There are as many different ways to put together a mixtape or a radio show as there are people that do it. No one way is right or wrong, but here are some thoughts that I have for when I put together my radio show, or for when I used to compile a mixtape.
When making a mixtape, one of most important aspects to consider is the purpose of the tape. In other words, the person for whom the tape is intended. I found it best when possible to remove my ego from the situation. Sure, I was “cool” enough to recognize all of the music I had gathered together for my collection, but not everyone’s life revolves at 33 1/3.
When I made a tape for someone who I thought knew less about music than myself, but still wanted to draw them in, I would leave off some great songs on purpose, in the hope that a second or third tape might be welcome and serve to further expose or educate. I always figured that needles should be moved very carefully from left to right.
With a radio show the focus is on more than one person. The deejay has no foreknowledge of the audience’s musical background, so I tend to put forth all of the songs I intended in each show I broadcast, in the hope of engaging the audience with each track.
The selection process for either a mixtape or a radio show is virtually the same, at least for myself. I go through the collection, pick out songs or records I think might work for the particular task, and basically make a microcosm of my collection. From this group I then further select, or as in this case, un-select tracks, as the recording of the tape progresses, or as my show is broadcast. At the end of either I find I am left with a few tried and true favorites that I have used or played too often. Arrows that are forever in my quiver. The usual suspects, Gang Of Four and Echo & The Bunnymen, for instance.
With a radio show I tend to think in short increments, each group of songs between air breaks being a set of its own. So that after each break the show continually starts over and over again, for myself. It is constantly the first song of a set, so I am often looking to feature new music or new reissued tracks. A radio show for me, over the course of two hours, goes through many different moods and tempo changes with each little set. With a mixtape, I tend to think of each side of the tape as a whole piece to itself. With a tape you get a chance to set two different moods or one continuous mood or theme, from one side to the next.
When I started making mixtapes, the first song on a tape would always be a strong one, to grab the attention of the listener, with the next song being equally as powerful, then something less intense with the third, to bring the experience down. In this way, a feeling of ebb and flow was created for the listener. At least to my mind. With careful attention paid to the segue from song to song. Rewinding the tape, and then starting it at just the correct time that the needle rode into the music on the groove of the record. This might have been me at my most coordinated, operating the home stereo components. The turntable and the cassette recorder in tandem.
It was not long, however, before I discovered that I could record bits of dialogue from spoken word records, or soundtrack albums that included actual movie dialogue. I would place these bits on the beginnings of mixtapes as intros, instantly cutting to music when the spoken word piece ended. One of my favorite spoken word records that I used was “Sensory Awakenings: Couples” by Bernard Gunther. The content of the record, being about couples gently slapping or tapping each other, always made for, to my mind, a delightful intro to any set of music. Another aspect I enjoyed about the spoken word intros was that I tended not to list them on the J Card, on which I listed the tracks for the mixtape, so it was sort of a surprise.
This changed when I moved from mixtapes to making mix cds on a general basis. The track numbers are programed onto the disc and tend to appear or be listed when the cd is played. Using a spoken word intro as track one would be confusing if i left it off the listed songs. Imagine hearing “gently slap tap your partner on the face…” as the first track, when it clearly states “Vitamin C” by Can as track one. With the use of cds I often moved away from spoken word intros, much to the regret of my Misc. Album section.
These days I hardly ever make cd mixes for friends. I concentrate instead on my radio show. Part of the reason for this is, I think, the advent of the internet and everyday access to knowledge. Sometimes I think we are looking at the corpse of expertise when we turn to a search engine. While I have to admit that the access to knowledge is a marvelous thing, there was also something to be said for collecting and delving into a type of music. Making yourself well knowledged and an expert of sorts.
Today it seems just about any sort of music you can think of, and tons more that you never imagined, is available with a few clicks on the keyboard, and either a purchase from an amateur record dealer or a download or two. Despite the tidal wave of musical knowledge, I still find it gratifying to put together a selection of music for a two hour period with myself as a filter, not an algorithm curating a playlist. The human touch. That connection and communication is the very idea for which radio was created.