Written by Amy Bugno
These days, any idiot with a computer and iTunes can make a mixtape (or CD, whatever). All you have to do is queue up a random selection of your favorite songs, drag them to a playlist, click the burn button, and voila, within two minutes you’re done. It’s pretty glorious. I mean, you can go from Ok Go to Phil Collins to the theme song from Family Matters without even changing discs.
However, I believe that a mixtape can do more than simply satisfy your indecisive musical appetite. Especially when it’s being made for another, a mixtape can convey messages you’d never be able to put into words. It can show someone that you care about them enough to personalize a gift for them. Essentially, it can do your dirty work for you.
Recently, I met a young man and developed a certain liking to him. While I usually consider myself to be pretty ballsy, in this case, I struggled to find a way to tell him how I felt. Then one night, he and I were discussing songwriting, and how sometimes songs just speak to you, or articulate the thoughts that are jumbled in your head. So the light bulb blinked on, and I thought, “Hey, I’m going to tell him how I feel through song.” Unfortunately, my musical skills have been spiraling away since high school, and my personal songwriting capabilities are nothing to brag about. I decided to compile the words of some of my favorite artists to get my point across.
I worked on this mixtape for hours. Spent a few days just listening, reading lyrics, etc. Finally got a list of about 16 tunes and slapped them into a handy iTunes playlist. Then I spent another day ordering and re-ordering until they were just right. It started with songs about uncertainty, like Saves the Day’s “Freakish.” It progressed through the I-have-a-crush-on-you series with “I Want You” by the Future Kings of Nowhere and “Lunacy Fringe” by The Used. And it ended with a request for an honest response with The Juliana Theory’s “Is Patience Still Waiting?” Oh, and a bonus track, inside joke of “Dirty Little Secret” by the All-American Rejects, which incidentally, I never would have subjected anyone’s ears to unless it was for a laugh.
I burned the CD. But although I’d spent many days and sleepless nights trying to make it perfect, it still wasn’t quite there. What did it lack?
You see, while the meat of the mixtape lies in the music, every meal needs some potatoes. That’s where cover art comes in.
I’ve never been great with sketching, so I decided to use the one thing I’m good at – wordplay – to design the cover. I titled the album “My Words in the Shape of Somebody Else’s Rhyme,” a lyric from one of the songs I included. Then I took the most meaningful lines from each song, and strung them together. It came out reading like a story of my adoration for said boy, and I was pretty darn proud of it. On the inside I included a track list, figuring he would be unfamiliar with some of the music, then John-Hancocked it. Done.
I gave him the CD and held my breath in anticipation for the next couple of hours until he’d gotten all the way through it. It might not have been the bravest way of telling him, but my mixtape successfully delivered the message in an artful way that didn’t involve an awkward conversation. It showed that he meant enough to me to invest that kind of time into a gift. It allowed me to express my feelings from behind the shield of the music, and it put the ball in his court. Mission accomplished.
So next time you’re struggling to find words for any given situation – it doesn’t have to be a love-profession by any means – think about letting Rivers Cuomo or Frank Sinatra say it for you. But don’t just throw some songs together and call it a day. Invest your time. Be creative. Make every song count and let it tell your story. It’s worth it.
(Links today via: NPR, MySpace, Google Images and Wikipedia )