Mixtapes, while not the be all and end all of promoting yourself as a DJ, are still a great “this is what I can do!” handout. They’re a calling card – a business card, if you like. Just like authors need books, and painters need paintings, DJs need mixtapes! You’re only as good as your last mix? You’re only as good as your last mixtape might be closer to the truth…
So how good was your last mixtape (or CD, or online mix…)? Were you happy with it? Or did something really silly mess it up for you? Did it do the job you required of it? Or did it drift off into a mediocre, also-ran effort, all your good ideas turning into an average offering that came up short?
Read this next: How To Master Your DJ Mixes (And Why You Need To Do It)
Because making mixtapes is so important, and because so many people make mixtapes that they hand-on-heart end up being not particularly proud of, we decided to list some really smart things to consider before you hit record on your next mixtape. Think these through, and hopefully you’ll come up with a better sounding, more effective mixtape that’ll do the job better for you – whether that’s showing off your skills, highlighting a new direction, or of course getting you more gigs.
5 questions to ask yourself before hitting record
- Why am I doing this? – Is this a practice session? Is it to get DJing work? Is that work in a club, in a bar…? Is it to impress someone in particular? Is it for the radio or a podcast? What is the end result you want from it? If you’re not crystal clear about this, you’ll find everything from tune selection decisions to the length of each tune / the recording overall won’t come particularly easily to you as you’re planning it
- What’s it going to be called? – Naming your mix helps you to define what you’re trying to achieve. This simple trick makes it easier to visualise the finished thing, and keep you on track when you’re planning it (for instance, if you named it “chilled hip hop mix”, why exactly are you considering that heavy drum & bass tune for half way through it? Think again…)
- Is it going to stick to a theme/genre, or be more eclectic? – From your very first tune, you set an expectation among your audience – you set a theme. So are you going to stick to the theme/genre rigidly, or are you going to play with expectations a little? Or alternatively, are you just going to deliberately have no theme, with surprises right from the start, and freestyle it, going truly eclectic? (It can definitely work, but it’s also harder to pull off)
- Is it going to be a journey or instant gratification? – In other words, are you going to make a “classic mixtape” style of recording (with a “beginning”, “middle”, and “end” – you know, that “tells a story”), or is it going to be more like a “mixed compilation”, full of bangers that grab the audience by the balls from the off and don’t let go until the last note? (Hint: EDM mixes are following this style more and more, with short, sharp edits and relentless energy…)
- What can I offer that’s different from other current mixtapes? – Bear in mind that we might be talking about other mixtapes you’ve done, not necessarily those from your peers or competition. Can you include obscure or unusual tracks, different to your last mix? If you usually do party mixes, can you try something artistic? Can you alter your mix of old and new tunes?
There are no rules here, but taking the time to really think through what you’re trying to achieve can make the whole process much more effective. Of course, there are countless technical issues to consider too when it comes to actually making the perfect mix, a topic we cover in Mixtapes: 5 Ways To Screw Them Up.
Make perfect, pro-sounding DJ mixes fast, every time: Pro Mixtape Formula
What rituals do you go through when you’re planning a mixtape? Have you made a mix recently that you really love (or really hate)? What went right or wrong for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.