How to Make an Awesome Mix Tape Pt. 3 – I am the Architect. I created the Matrix.

21 08 2007

“Blah blah blah. Anyone can genuflect on picking songs. What do you know that I don’t?”

Not much. But I do own a secret weapon: Sony CD Architect 5.0. Sure, you can burn a mix using iTunes or Roxio Toast or Nero Burn, but nothing comes close to the awesome-ness of CD Architect. And now I’ll show you why.

Set up a tracklist

Explorer tab

Open up CD Architect and you’ll see that the top half of the window is a timeline and the bottom half has a couple of tabs. The Explorer tab allows you to browse through your files. Select all the files that you want on your mix, right-click for the context menu, and select “Add to Tracklist.” You’ll notice that as the songs get added, the timeline gets filled up with a visual representation of each songs peaks and valleys.

Click and drag to rearrange tracks

Now in the Tracklist tab, you can rearrange the songs to the order you’d like them to appear in your mix. Notice that, generally, the songs go from louder to softer. There are some exceptions, though — we’ll get to that later.

On your mark, get ready, …

Some features to notice

I highly recommend that you make sure that some options are active by looking to see that some of the buttons on the top of the window are pressed in.

  • Enable snapping
  • Automatically create tracks
  • Automatic cross fades
  • Ripple edits
  • Lock envelopes to events
  • Lock events and tracks

You can zoom in and out of the timeline, as well as scroll through the songs. Notice that the software automatically places a gap between each song. Click on a track to select it and drag it around to widen that gap, or eliminate it altogether.

Selecting a sound clip to loop

One thing you’ll inevitably do is accidently drag out a length of the mix. Selecting a sound clip like this highlights it for editing or simply loops the clip over and over if you play through it. This can be useful if you’re trying to adjust the transitions between one track to the next — or it can be confusing if you do it accidentally.

Check my fade

Automatic crossfades

Push one track into another and… it’ll crossfade! (or simply overlap if you have automatic crossfading turned off)

Synchronize crossfades

It’s dead easy to adjust transitions so that they’re perfectly synchronized.

Two tracks back-to-back, no transition

Of course, you don’t need to have a transition. You can simply have adjacent tracks with the given gap, or — as shown here — back-to-back.

Right-click within a transition to choose your fade

Right-click within a transition to get a context-menu that’ll allow you to choose a different kind of fade — including no fade at all.

A little off the sides

Trim a track

Here’s a case where I wanted to trim off the applause at the end of a track. Select it (notice the bar at the top) and delete.

Offset track

Sometimes when you make these changes, the start of the track ends up slightly off from where it ought to. Just adjust the track bars on the bottom. (It helps to have the snapping and locking options I mentioned earlier on).

Turn it up!

Adding volume marks

Here’s an instance where the next song is just too quiet relative to the songs around it. We need to adjust its volume. The center line of the timeline is a volume envelope. Clicking and dragging it up and down changes the overall volume of the entire mix. We need to divide up so that we can adjust the volume of just this one song. Double-clicking on the volume line places a marker that functions as a kind of “elbow-point” in which changes to the volume can be made. Create two such points right next to each other at the beginning of the song, and another two at the end of the song.

Adjust the volume

And just lift the volume line to an appropriate height. There’s a volume gauge next to the track listing window.

Burn baby burn

Type the tracklist and burn the CD

Once you’re done, correct any artist/song information in the tracklisting, and burn your now totally awesome mix.

We who are about to rock (to sleep) salute you!

All parts of “How to Make an Awesome Mix”:


How to Make an Awesome Mix Tape Pt. 2 – The Few, The Proud

20 08 2007

Now that you’ve got a whole mess of possible candidates to include in your mix CD, and some ground rules to follow, it’s time to hunker down and listen to some music…


I dumped all the songs I had gathered into my iPod and started making some judgment calls. I took a bus trip down to Maryland which gave me the occasion to listen to most of the songs with uninterrupted concentration. I used the iPod star-ranking system to help organize myself: more stars to songs with higher energy, no stars to songs that, upon listen, don’t fit at all.

By the time I was through, I still had 60 or so songs left. A typical CD runs 74 minutes, which equals about 15-20 songs.

What to do?

Make It Mean Something

I’m one of those people that likes to read the liner notes as I listen to my music. I’m drawn to music that’s accompanied by thoughtful lyrics. I thus decided to help narrow down my selections, I needed to consider the lyrical content and flow of the songs. A simple, stupid example: no songs referring to daughters, since we were expecting a little guy.

In googling for lyrics, I would generally try to stay away from lyrics depot sites; they tend to be full of pop-up windows and spyware. Instead, look for fan sites devoted to one artist. One can always on rely on obsessive super-fans to provide comprehensive, accurate lyrics. Occasionally, the band or artist will provide lyrics on their own web sites. More often than not, though, “official” web sites — particularly those created by major record labels — are pretty sparse on useful information or minutiae.

mix playlists

Armed with a better interpretive stance on these songs, I then opened iTunes and started making some playlists. As you can see, I noticed several broad themes:

  1. I don’t want to go to sleep (Generally high energy songs)
  2. Go to sleep, child
  3. I love you, kid
  4. Wistfully watching you sleep
  5. Hymns
  6. Instrumentals (Generally pretty low energy)
  7. Miscellaneous

Once I grouped the songs into these generally categories, I made three lullaby mix playlists. What the heck — I’ve got enough songs — why not just make three mix CDs? The idea was that each mix would draw songs from each of the categories I set up.

Cusack on headphones

What’s next is largely a matter of intuition and trial-and-error. The art of the mixtape. I try to be aware of a narrative arc established by the lyrics and titles of songs, but I generally focus on the transitions between songs. Does this song sound right next to that previous one? It shouldn’t sound too similar, but it shouldn’t be jarringly different. With exceptions. There’s always exceptions. As Nicky Hornby states in High Fidelity: “A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do.”

btw, in looking for that quote, I came across this blog post, which has some interesting thoughts in putting together a mix.

Eventually something miraculously emerges. It’s pretty interesting how each mix has its own character, but each seem to speak about my anxieties, hopes, loves, and pledges of allegiance and obligation.

Anyhoo, here’s what I ended up with. COMPLETE lyrics after the jump. (Warning: It’s long) And coming soon — a very technical tutorial on using Sony CD Architect to make an awesome mix CD.

Drumroll, please

Bed Bed Bed Turn Turn Turn Bye Bye Bye
The Jackson 5 – Rockin’ Robin The Byrds – Turn Turn Turn Miles Davis – Godchild
They Might Be Giants – Bed Bed Bed The Cranberries – Dreams Little Jimmy Scott – Don’t Cry Baby
The Rolling Stones – Not Fade Away Daniel Amos – Sleep Silent Child Johnny Cash – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
The Sonics – Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark The Talking Heads – This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) Petra Haden – God Only Knows
Mindy Smith – Come to Jesus Cat Stevens – The Wind Daniel Amos – Beautiful One
The Five Stairsteps – Ooh Child Sarah McLachlan – Ice Cream Luka Bloom – Be Still Now
Paul Simon – St. Judy’s Comet They Might Be Giants – Lazyhead and Sleepybones Brad Mehldau – Blackbird
Nick Drake – The Day is Done Coney Island Baby – Good Night Little Boy Tom Petty – Alright for Now
The Beatles – Good Night Jellyfish – Hush Barenaked Ladies – When You Dream
Luka Bloom – I’ll Walk Beside You Jeff Buckley – Corpus Christi Carol Luka Bloom – The Water is Wide
The Acappella Company – Resting in Jesus FC Kahuna – Hayling Sigur Ros – Track 4
Fernando Ortega – I Need Thee Every Hour medley Matt Redman – The Heart of Worship Eva Cassidy – Over the Rainbow
Bobby McFerrin – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (IV – Rondo. Allegro.) Keith Green – Make My Life a Prayer to You Bobby McFerrin – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (I – Allegro)
Beethoven – Piano Sonata No. 14 (Moonlight) The Dixie Chicks – Godspeed (Sweet Dreams) Yo-Yo Ma – Bach Cello Suite No. 3 – Sarabande
Brian Eno – Failing Light The Beatles – Blackbird Vladimir Horowitz – Kinderszenen Op. 15 – Traumerei
Bob Dylan – Forever Young The Blackbyrds – Mother and Son Bedroom Talk Brad Mehldau – Moon River
Bach – Air (Suite III) BWV 1068 Smashing Pumpkins – Landslide
Yo-Yo Ma – Bach Cello Suite No. 1 – Sarabande
Christopher O’Riley – Exit Music (for a Film)

I still had 10 or so orphans left that I just couldn’t fit anywhere. Bound to happen.
Lyrics after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

How to Make an Awesome Mix Tape Pt. 1 – Fodder

19 08 2007

At the beginning of the summer, Dana commissioned me to make a lullaby mix CD for the coming young’un. Three months later, I’m finally getting them burned. Why’d it take so long?

Well, I’m lazy. But I’m also methodical, and what follows is the first part in a series of tutorials on how I took all summer to make an awesome mix CD.

el mix de awesome

Gather the Wheat and Chaff

I like to start by gathering way more songs than can fit on the final mix. I started with a quick search on since this is exactly the sort of thing that gets brainstormed on MeFi. And, lo and behold, there were several posts tagged with “lullaby” and one post that had exactly what I wanted:

I’d like to make a lullaby mix CD for my hipster niece/nephew-to-be. Suggestions? I’m looking more for quiet, peaceful songs by “regular” artists, rather than straight-up kids songs. Think more acoustic renderings of rock/pop, less Yanni.

I did a quick skim of the article and copied down songs that looked promising.

I knew I wanted some classical music as well and didn’t trust my spotty knowledge of classical music to help me, so I also browsed some commercial classical lullaby collections on to get some ideas of appropriate selections to include.

Armed with my list, I then head to MediaMonkey. MediaMonkey is a music organization software; I use the robust free version which is fine for my purposes. I’ve been using it for some time, and have all my music organized by it in one searchable database. I can quickly see if I have any of these songs already; any ones I’m missing I can decide to buy through iTunes or eMusic.

I also used the occasion to do some searches based on keywords such as “lullaby,” “sleep,” “night,” “baby,” etc. Anything that looked that promising, I copied onto a folder dedicated to this lullaby mix.

EROf course, I also included any songs that simply occurred to me as good candidates for the mix. I wanted, for instance, to include the Beatles’ “Blackbird” since I vividly remember it being used in a delivery room scene on ER (directed by Quentin Tarantino).

Set Some Ground Rules

Now that I had some idea of what I had available to me, I started setting some ground rules for myself. This is important to expedite the filtering through of the songs I had gathered, and to give me an idea of the structure I want to adhere to. I’ve made mixes by choosing one song and then the next song and then the next song until I was out of space, but I generally prefer to have some overall theme or idea that ties the collection together.

Dana said that she wanted a variety of different genres: soft rock, classical, jazz. I’m pretty proud of my eclectic tastes, and I generally like my mixes to represent the breadth of that eclecticism, so I was more than happy to oblige. One problem though: I was hard pressed to find any rap/hip-hop that seemed appropriate. God knows I looked, too. Okay, so hip-hop is out, but the final mix is going to have to have a little of everything else.

I figured the point of the CD was to draw down an energetic fussy cranky little baby down to a calmly sleeping one. Seemed pretty obvious that the songs ought to be sequenced from high energy and volume to low energy and volume. And I didn’t want to start too high energy — Gwar was out.

This being my impressionable future son, I also wanted to nix out any foul language or immoral messages. In sorting through my database, I was reminded that I had Johnny Cash’s haunting My Mother’s Hymn Book, and I knew I wanted to have some hymns and worship songs in there.

Which brought me to my last rule: the songs had to be good to sing. I wanted to be able to sing my son to sleep, and I wanted him to remember these songs as he grew up. A lullaby mix is no joke.


Tomorrow: Part 2 – How to pare all this down