mix-making rules, according to me

For the past few years I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing a bit about how I put together a mix SLASH what I think the ‘rules’ are for mix-making. Well, it’s time to make it a reality, guys and girls, so below are the general rules I follow when putting together mixes for friends, family and/or the site. Your rules are likely different (or you likely don’t agree with all of the ones below), so I’d love to hear about your process/ideas/disagreements in the comments.

#1 – How you start matters…
High Fidelity pretty well sums it up, but it goes a bit like this: the first song sets the stage for the rest of the mix, and thus it’s vital that you start with something that both eases someone in (meaning: isn’t abrasive/too abstract) and grabs their attention and makes them want to continue listening. It’s your first impression, and remember what mom always said about those.

#2 – …so does how you end.
You know when you go to a show and a band doesn’t have that song that’s tailor-made to be their finale and so they just play something and abruptly get off stage and it’s weird and no one knows what to do? Don’t do that with your mix.

# 3 – Transitions are the most important thing.
Being that this is the most important thing, it should be #1, but I am lazy and in no mood to change orders and blahblahblah this is my blog. Transitions are THE MOST IMPORTANT THING when making a mix. I spend an insanely dumb amount of time when putting together mixes, especially the seasonal ones I send out to family and friends, worrying about whether the transition between songs makes sense/is too jarring. It’s not easy, but your mix should flow and sound, female/male vocal differences aside, as though one band could have made the entire thing. This doesn’t mean everything has to be sad bastard music just cause you start with something sad bastard-ish, or that you can only put synth-heavy pop music on something because that was the first song, it just means you have to be cognizant of how you build to/away from a certain sort of sound. The goal is to have the transition between songs be seamless and as unnoticeable as possible, whether that be because you matched up the rhythms at the end/beginning of songs, the songs sort of sound the same or because the fade in/fade out of consecutive songs allows you to greatly shift genres/styles between songs because you’re easing them out of/into a particular sound. You want your listeners to be happy when the songs switch, not reaching for the volume control/skip button due to the change.

#4 – Know when a song just doesn’t fit.
This generally goes with the ‘transitions are the most important’ rule, but it needs it’s own entry. Sometimes a song just doesn’t fit, no matter how much you love it and no matter how many times you shift around the order of the rest of the songs. Know when this is the case and just let that song sit in the pile for the next mix.

#5 – Don’t use the same artist twice.
Pretty self-explanatory. Don’t do it. There are only two exceptions, the first is any type of Christmas compilation (there are only so many good versions of Christmas songs and some people just have a gift) and the second is a duet/guest appearance/artist in more than one band (I’d generally try to avoid this in general, but as long as it’s not Joe Schmo in Joe Schmo’s band twice, I can stretch the rules).

#6 – Have a theme.
I try to make sure that I focus my mix around a general theme- the songs don’t have to be about that particular theme (it’s great if they are, obviously), but they do have to fit into the general feeling associated with it. For instance, I’m not going to put the same songs on the summer and winter mixes I make. Sure, a few songs might be able to be on both, but the vast majority of songs I play over and over when I’m freezing are not the same as the ones I want to hear when I’m getting sunburned.



So, what rules am I missing/wrong about? Lemme know…


Edit: #7 – Know your audience. (via)
I should have called this out originally, but good thing I have such fantastic readers around here. You need to know who you’re creating a mix for. For instance, I send out my seasonal mixes to a mix of family and friends, so I make sure the weird/abstract/overly loud music I love isn’t a part of those, because I can’t be sure they will enjoy it and I don’t want to waste their time. You’re looking to gently expand their musical horizons, not burn theirs down and build a new death metal and acid rap horizon for them.




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8 Responses to mix-making rules, according to me

  1. jprobichaud says:

    It’s a good set of rules. Mine also includes the no two songs by the same artist rule. Another important one is to know your audience. Don’t put together a mix of heavy tunes for a folkie friend.

  2. Kerry says:

    This is great! What are some of your favorite mixes that you’ve heard from others and that you have made?

  3. Adrian says:

    Good set of rules!

    Re: #3, though. I totally agree on the importance of transitions. In fact, I spend a lot of time on mixes listening to the last 15-30 seconds of a song and the first 15-30 of the next. However, I think I differ on whether I think transitions should always be seamless/ unnoticeable. There are times when two unlike songs still transition well. It seems like it’ll be a jarring transition but for whatever reason, it just works. I’ll almost always find these by accident.

    • Adam says:

      completely agree- they don’t have to be alike genre/sound wise to work together. that said, there are some songs that you just can’t transition into/out of, and that is about the most frustrating thing to encounter when making a mix.

  4. Nice list… glad to know that I’m not the only one spending way too much time worrying about this sort of stuff 🙂 I’d say I more or less follow all of these rules… with transitions & a somewhat coherent vibe (i.e. the next song needs to “feel right”) being my main guiding light. And of course… never use the same artist twice!

  5. Logan says:

    Awesome list!! I always make it a point to make sure that it fits on an 80 minute disk.I’ve spent time cutting a few emty seconds off a few songs to make it fit. Maybe that’s old school, but i have some old school friends that still listen to everything via a cd player.

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