The Rules of Making a Mixtape


“The making of a compilation tape is a very subtle art.  Lots of do’sand don’t.  First of all you are using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel.”

– Rob (High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby)

Everyone does it, everyday and everywhere.  Sometimes it’s a conscious search for the sound that gets you and fills you up, just as you are letting it empty you and move you on to the next melody.  More often than not, it’s circumstantial.  You just hit the right notes and the right rhythm for a feeling and a memory, pulling it out of the air.  A tense harmony plucks the strings of your heart, and — just kidding, staid music analogies are fun to make up, more than painful to hear.  I just couldn’t resist eliciting an eyeroll or two.


I’m viewing my experience in India this time as an evolving mixtape.  And when I say mixtape, I mean mixTAPE.  I know a lot of people have never actually made mixtapes instead of CDs, and while the intent is the same, the execution of the TAPE is the most exciting part.  There’s something visceral missing with dragging and dropping tracks into a folder, and clicking on “Burn”.  Anyone who’s actually made a mixtape, knows that there is a lot of effort and a lot of love that goes into each and every song.  Are there enough songs that you are sure that they will recognize, mixed in with the new?  It’s the placement in the track list, it’s managing the transitions, it’s finding the exact right opener and closer, so that when the listener hears that final “click” when the tape runs out, they feel a sense of completion.  What’s the overall theme you’re trying to convey?  What are you remembering/showing to the lucky person who will benefit from all your hard work with the rewind, mute and record buttons.  It’s a story you’re telling ab ovo usque ad mala, from the eggs to the apples, from the beginning to the end.

(I want to point out that I haven’t made an actual mixtape in about a decade, mostly cause I could never play it in my car.)

So the following is my experience so far.  I’ve summarized why I chose each song in pithy little bits, that obviously are standing in for the rest of the meaning, the personal meaning.  Make of it what you will.  As Rob states above, this is risky business, but I’ve followed the rules for the most part, so here goes:


1) “Frankly, Mr. Shankly” – the Smiths

Time for a change.  Unsubtle wishing to get the heck out of soul-sucking job. (Aside: I do not want to be famous, and being holy might not be so bad)


2) “Get a Job” – the Silhouettes.

Self-explanatory.  Jaunty yet demanding.  A little shaming with hope and purpose on board.  Solid.


3) “Tuff Luff” – the Unicorns

No more talk; action time.


4) “Hit the Lights” – Metallica

This #$%’s in gear now.


5) “I Wanna Go” – Britney Freaking Spears

SCREEEECCH!!!   Whoa, this is hard.  Feeling like a bird in a cage.  Ack!  Urges to shake things up and be my normal self –> fear of shocking co-workers


6) “Itchin’ on a Photograph” – Grouplove



7) “Well…All Right!” – Buddy Holly

Well, look at that: once I actually can get people to talk to me (they all speak Marathi 94% of the time), they’re pretty cool!  And I’m DIGGING my work.  Boy, am I lucky to have this opportunity.


8) “Silly Love Songs” – Paul McCartney

DIWALI BREAK!!!  mom visits, food is eaten, family is enjoyed, spirit/energy rejuvenation, the world is a lovely place.


9) “Flamenco Sketches” – Miles Davis

Recalibration.  Life and work have some rhythm.  And this is just a completely sick piece of improvisational brilliance.


This is Side 1 of Bom-babe’s Purple Venutian Lupine Mix Vol. 1 (seriously, no joke, i used almost exactly that as a mixtape title in 6th grade…no further comment).  I’ll  be making Side 2 in a few more months.


Also, I’m super interested in all of the other Fellows’ mixtapes.  Share!


(Disclaimer: the girl above is not me.)






While completing her Master' s degree in Public Health at Tufts University School of Medicine, Shilpa honed her interest in Nutrition and Health Promotion. She worked with the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts Bay, providing healthful food and counseling people living with AIDS/HIV about how to achieve optimal nutrition while living with their disease. Shilpa conducted a study examining barriers to achieving that goal within the population served. Her commitment to Public Health work and a new focus on these same issues in the maternal and child population was cemented during subsequent projects, where she visited elementary schools in Chennai, India with a pediatrician to learn about the status of rural child healthcare. There she completed an informal study examining the nutrition status and school performance of girl versus the boy children in rural Chennai. She later returned to India, where she continued to focus on child health and nutrition by teaching English to preschool children as well as running health education sessions with local women in Dharamsala.

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5 thoughts on “The Rules of Making a Mixtape

  1. GENIUS! I think the art of the mixtape is slowly being lost. Thanks for keeping it alive… and reminding us that mixtapes are always autobiographical!

  2. Disclaimer 2: the girl above is indeed me. i switched the original picture. thought i should clarify before my friends and family get very afraid.

  3. this is great. awesome shilpa -“Frankly, Mr. Shankly” – the Smiths. Im totally there. I would say my personal equivalent is “Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of the New Day)” -Jethro Tull. Do it. Just give it a listen- you’ll love it.

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