The Art of the Mixtape

The 656 Spotify Playlist

While “playlist” is a more common term nowadays, “mixtape” harkens back to the time of working the cassette machine and recording tracks manually from the radio. A mixtape is a labour of love and it’s an ideal musical companion. Whether it is made for a new love interest, a budding new band, or an upcoming road trip, a well-crafted mixtape can pave the way for futures infused with the magic of music. Imagine having your “jam” loaded up right next to your other top picks, all gathered under a mood or theme that you can call upon at a moment’s notice, anytime life affords an opening for music. Whether it’s background atmosphere or a fully focused listening session, a playlist is an aural technology of enrichment.

The Ears of the Listener

In creating a playlist, your most important consideration is the ears of your listener. It may sound strange but those ears will be with you as you create your playlist, and you can use their presence to fine tune the mix. Test it out for yourself. Create a playlist that only your ears will ever hear. And then create one that you will share with your partner or family or set of close friends. Notice how, like a whispering from the future, the listeners speak to you as you curate the experience. Your mom chimes in: “well, that’s not a very nice word.” Your sarcastic friend pipes up: “A bit cheezy, isn’t it?” Maintain your posture as the greatest music DJ of all time and keep working the list! Have faith in your musical sense — we’ve all got it. Use these whispers to help you curate the mix and when it’s ready, you’ll feel like you already have the approval of all your listeners. It will be its own work of art. Allow yourself to let go of favourite tracks in service of the listener. Be bold and find new favourites that fit the theme and audience most perfectly. And remember to curate for an audience of one (you!) every so often. Your own love of music is your greatest strength in serving others with music.

Composition Matters

Three elements to consider in composing a mixtape are: theme, title, and order.

Consider your theme as you make your selections. Is this playlist for washing dishes or doing work around the house? Is it for chilling at home with friends or a romantic evening? Ask yourself, “what’s the best musical vibe for such activities?” Test out your playlist. Or perhaps it’s a music style specific playlist, such as Instrumental Cool Jazz, Finger-style Guitar Covers, or Love Songs from the 1950s. Your theme is your thread through all musical selections and will be the guiding light for when a listener loads up your mix.

In composing music, a good practice to cultivate is to give a creative title to any piece you create, even if you’re only at the very beginning of creating the piece. You can always change the title later. The lightness of this practice invites the composer into a playful relationship with naming his creations and this applies to playlists too. A good name should sum up what the playlist experience will be (i.e. your theme), at the same time as creating some intrigue for listeners to press play.

Finally, once you’ve selected most of the music for your playlist, you’ll want to spend time on creating a song order. In performing live sets of music, bands create set lists. Typically your opening one to three songs and then your last song are most important in terms of crafting a good flowing set, which can make all the difference in how the gig goes. For a playlist, pay special attention to your first five songs, and your last song. You want to start strong and draw in listeners. Your opening selections should capture the overall vibe of the playlist and have a generally “upbeat” or “up tempo” quality, as well as being pieces you can listen to many times. Your last song can be fun and quirky, or a dramatic farewell. Have fun with it. Someone once said: “as long as you start strong and end strong, it doesn’t really matter what happens in between.” The middle of the list can flow in this direction and that, just take care to not jump around drastically between styles and moods and tempos. Visit a mood for a few tracks and find another track to take you gently elsewhere. Find sonic and thematic connections (be creative!) and use those connections as pivot points to explore new territories. Your listeners will appreciate the journey you’ve prepared for them like tourists being taken through a strange and wonderful land by an masterful guide who knows all the quirks of the place.

When Do You Need a Playlist?

Wedding ceremonies, playdates, digging a hole.

Ecstatic dance parties, soul dance parties, moody blues moods.

Drives in the rain, road trips to Nashville, road trips to B.C.

Falling in love, new business ventures, being heartbroken.

A day at the beach, March break, Christmas Day.

Solo sing alongs, family sing alongs, nostalgia.

How to Create a Playlist in 2024

The best ways to create a playlist these days are: through a streaming service such as Spotify or YouTube; and, creating folder of mp3s to be shared online or to be put on a USB memory stick. On Spotify, you can go into the menu of any song and select “add to playlist…” From there, you can create a new playlist or add to an existing one. When you are viewing a playlist you’ve created, you can click “Edit” and from there change the song orders by dragging up and down on the songs. You can also change the image that goes with the playlist. You can make playlists public or keep them private until they are ready to share. You can create links to share your playlist with family and friends. You can even create a QR code like I did for the list above.

The 656 Playlist

I created The 656 playlist for the school bus I drove in the winter of 2024. Our route number was, you guessed it: 656. I ended up printing a small card with the artwork you see above and the QR code for the playlist on the other as a sort of “goodbye” to the students (I recommend for easy business card design and printing). Driving a bus is all about safe driving and encouraging safe behaviour in the passengers of the bus, so my music enthusiast had to take a back seat. However, occasionally I’d press play on a playlist or a student would request a song, and I’d load it up that evening for the next day. The elementary school kids especially loved trying to sing along with the quick words of “Cotton-Eyed Joe.” You’ll find that track is the list closer. The opening track is an upbeat soul number, “How Long Do I Have to Wait For You?” Surely, it’s about my first week driving the bus in snowy winter conditions while learning to drive the new route. Regrettably, I was not always on time, it’s true.

Creativity comes in so many forms. While we may practice an instrument or the craft of writing, allowing expression in a medium different to our main one is a refreshing exercise and can reinvigorate the creative muses. Anyone can create a playlist. Not only will you have it as a musical companion to call upon later, you can share it with friends and family potentially inspiring an event to be organized, musical or otherwise, or sparking a new shared anthem to be enjoyed. The Art of the Mixtape — it’s worth it! Create one and pass it along.