The Art of The Mixtape

The Art and Philosophy of The Mixtape by Jovan Miles.

cassetteI came of age during a period on the space-time continuum when human beings perfected one of the most significant uses of another’s art to create their own; New York City in the 1980′s. The mixtape was actually born in the 1970′s when industrious consumers of popular culture wanted to create their own compilations of their favorite songs. They did so using bootleg 8 track tapes and sold or traded them at flea markets. However, the introduction of the high quality cassette tape combined with the portability and affordability of the Sony Walkman ramped up demand for custom mixes exponentially. It didn’t take long for DJ’s and amateur aficionados alike to begin stringing together songs to create the perfect mood for a party, a smoke session, or a drive to the beach with your lady.

8trackThe mixtape was born on an 8 track, moved over to cassette, and then to CD. During the late 20th and early 21st century the mixtape eschewed physical media altogether and metamorphosed into the playlist. However, no matter the medium of delivery a good mixtape (or playlist) must follow certain rules of structure and style in order to pass muster for music lovers everywhere.


Every good mixtape is thematic in nature. The theme is the thread that weaves through the songs, transitions, and embellishments of the mix, tying the work of different artists together to create a new whole. The theme could be based on an emotion, an event, an artist, a genre, a season, or even something as abstract as a color. Without a theme you may as well be playing songs on shuffle.


Mixtapes should be assembled in such a way as to allow harmonious transitions from song to song, creating a collection of music that can, and should, be listened to in order from start to finish. Abrupt changes in tempo, volume, melody, or mood can ruin the experience. Imagine watching a film that starts as a drama that abruptly switches to a high speed chase. That unexpected switch would make you want to get up and leave the theater. Transitions have to make sense in order to keep the listener engaged.


I believe that every mixtape, like every good story, should have a beginning, middle, and an end. The mix should take the listener on an adventure through its use of song titles, lyrics, transitions, and embellishments. A collection of loosely related songs that are not arranged in any meaningful way may still take the listener somewhere, but not necessarily where they are intended to go. I believe that the best mixes have an interesting, but mellow beginning. The mix will then introduce songs that increase in intensity as the theme of the mix is made plain. Once the mix reaches the peak of its crescendo it should then gradually begin to decrease in intensity until the mixtape is over.

Include Some Surprises

I think the intent of making a mixtape is ultimately to make people happy. Pleasant surprises make people happy. Mix genres, toss in old standards, use live versions or covers of songs; include something unfamiliar or new for your listeners. They’ll appreciate the surprise.

Sharing what you love is all part of the fun in making a mixtape, whether the mix is for an audience of 1 or 100. Please enjoy DJ Ben Ha Meen’s 2013 Valentine’s Day Mix to listen to a great example of a mixtape that shares my philosophy for making a good mix.

Do you have a philosophy or specific approach when it comes to making a mixtape? Sound off in the comments below to share your thoughts.

Thank you for reading.

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