically and helps inform the track order, though order also heavily depends on the transition from one track to the next — if it doesn’t flow to my ear, more tinkering required. This is one of my favourite things about mixtapes, both mine and those curated by other people. Listening to a playlist and hearing how someone has decided things transition.

There’s definitely a bit of a formula that I employ with my playlists, which I’ve always wondered if people consciously pick up on. Particularly, the first three songs of a mix follows a very specific sequence.

The other key area is the lead into and exit from track 8, which is almost always my favourite single track of the playlist. Then, of course, my final track is a cover. A little gimmicky, perhaps, but I really do enjoy a great cover. I only regret that making mixes with streaming services doesn’t allow me to make it a hidden track but there’s always trade-offs, I guess.

This formula — especially the first half, that naturally sees a heavier amount of rotation — allows for some consistency across my PDP mixes and, more recently, my #rdioPLAY series. (I also tend to use the formula when crafting playlists for others or one-off mixes.) And this feeds back into the deeply personal relationships I form with a playlist, and how it reflects my general state of mind in the period that I created the mix. Upbeat playlists recall times of project starts/finishes or plenty of fun social interaction while more subdued offerings tend to be when slogging through a lot of to-dos with seemingly little progress or protracted bouts of hermitting. 

Being able to listen to a mix from nearly a decade ago is like a window into what was going on in my life or, more accurately, how I was feeling about things/life. And I find the idea of that so wonderfully… comforting.



Comments ( 3 )

  1. Woo! I made the top 5 PDP list! :)

    thanks for the decoder amigo! Do you have all the mixes online somewhere? or just hard copies?

  2. I have all the CDs and they’re digitized in my iTunes collection (and on all my iDevices) but too big for hosting online anywhere. I imported later additions at 320kbps and with all those mixes total space is ~20GB.

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