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Mixtape: Your Summer Soundtrack

Posted on July 30, 2014 at 6:00 am

By Sheri Boggs

Mixed Tape: Recipe for the perfect summer mix.I’ve made, and received, a lot of mixtapes over the years. The early ones were literally tapes; hand-labeled cassettes painstakingly recorded in front of the radio and full of an 11-year old’s dubious taste (Electric Light Orchestra, Donna Summer). As technology evolved, so did my mixes and I blew through stacks of cds, throwing together such incongruous playlist mates as the Pixies, Parliament, Magnetic Fields, and Gillian Welch. Mixes from friends similarly expanded my musical repertoire, deepening and expanding my tastes. While the cassettes, sadly, are long-discarded, finding an old CD mix now is like discovering a time capsule, immediately bringing me back to who I was, where I worked, and what was going on in my life when I made it.

I still make mixes, fine-tuning them for a variety of occasions from long car trips across the state to what I want in the background when I finally get around to having a backyard soiree. The great thing about technology now is that there are so many options for curating and saving your playlists. On Pandora, which lets you build your own feed based on “seed” songs and musicians, I have an embarrassing 43 stations, ranging from Ludwig van Beethoven (and friends) to the imaginary soundtrack for the “novel” I work on in my spare time. And if I want to make a concrete list of specific songs in my own library and save it for future listening, I can just do so on my computer (and access it from my phone, my iPad, etc.) or on Spotify.

Summer is a great time for making your own soundtrack—there’s something about the sparkle of lake water, the scenery rushing by the car windows and the gorgeous, hazy twilights that inspires marking the moments with music. Over the years I’ve developed my own “recipe” for making a good mix, which I’ll share here, along with a few of my favorite current playlists. And a quick caveat, I’m by no means the only expert on staff—SCLD is lucky to have a number of enthusiastic audiophiles and at least one musician on the payroll. So if my lists leave you scratching your head, ask your favorite staff member for some recommendations, or check out Hoopla for immediate streaming on new and classic music.

  1. Start with your setting or event. Some songs are great for driving, others are ideal for wedding receptions or al fresco dinner parties. Still others are just perfect for introspective hammock times or super-motivated housecleaning. The “similar artists” feature on Pandora (which uses the Music Genome Project to analyze and typify songs and artists) is a great way to brainstorm mixes with a shared sound or mood.
  2. Think about your audience. Is the playlist just for you, just for a friend, just you and one other person, or for an entire group? While I love the Lonely Island I wouldn’t put them on a mix for a car trip with Mom, nor would I submit my boyfriend to the National (a band he’ll tolerate only out of love for me). But if it’s something I’m curating for, say, my friends Stacey and Wendy, I know I can put pretty much anything I like on there and they’ll like it too.
  3. Try something new. A good mix for road trips and gatherings will include songs that people recognize mixed in with new discoveries. The reason for this is that while it’s tempting to show off, the goal isn’t to blast everyone with your superior musical knowledge, but to create an experience that your group can share. My general rule of thumb is that at least half the songs should be at least slightly familiar but not overplayed (nix this advice if your mix is for a wedding or multi-generational family gathering). So if I put Etta James on a mix, it won’t be “At Last,” and I try not to use anything I’ve heard recently in a commercial, movie trailer, or Starbucks.
  4. Feel free to mix up your genres. I like putting together stuff that wouldn’t otherwise be adjacent. A mix I made a few years ago included Jolie Holland, Ladytron, Marty Robbins, and Daft Punk. It shouldn’t have worked but it did. And it’s ok, even recommended, to switch moods. An entire mix of party anthems wears on the nerves, while 90 minutes of Iron and Wine-esque songs, while lovely, is positively soporific. Similarly, you can pick from different eras. Some of my favorite mixes are like that old advice for brides: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

Below are some mixes to get started. And I’m always looking for new music to discover so leave your mixes in the comments!

Mixed Tape - Roadtrip PlaylistMixed Tape - Family and Kids Dance Party PlaylistMixed Tape - Backyard Gathering Playlist

Sheri Boggs

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