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Simply Solo Spotlight: Love Notes and Picking the Perfect Ones

April 10, 2012

Today’s guest post is written by Battry Olivander from Solo Rap Group. Battry’s post is a very detailed guide to making a kick ass mix tape. I like this post because I have literally never been given a mix tape and this gives me the opportunity to not-so-subtly put out into the universe: Hint hint – if you love me, make me a mix tape!

After reading Battry’s advice, leave a comment, check out his site and get going on the perfect mix tape!

Quick shameless plug: Do you have a story to tell? Advice to offer? Did you just have literally the worst date of your life and you must write about it? I’d love to have you as the next Simply Solo Spotlight! Contact me at:

Love Notes and Picking the Perfect Ones

Photo courtesy of miss_rogue

The mix tape is dying. The best way to steal a heart has somehow become a lost art – thankfully not for legal reasons, though. Making a mix tape is something you can actually still do, regardless of your musical taste or prowess.* She’ll love you like a love song.

It’s not just for her. It’s for her friends.

This is truly the most important rule of all: “He likes this?” is just about the worst possible reaction, and I don’t mean coming from her. Her friends would throw blood at the Sistine Chapel ceiling, especially if they are feeling especially jealous/insecure/catty (note: these are things that they will be). This CD is meant to be your personalized, soul-bearing creation – and her friends don’t give a shit. It could even be argued that the mix CD is more for her friends than for her in the first place. Maybe you can impress them and they will get in her ear. This mix tape date is not unlike a reality dating show where although you are with only her, her friends have planted secret microphones and video cameras and can direct her as she goes.

Also, a first timer may be inclined to think, “I’ll just pretend I’m making it for me, and if I like it then she will too.” You are already doing something for her, for you – don’t compound it by handing over a CD full of Led Zeppelin’s greatest hits.

These need to be songs she hasn’t heard before …

I like Bon Iver as much as everyone else, but now that he has played on – and won – the Grammys, he is ineligible for inclusion on your CD.** Send her the album as an iTunes gift or something, but you must work to avoid the following:

a) NOT looking “too” cool. What you have here is an opportunity to show that you know about things that no one else does, presumably because you have cooler friends and have been more places and have tried more things (this does not actually have to be the case). This is also the rare instance where you can up your cool factor exponentially: “He snuck in the back door to hear this band in San Francisco after he rode cross country hidden in a freight train, all the while meeting new people who fed and clothed him – shelter wasn’t necessary.” That is for what you need to be aiming. Even go as far as telling her you downloaded all of the songs illegally, whether it’s true or not. You will steal for her merely because you know how to steal for her, and that is what’s important.

b) Appearing as if your main goal is to appease. If you don’t like Drake, don’t pretend you do. If she thinks you tried to appease her and likes it, there is a chance she is not worth your time. If she doesn’t want to be challenged, don’t challenge her. Challenge someone else instead.

… especially with you.

Once the making of a mix CD is inevitable, guard potential inclusions at all costs. What, is she supposed to hear a song and think “Oh, this is that one he played me in his car – awesome?” No. You’re not making this to commemorate that magical (to you) first car ride. This is supposed to scramble her brains and leave her running for shelter (in a good, “how can I ever keep up?” way). I couldn’t possibly stress this enough. During the course of this project, play anything other than the songs when you are with her: audiobooks (if you’re making a chapter mix you can stop reading now), radio (same, if Bruno Mars is on your list), even white noise [(insert joke about how a band everyone likes is boring and actually does sound like white noise)].

The lyrics shouldn’t tell the story.

Very few “love songs” practice the level of restraint required of you, so tread lightly. Is she really your “one and only?” No. You met at a bar because she didn’t want to wait in the longer line for the girls’ restroom. You also shouldn’t include any songs that are about other songs/music, simply because they are probably not that great. You need to choose subject matters carefully, because this mix CD is not unlike a date – a date that she can replay as many times as she wants. Recommended song themes:

a) “The night.” All its possibilities! A lot of songs are about night time, so while this is an inclusive topic, let me also advise you against songs directly discussing sex. Songs actually about sex are usually the least sexy, and one of her friends will convince her that you are making this mix to sleep with her. You will be given no rebuttal.

b) Storytelling songs. Tell her it is based on a fiction book you read for (post-academic) pleasure. She won’t look it up and you will appear well-read. If she later brings this song/story correlation up in a group setting, have a subject in mind to which you can seamlessly change the topic.

c) “Running away.” What could possibly be more romantic? Steer clear of the suicide/mystery disappearance kind of running away, and shoot more for the “we could do anything in the world right now” (even though you really can’t) version. Abandonment is a related and far-from-forbidden topic, believe it or not. You can always tell her how you won’t ever do such a thing, while she assumes you will from the outset. At least one of you will be right, and when a song about abandonment is validated by one and hated by the other, that is a moment. Every failed couple thinks a song should be written about their breakup, and chances are it probably already has been. Identify that song early, and plan accordingly.

Which brings us to…

No matter what, tell her that you didn’t choose songs based on lyrics.

This is one of the most important pieces of advice. She is going to look into the lyrics anyway, but this at least gives you an out if she finds something unintended and really takes it to heart. Again – and I can’t stress this enough – she will assume you chose all songs based on lyrics even after you tell her otherwise. It will appear coy and endearing when you deny it.

Party songs are generally a poor idea.

You will never meet the men and women who wrote these songs, but in her mind they might as well be yours, and any that induce an automatic “Drink, bitches!” outburst are counterintuitive.

It goes without saying that remixes, instrumentals, and live versions are terrible choices as well – double points off for acoustic remixes, acoustic instrumentals, and acoustic live versions. I had a college relationship end because the girl put an acoustic version of the Incubus “classic” “Pardon Me” on a CD for me. Also included? Eminem’s “Ass Like That.” This is no coincidence, and I would strongly argue that the Incubus track was an even worse idea than “Ass Like That.” I get it – this is the token acoustic song in your iTunes library that shows you are sensitive and have many layers.

Don’t over-nerd it.

Rule of thumb: if the band/label didn’t think a vinyl-only song was necessary to release in CD format … do I have to finish this sentence? Leave the vinyl/digital conversion tricks in your Lou Reed-blazened canvas bag, and recognize that while you may think the kick drum sounds extra “crisp” or “warm” on the b-side of that 1981 Joy Division import, she is only going to hear the added static – and that is, indeed, a metaphor.

If you are in a band, do not put one of your own songs on it.

Best case-scenario: you are in an exploding acid jazz punk band. The fact remains that you are opening yourself up to The Question: “Who did you write that song about?” It is important to avoid The Question in all circumstances.

Consider the length of your mix tape.

There should be either 10 songs, 12 songs, 15 songs, or 80 minutes worth of songs included on the playlist.

Personal opinion: 10, 12, and 15 song albums always feel right unless it is 1969 and you have a seven-song, 68 minute record. Either max out the aesthetics or the memory.

Song order matters nearly as much as the songs themselves.

If someone handed me a mix tape/CD and the artists were in alphabetical order, I would rightfully assume that it sucked and wasn’t worth listening to in the first place. Don’t do this, and certainly do not do this and then just say “start with number one and then put the rest on random.” Your waitress didn’t “randomly” serve you a bathtub’s worth of gin and tonic before your appetizers on your first date – that was your own mistake. Dates aren’t a random process and neither is this.

To rise above standard tracklist pitfalls, first look at the song list you have put together and try to imagine each song as being by the same artist and played at the same concert. You are in control of the set list and can work the crowd in any manner you choose (note: this should be your dream any way, and if it’s not, she won’t like you). Do you start slowly and build, or make her pay for keeping her car speakers turned up too loudly? Either way, there are a few rules I have discovered:

a) The best opening and ending songs always sound interchangeable. “Thunder Road” could have been the opener or closer on Born to Run, much like My Morning Jacket opened It Still Moves with “Mahgeetah” and closed with it for many years while touring. Hell, Neil Young opened and closed Tonight’s the Night (aside: best record ever made) with …”Tonight’s the Night.” All classics, all interchangeable. Bonus points if the closing track bleeds over nicely into the opener when she lets the CD start over (something she should obviously want to let happen).

b) Consider forming “sections” of different tempos and styles. “Acoustic sets” get their own place for a reason: skipping up and down sucks. A key rookie mistake is purposely alternating fast and slow songs.

c) Front-loading the mix is fine, too. If there is something you think she will really like, get it as close to the front as you can (while still adhering to the other rules). Two or three “sure things” either to start or in the 2-3-4 spots after the opening track is never a bad rule to follow, and feel free to push that (already ill-advised) Wavves b-side toward the back. She will be more likely to enjoy it and listen with an open mind if she has already liked the preceding songs, and if she already likes Wavves b-sides, this is kind of a lost cause anyway. In the case of the latter, she will probably have heard all of your songs anyway and instead of merely listening, will use them to judge you. That is your job to do to others, and it’s important to keep it that way.

Regarding musically oriented women: I have established a point where the mix tape exercise becomes futile, and it is called the “Britt Daniel Line” (BDL). If she knows that Britt Daniel is the singer of Spoon, you need to think twice about doing any of this. If she falls below the BDL, you are still in good shape, but you need to know the line is there and it just might be the reason for your heartache.

DO NOT include the tracklisting when you give it to her.

This is important, especially for people like me who might get nervous and misspell or mangle certain words (the number “8” sometimes gives me trouble depending on the pen). However, this is also a chance to induce future conversation. Ask her which songs she liked. She will have no bias if she doesn’t know the artist or song names, and once you have a better grasp of her tastes, you can throw in an anecdote or two (assuming you are able – and you should be able) to keep things moving during a future date/hangout.

If you must include the tracklisting or any liner notes, always write them in cursive. A guy who paid attention in 3rd grade also paid attention in 5th and 11th grades, college, and to prospective partners – even if he had been drinking in some/all circumstances.

DO include your favorite song and tell her to try to guess which one it is.

Classic move – and learned from the best (self-taught) – if for no reason other than it is kind of interesting and if she gets it right it is even better. You can also ask for her least favorites. If she says “I liked them all” she is probably lying or didn’t listen very closely (or at all, or to your question), or is far more nervous than she should be for a non-first date. Little tricks like this make the mix tape the ultimate ace in the hole.

Listen to it and make sure it actually plays.

On the off-chance she actually tries to listen, you don’t want the CD skipping or the tracks somehow out of order. You should want to listen to the mix anyway if you did a good job, and if you notice any real lulls in the excitement, you should start over. She will notice them tenfold, and won’t skip to the next track – she will turn it off and take it out (which will then be symbolic of your presence in her heart). Once you listen to it and consider not actually handing it over, you are in perfect shape: doing something with her in mind while also (mainly) looking out for yourself.

Oddly enough, this step is not actually as important as it might seem. While a working disc is ideal in regard to your desired and intended maker/listener relationship, consider the potential impact of a non-working final product:

a) You can blame it on her outdated A/V equipment (presumably another chance to prove how interesting you are compared to the vagabonds who used to give her low quality, MP3-sourced data CDs playable on outdated devices).***

b) If this is not your first attempt and you suspect she has not listened to any of your previous offerings, you can always give her a blank disc and ask for her “honest opinion.” If she says she likes it then she is either lying, or worse: she is going NEXT LEVEL on you and suggesting that silence is preferred. In this case, you are out of your league (as a rule). Should have kept it for yourself anyway.

Carefully consider the overall presentation.

Photo courtesy of massdistraction

You need to pick one end of the spectrum and stick to it. Either write “To: (name)” (not literally that) on it or devise elaborate packaging, but don’t get caught in between. You will look either lazy (tried to do a lot but gave up) or incompetent (aimed high but this was actually the best work possible). Acceptable decorations:

a) Map from her house to yours. She probably doesn’t remember the route you used to walk home at 3 a.m. anyway. Useful.

b) Weed leaf. Only other acceptable decoration. Homage to the classic Chronic 2001.

Have you recently made a mix CD for someone/had one made for you? Did you encounter any of the above issues? Would you add in any additional warnings or points of emphasis for novices or even (surely still simply single) veterans?

Finally, can you think of any specific song suggestions that fit within the above guidelines? With enough participation, a fully interactive mix may even become possible.


**She probably already has a Wilco CD that came with her new Jetta, but it’s still in plastic wrap. Wilco remains eligible.

***If she calls you out on this and correctly diagnoses either a scratched disc or (worse) one burned at an extremely high speed (always use the second or third highest CD burning speed – never the max), she is an above-BDL candidate. Exercise caution.

Copyright 2012. Simply Solo blog by Catherine Gryp. All Rights Reserved.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Zak permalink
    April 10, 2012 3:44 pm

    Have you ever seen High Fidelity? Rob explains to make a mix tape, you have to start out strong, as you suggest. Track 2 you have to “take it up a notch,” but on track 3 you need to cool it down, you don’t want to “blow your wad,” I believe is the exact phrase.

    I then to throw all the tracks I think of in a list, then pair it down. I also like to pick the first and last tracks, and then fill in, going for small clusters, as you suggest. So, track 1, track 2 goes up, track 3, 4, 5 might calm down, 6 and 7 go up a bit, 8 and 9 calm, 10, 11, 12 build and fade into track 1. Of course, I go by the old rule: if it sounds right, it is. If it doesn’t sound right, it isn’t.

  2. Battry Olivander permalink
    April 10, 2012 4:05 pm

    Zak –

    We seem to share multiple planks in this process.

    That said, I do have a time-tested strategy/procedure to combat “blow[ing] one’s wad” too early.
    a) Instead of picking 10-12 songs (or whichever number/length you are shooting for), find 30 or 40 that might work.
    b) Comb through these and if they aren’t perfect, delete them. In other words, you should want to literally jump from your skin at the start of every song.* I’ll just say it – you need to be blowing your load 15 times in 80 minutes or this is a wasted mix.^ (That is either a perfect or a hugely inappropriate – doubly perfect – metaphor).

    *It helps to drink before this
    ^Never put a timeframe on a mix. That way you can take your time to do it right. If you don’t have the songs yet, wait.

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Zak. What might be your first and second songs?

  3. April 10, 2012 11:03 pm

    Finally, somebody who takes the art of making a mixtape as seriously as I do! We have many of the same ideas, i.e. avoiding George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex” (bad, bad idea – true as it might be). In fact, I never do this because it reeks of self-promotion, but what the hell…

    Thanks for a great post!

  4. April 17, 2012 2:31 am

    such a fun post, thanks 🙂


  1. How to Make the Perfect Love Mix Tape/Playlist

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