#363: The Art of the Mix CD

For more reading of this nature, I recommend the 1001 Albums in 10 Years site, by Geoff.  He is always posting interesting musical nerdiness like this so cheers to Geoff and his excellent site.

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RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#363: The Art of the Mix CD

We have come a long way from the mix tape. If you’re of a certain age, you probably made many mix tapes. I know I did. Dozens upon dozens, spending hours doing so. We had to make the tapes in real time. I would meticulously cue up the tapes so there wouldn’t be excessive gaps between songs, or awkward edits. I couldn’t have a song getting clipped at the start or finish. Mix tapes were a matter of pride and I sank a lot of time into making them, from the recording to the J-card. Sometimes the tapes were for me, but most often they were for someone else (usually a girl I was trying to woo).

Making a mix CD is much easier than making a mix tape. Still, for my level of perfectionism, it requires a lot of work and attention to detail. I have certain “rules” that I always adhere to, when making a mix CD. In the past, I have burned and then thrown away many CD copies that did not meet my exacting standards. I would not settle for a mix CD with an annoying flaw in it! My friends deserve better!

Here are my rules:

1. All songs must be more or less equal in volume.

Nothing worse than diving for the volume knob when a song that was mastered waaaay too loudly comes on! Nero has a built-in “normalize” function that analyzes and automatically equalizes the volume on all tracks. However it doesn’t always work well. It can create volume swells within an actual track that weren’t there before. I do not use this feature any longer. Now, I use Audacity to raise or lower a track’s volume manually, before adding it to my mix.  Painstaking, but you get better results.

GOB2. All live songs must have fade-ins and fade-outs.

I cannot stand the sound of crowd noise starting and stopping abrubtly. I add my own fade-ins and fade-outs. Sometimes this is tricky, because certain live albums may have the song breaks in odd locations. There may not be enough room at the start or end of a track. So, sometimes I have to manually add in enough crowd noise to enable a fadeout, a time consuming fix. I also enjoy doing the occasional cross-fade between songs, which used to be very hard on Nero but is easy as pie with Audacity.

3. CD must have a start, middle and ending.

All tracks are carefully selected for each one of my mix CDs, but usually there are several contenders for opening and closing songs. I try to create a flow, with slow parts and heavy parts, through the disc, with a dramatic climax. I don’t always succeed but my goal is to create a mix CD that works like an album. It has to have a direction.

4. Throw on a rare track.

It doesn’t matter who I’m making a mix CD for, I want an obscure song or two on there. I don’t want to make a mix CD entirely of songs you already know. I want to surprise you with something I know you’ve never heard before, but will probably like.

5. All songs must be properly labelled.

Don’t you hate getting a CD from somebody without having a clue what’s on it? Every CD I make for a friend comes with a computer generated cover, including full and accurate track list, down to every punctuation mark and detail. Sometimes I’ll even throw some pictures or logos on the cover for fun, if there is room. Nero also encodes the song and artist names onto the CD. So I have to make sure the file names are all done correctly too, because when you pop my mix CD into certain players (like my car deck) you’re going to see the titles come up automatically. This must always be done correctly. No spelling mistakes, or I’d junk it, and make a new one.

And finally, there is the optional not-rule:

6. Optional – Include short, funny bits between songs to surprise the listener.  

This only applies in certain circumstances.  The “Integrity Mix” CD shown here, with G.O.B. and Franklin Bluth on the cover, has such bits at strategic points.  One is the song “Big Yellow Joint” from the show Arrested Development, and the other is the appearance of the “Hot Cops” busting George Michael from the same episode.  You can see I wanted to keep those bits a surprise for whoever ends up with a copy, because I didn’t number the tracks and didn’t list the bits.  So in a sense they are “hidden” until the listener stumbles upon them.

Are you as picky as I am, or is your quality control as extreme as mine? What are you own techniques in the art of the mix CD?

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27 comments

  1. I agree with u totally about the live songs ending abruptly…annoying! As well as the sound level being the same…..that could get screwy adjusting the vol up/down……still happens on my iPod classic with some stuff

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “interesting musical nerdiness” – perhaps the ultimate compliment, many thanks!
    My goodness, a post with G.O.B. & Franklin & the beloved medium of the carefully planned mixtape, this is a post I wish I’d written!

    As for my finnicky rules, running order is vital (as tapes didn’t have a ‘shuffle’ option, it was meant to be listened to as is).

    I paid particular attention to the 1st side closer/2nd side opener, the last song had to leave you wanting more (justifying the effort it required to manually flip the tape over).

    I like your idea of the live fade in/out & the surprise bit is a nice hidden touch.

    A great read to start the weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mixed tapes, mixed CDs…we’ve talked about them.
    You ever tape music from the radio back in the day?
    K has a very similar etiquette to you, Mike – right down to the little funny bits in between songs!
    It has been years since I made a mixed CD, actually. K used to make them for when we’d go to camp, but not any more.
    I LOVE Audacity. I bought a live DVD of Duran Duran a couple of years ago and used Audacity to rip the live tracks to mp3, since they weren’t about to release a CD of those songs any time soon. That program is great.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You might have to tutor me on how to rip a DVD to mp3. I don’t know how to do that. Of course that could open a whole Pandora’s Box of live CDs that I couldn’t listen to before ;)

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      1. If memory serves (over a year ago)…You would need a DVD Rom attached to your computer, of course. You cue up the song, let the DVD play and hit record in Audacity. Then, you can cut and edit the song with fades, etc and save the song as an mp3. I believe that’s how I did it. I don’t think there was much else. It’s been a while though, so the memory is fuzzy. Try it and let me know how it goes.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. OK so it’s something I’d have to play around with. What did you use to connect your DVD to a PC? I could probably run mine via HDMI but I’d have to pull it out of my system in order to hook it up to a computer.

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        2. No no – I mean the ability to play a DVD on your computer. A CD/DVD Rom, you know? Don’t hook up your DVD player to your computer. I doubt that works anyway. You ever watch a DVD on your laptop?

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  4. I still put effort into the tracklist/running order of mix CDs. Can’t be bothered making cover art anymore, though. Not for something that is pretty much disposable. I mean, I don’t even know anyone around here who listens to physical CDs (I keep some in the car, but they’re burnt copies so there’s no incentive for anyone to steal them).

    I am a big proponent of humour in music but I vote NO on skits. Funny once, but something you’d skip on repeat listenings. Like the stage banter between songs on live albums.

    I made Aaron a mix two years ago and he just found it last week and he refused to listen to it until I told him what was on it. I think it would have been much more fun had he reviewed it without knowing any of the titles or artists.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I still listen to physical CDs! True, most of the CDs in the car are burnt copies, but that’s just so my actual CDs don’t sit outside in -30C. But in the house, sure I still play CDs! I also have my iPod hook-up in the car now and, with my 120 GB iPod, that’s most of my collection!

      It’s true, a lot of skits wouldn’t withstand repetition. Pull-quotes from movies or stand-up comedians can work great as a segue, though.

      I was totally happy to find that CD. And for what it’s worth, I haven’t read that email you sent with the track list yet. I’ve played most of the CD now and haven’t peeked…

      Liked by 2 people

    2. No skits. Skits are too long. A quick quote from Bubbles sayin, “I’m not giving anyone a fuckin’ R” right before Rock You should not be a problem.

      The only time I included anything “skit”-like was when I included a whole George Carlin piece as a track. But it’s George Carlin, so fuck everybody else ;)

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