How to Make Great Mix Tapes

Making any old compilation album is easy, but making it takes a real effort and a skill that only comes with practice. For many people a compilation of songs does not equal a mixtape. For many a mixtape is only a mixtape if it is actually mixed. Good mixtapes therefore only come from good DJs. Making a great mixtape takes the dedication of either a good DJ and/or a good audio engineer or audio software wizard. While there are many programs that now allow normal people to mix songs together automatically it still takes a good DJ to know how best to program the mixtape to build the energy and vibe of the music and know how to move people through proper song choice and proper energy build ups and break downs.

A great mixtape will take you on a ride, keep your excitement throughout the entire mix and make you want to listen to the mixtape over and over again. A great mixtape will stand the test of time and still be listenable long after the songs on it have lost their popularity, because a great mixtape is more than just the sum of its parts, it's an overall experience the DJ creates with their remixes, blends and overall style of mix. To learn how a great mixtape is created read the steps listed below.


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    Listen to other great mixtapes as inspiration and to get an idea of what you can be accomplished.
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    Decide on a theme or overall style of music you want on your mixtape.
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    Collect the music you want on your mixtape. You might already have all the music, but isolating the music in One folder or One place is essential to keeping yourself focused on only what you really want in your mix.
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    Organize the music by BPM range (beats per minute) so you can visually see which songs are within beat match mixing range of each other.
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    Start off with a strong energetic vibe and a medium to fast pace and continuously build the energy throughout your mix.
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    Save slower songs for later on after you have established a rapport with your listener. While it may be customary for DJs to start off nightclub nights slower and gradually build up the energy as the night goes along, on mixtapes it's essential to grab the attention of the listener early on, so start with medium high energy songs and build the energy and pace up to at least the halfway point on your mixtape before breaking it down to slower songs and rebuilding the energy again with the slower paced music.
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    Make sure every mix is flawless and as perfect as you can make it. If you messed up a mix and it sounds like a train wreck, go back and redo your mixtape or redo the part you messed up. No matter how good the rest of your mixtape is if you have jacked up parts that's all anyone will remember.
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    Be creative with your mixing, take out and bring in songs in various ways, scratch out of certain songs, mix in acapella and instrumental blends, create your own remixes.
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    Pay attention to how certain songs react with other songs. Make sure the last words from one song matched up perfectly with the first words of the other song to almost create sentences and phrases that makes sense with each other. I.E. on The "Badder than Bad" you may have Michael Jackson's "Blame It On The Boogie" going into "Dancing Machine" where "Blame It On The Boogie" ends with "My baby's always dancing" which I sampled and looped to continue saying "always dancing, always dancing, dancing, dancing" leading right into the first words from Dancing machine "Dancing, dancing, dancing, she's a dancing machine" This way the songs don't just match beat wise but they match conceptually as well. These kind of creative mixes will help make your mixtape a great mixtape and help it stand out from other mixtapes out there.
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    Do a quick 3-4 song practice run to get yourself warmed up and test out your first few songs and test out your volume and equalizer settings. If you don't like how the mix sounds or how the songs work with each other change things around. Also use this time to modify your EQ settings and volume levels til they sound perfect. No matter how good your mixes are your mixtape will never be great if your sound quality is not as good as it can be.
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    Once you get started don't stop mixing until you just can't anymore, even if you mess up, it's good practice to keep going so you can at least listen to your first pass and then decide what you want to do different the next time. You may decide to just redo the same exact mix with maybe One or two songs changed out or simply decide to change the places where you start or stop a mix.
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    Try creating it in parts. Creating a mixtape can be a long endeavor, and during the process you may want to change directions. It's Ok to create it in parts. Create One half on One day listen to it decide on the direction you want to go with the second half then create the other half on another day.
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    Try it in several tracks. If a mix you want to create is too complex to do in One pass separate it out to several tracks and do it in Two or more passes. I.E. Record, then go back and rerecord over your original recording on a separate recording track. (you will need multi track capabilities for this as offered in 4 track recorders or on Audio production software like Cubase, Sony Acid, Pro tools etc).
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    An alternative to multi track recording is to create your remixes before making your mixtape. Then all you have to do is mix your already made remixes. Or create edits of songs that have an acapella trail out or an instrumental trail out instead of having them end the normal way.
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    Listen. When you are finally finished recording your mixtape mix, it's time to go back and listen to the entire mix and note what you might want to add at certain points in the mix.
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    Go back through your mix and add in a few scratches if you want, also add in your theming if need be.
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    Add in your tags every few songs. Adding your name into your mix is an important step that ensures that no other DJ can claim your mixtape mix as their own. This step also ensures that people know who created the mixtape and if you also include your website in a few of your tags they will also know where they can get it from. This is especially important if people will be using your mixtape to play at parties, for outings in the car with friends or for social functions or during the early part of nightclub nights where others will also be listening. Some DJs overdo this and it becomes blatantly annoying. Don't yell your name over songs, only put your name tags over instrumental beds and quiet parts or transitions, most importantly don't yell over the lyrics of a song!
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    Make sure your name tags are also mixed in properly. Don't have them way louder than the music, they should not detract from your mix but sound like they belong and are part of the overall mix.
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    Along those same lines make sure your final output volume is as loud as it can be without distortion or skipping. For Cassette tapes this meant going above the 0db (0 Decibel) line by maybe a +1 to +2 red zone. For Digital production onto CD however this is not the case. You must keep yourself below the 0 db or you will distort and have pops or skips on your CD. The optimal range is -2db to -3db for your overall sound and maybe peaking a few times at -1 or -2db on your loudest sounds. That means bringing up your music to consistently hit this range and occasionally letting a few things go just barely above that.
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    You can use a Compression to bring up the lowest points in your music to a level that can be heard a little easier but don't overdo it with compression settings as this will take away the natural highs and lows experienced with quiet parts and loud parts of your music. You want your soft quiet parts to be heard but still be distinguishable as a quiet part of a song. If you bring up the quiet parts too much and reduce the loud parts too much it makes for a bland and dry mix that has no ups and downs in sound and emotion.
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    Save all your settings then produce One master disc, listen to it on several different audio systems, including your car, your home audio and a few friends audio as well as your home studio or music studio's audio system to make sure the sound quality is where you want it to be. If there are a few things that need to be tweaked like adding in a little more Bass or a little more mid-range etc go back and add the settings to correct the sound and create another master disc, repeat this process until you have it sounding the way you want it.
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    Track and chop it. Once you have your mixtape sounding the way you want it's time to track it out and chop it up into separate tracks. Since this is a continuous mix you will have to manually insert track markers and export each marked section into a separate track. This process will be different for each program. In Cubase you manually have to write in the start and end times for every track and make sure that you use the same exact numbers from the end of One track as the number that begins the next track. Make sure you write down the start and end times of each track in case you have to do anything more than once and also to ensure no mistakes are made during this crucial step.
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    When all the tracks have been created you can put them back together in your Audio Disc burning software and burn them onto your new Tracked out Master Disc. Remember that this is supposed to be a continuous mix with no pauses or gaps, so make sure you have your CD burning software set to do a gapless album. Tell the software not to insert any gaps between tracks.
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    You will also want to create One version of your mixtape that is just One super long entire track that you can use to send as a download copy for I-Pods and Mp3 players as well as for use as an Online promotional tool.
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    For your master disc you will also want to set your burning software to its slowest most accurate setting. Copies can be made full speed but your master disc needs to be burned as slow as possible to reduce the chance of small errors that will the be copied to all your other discs. Also make sure you burn more than One copy of your master disc direct from the program.
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    Listen to your master copy if there are small skips or glitches that are consistently in one spot you will need to go back and re-export whatever track they are on and then burn a new master disc with the new version of the fixed tracks.
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    Duplicate. Once the master is as good as it is ever going to be it's time to start duplicating your CDs. You're best bets are professional duplication or either owning or knowing someone that owns a professional 11CD duplication tower or automatic CD duplication machine. Trust me, burning CDs One at a time is way too time consuming and ineffective.
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    Have a professional design Having a professional designer design your mixtape is another ultra important step that will help you stand out from the non serious mixtape DJs and make sure you project a professional image with every mixtape you sell or hand out.
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    Market your mixtape. Marketing your mixtape is the next logical step. If you believe you have created a great mixtape that is newsworthy, then it must be heard. Send it to local and national magazines, websites, blogs and newspapers that are at least slightly related to your style of music, to DJs, to the mixtape industry in general.
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    Get out there and hustle, hustle, hustle.


  • Your mixtapes are like your own personal progress chart, you should be improving with each mixtape. If they are getting worse instead of getting better then you need to practice your mixing more often and improve your skills as a DJ and as a mixtape maker.
  • Professional printing is not cheap but Once you go past a hundred copies home printing becomes more expensive than just ordering a bulk amount of professionally printed CD inserts. Being Cheap will cost you more in the long run. If it's a worthy mixtape get the CD inserts professionally designed and printed.
  • If you can't stand to listen to your own mixes more than Once don't expect others to. A great mixtape can be listened to over and over without getting tired of it.


  • Gunshots and yelling are not transitions, real mixtapes are mixed with real song blends and real transitions.
  • If you don't like a song don't add it just because it's popular. You'll probably hate your own mixtape if you do this, and as time goes by that One song you hate will lose it's popularity and you will be stuck wondering why you added that song in the first place.
  • Don't slam songs together, learn how to properly beat match and mix your songs together.
  • Don't jump around from fast song to slow song back to fast song again without a good reason. Learn to plan out your mixes so you can keep building song speed gradually by beat matching them. Then when you reach a certain point where you feel you are ready to start adding in the slower songs do so by dropping down the speed with a well planned transition or skit. Only drop down in speed one time then gradually build the speed back up from there.
  • If you are not mixing and blending the songs together you are not actually making a mixtape but are making a compilation. Learn the difference and make sure you only make real mixtapes.
  • Make sure you don't "steal" any creative processes from others.

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Categories: Music Techniques