The Art of the Mixtape

I bought a new coffee maker yesterday as my old one was on the fritz, and this first cup tastes a bit like rubber and plastic. Not sure why – I cleaned it first, and brewed a cycle using hot water as the instructions indicated – but, bleh. Maybe I’ve become used to free motel coffee, which was invariably good wherever I stayed.

I’ve been back home for three days now, and am still adjusting to the new old routine. Nothing feels the same, but that probably has just as much to do with the fact that the kids are now home for summer vacation and it’s a shortened holiday week as anything else. It feels weird to wake up in the morning (late) and not hop in the car for an eight-hour drive that will have me in a strange city before the sun goes down. It’s been nice though, relaxing and catching up on TV shows and reading quietly on the patio. Strange, not posting in my blog every day, a habit I’d grown used to – I want to write all the time, but don’t always have interesting topics to dish on. Everything feels odd in its normalcy; a trip to the grocery store on Wednesday had me walking down the aisles, wide-eyed and full of wonder over the stupidest things. It was as if I hadn’t been grocery shopping on my own every week for the past ten years! Sheesh. I can only imagine that I’ll get used to all of this again…eventually. One thing that I can’t seem to get enough of is sleep. It’s been glorious being in my own bed again, and every night I’ve gotten 8-9 hours of solid sleep. That whole time I was on the road I averaged 5-6 hours of sleep a night, so I guess my body is making up for all that lost rest. Oh, funny thing; I was looking through some job postings and came across a promising sounding one for a communications specialist. The job was based at Cabela’s world headquarters…in Sidney, Nebraska. Ha. There wasn’t a lot going on there save for the tornado watch and crazy lightning and weird sideways stoplights, but a part of me thought, hmm. I’ll bet the cost of living is cheap!

One really nice thing about being home has been the weather. Yesterday was overcast, and our high temperature was 65. Sixty-five degrees! In July! After the heat and humidity I encountered on my road trip, this felt heavenly. I took a walk after dinner and would not have felt uncomfortable with a sweatshirt. Viva la Portland!

Creating the ultimate mixtape is fun! And you don't even need to use a cassette. (Courtesy of

One of my blogging friends, Jess Witkins over at The Happiness Project, suggested I write a post about making the ultimate mixtape, since I’m probably an expert on that now. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I do take music very seriously, and thought that was a great idea. I’ve been making mixtapes since I was twelve years old, when I’d record songs off the radio and listen to them later on my Walkman. The technology has changed quite a bit over the years – a good mixtape is now easier than ever to put together, and can be enjoyed anywhere and anytime.

Whether you’re planning a road trip or another special occasion, here are some keys to putting together the ultimate mixtape. And yes, I realize you’re probably burning music to a CD or creating a playlist on your iPod rather than using an actual cassette, but “mixtape” sounds more romantic and charming. What can I say? I’m an old school sort of guy.

Creating The Perfect Mixtape

  1. Choose a theme. For my road trip, I obviously wanted songs about driving, and came up with quite a few classics. Born To Be Wild, I Can’t Drive 55, Ramblin’ Man, Highway Star, Radar Love and Turn The Page all made the cut, among others.
  2. Stick to one genre. The road trip mixtape is filled with classic rock songs, all of which are at least 25 years old. Going from Bob Seger, Tom Petty and Judas Priest to Lady Gaga would be jarring, and just…wrong. Songs that sound similar work best.
  3. Don’t mess with the tempo. The tempo is the speed or pace of a song (think rockers vs. ballads, for example). I aim for about a 90/10 split – for every nine fast, hard-charging, upbeat songs, I might throw in one slower tune to cool things off for a bit. If you go fast/slow/fast/slow/slow/fast it sounds like you’re stopping and starting or, worse, stuttering. You want the playlist to flow and that is achieved through repetition.
  4. Make sure the music is appropriate for the occasion. You don’t want to drive across the country listening to Enya! I love her, but her music is more suited to lazy Sunday mornings or the background of your cubicle – you’d risk falling asleep on a flat stretch of Indiana highway listening to Orinoco Flow. Likewise, if you’re trying to woo a girl you like, I Want Your Sex will probably send the wrong message (true as it might be), and Nine Inch Nails’ Closer would be a really awful choice for a children’s birthday party.
  5. Get creative. One of my favorite mix tapes is called The Day The Music Died and features songs from Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, topped off with Don McLean’s American Pie. The sky’s the limit when it comes to creativity; you can take something that interests you – flying, for example – and include songs by artists like The B-52s and Jefferson Airplane while throwing in some R.E.M. (Man On The Moon) and David Bowie (Space Oddity). The point is to think outside of the box!

There you go! Those 5 simple rules should help you put together the perfect mixtape for any occasion you can imagine. Crank it up really loud, and happy listening!


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

23 thoughts on “The Art of the Mixtape

  1. That is how I arrange my playlists on my ipod. I am trying to find a good mix for tunes to listen to while running/walking that won’t mess with my pace. I wish there was a web site that lists songs with the same tempo. If you find it, let me know! Happy Mixing πŸ™‚


    1. Some of us DO still have mixtapes. My car is from the 80s and only has a cassette player. But actually I have that adapter tape that plugs into a portable cd player. Old school!


  2. Aw, this is cool! Thats kind of how I make mix CD’s for my car and just playlists in general.

    Also, if you’re looking for a cool read, try “Love is Like a Mix Tape.” Its a story kind of told through mixtapes. πŸ™‚

    I haven’t finished reading it yet, but what I’ve read, I liked. I can’t remember who wrote it but if you google the title, you should be able to find it. πŸ™‚


  3. “I’ve been back home for three days now, and am still adjusting to the new old routine.”

    Yup…I know exactly how you feel because when I came home, after being in Japan for almost three months, it took me weeks to get use my old routine. And weeks to adjust to the time change and sleeping through the night. My whole internal clock was messed up.

    “and our high temperature was 65. Sixty-five degrees!”

    OMG…I soooo jealous because it’s been hotter than hell here. However, today it rained and cooled things off a bit. Just a bit.

    Love your 5 rules in creating the perfect mixtape!

    Can you believe I STILL use a CD player and NOT an iPod? And can you believe I STILL have VHS tapes?!?!

    Geesh…get with the program, Ron!

    Have a great weekend, bud!


    1. I can see a good mixtape there. I’d call it Can’t Fight This Feeling, Hot Stuff and alternate between REO Speedwagon and Donna Summer songs. That would totally work! Hmm…


  4. Oh and if you make the mix right after a break up, try really hard to add some upbeat songs. If the whole thing is about cheaters, why don’t you love me anymore, I can’t live without you, etc., by the end of the mix tape you will want to kill yourself πŸ™‚


  5. Woohoo, thanks for the shoutout! Great recommendation on how to make a mixtape. I totally did that record on the radio trick back in the day. I had the best mix tapes of Madonna, Cher, and Savage Garden. Oh yah, I did that.

    I love rule #1 about picking a theme. My best friend and I do that. She’s made me dance mixes, I’ve made a cinco de mayo mix, I make my mom and sister a phenomenal women mix every christmas which has all female singers, and of course I have tons of road trip mixes. Going back to a previous post of yours, the Singles soundtrack is awesome for driving!


    1. I remember blasting the Singles soundtrack while flying down the highway in…Illinois, I think. Or Missouri. Either way, I was rocking out!

      And thank YOU for the suggestion on what to write about. You inspired me!


  6. “I Want Your Sex will probably send the wrong message”…. I’ve been known to drive around (baby in tow) blaring this throughout our churchy, little town. It’s a wonder I haven’t made any friends here yet πŸ™‚


  7. I just love music as much as you do Mark. I’ve been making mixed tapes since before Tara was born and they usually always included REO, Seger, Bon Jovi, and I absolutely have to throw in Neil Diamond…it’s in my genes….

    There are, of course, lots of other artists…just too numerous to mention!!

    Another great post from a great writer…thanks πŸ™‚


  8. I was thinking of this post as I was listening to the last two “mixtapes” you gave me back in March. Vol. I had a common thread to it, and I started wondering….am I so dense that I didn’t pick up on this before?? Did you have a theme to it, more so than just “kick ass, obscure indie rock bands”?


    1. Err…umm…yeah. Figure it out and let me know! πŸ˜‰

      Actually, no. I was just going for the whole “kick ass, obscure indie rock bands” theme. Unless I accidentally came up with something deeper.


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