How To Make A Compilation Album

I've traded two compilation albums a year for six years with the same friend so I think I've got a good sense of where our tastes overlap. Imagine a Venn diagram: anything with a high noise-to-melody ratio lives in my segment (A); any folky stuff that makes the listener want to spontaneously start talking in an Irish accent is over on his side (B); all the boy and girl bands in all the world are outside of both circles and almost off the page; and everything else sits in the middle (C).

The first thing I do is note down all the great music I've heard recently. No more than one song per artist is allowed and usually no more than one track per album either - though this rule can be bent if you have a good compilation album to copy from (such as The Trip series, where contemporary artists mix the music that inspired them).

I group the songs I've selected by type and there's invariably more rock and electronica than anything else so I break those groups down further - by era, theme or tempo. (Jazz and classical tracks occasionally feature but usually it's hip-hop, soul, reggae or soundtrack stuff filling the gaps between guitars.) Codas are better than overtures because it's important to have a strong opener, but save THE killer track for the home stretch. If I use anything less than serious, it usually goes at the end so it's easier to ignore when the novelty wears off.

So far, my mix is just doodles on paper made while I'm watching T.V. When I start actually listening to the songs I've chosen I find that a transition I'd planned is more jarring than I thought so I go back and get a new piece of music to bridge it. Sometimes I find songs from different genres segue well because they have similar instruments in them. By this stage, everything that I had on paper has been abandoned. It's like there's only one order for all these songs to sit in that's correct and I don't rest until I've solved the puzzle. Six or seven hours after I began, I'm ready to polish. I normalize the volume of the compilation, apply fades in or out on any tracks that didn't come that way, and burn.

And people say I have obsessive-compulsive tendencies! It really doesn't feel like work. It's like directing or designing, or something... the closest I ever get to D.J.-ing is this, with a computer doing the timing for me. Thanks to RapidUpload.com you can hear my Fall 2005 selection for yourself: part I and part II (requires Windows Media Player and a zip extraction program like WinRAR or WinZip).


Blogger The Paranoid Mod said...

Does this mean I can get an advance taster online?! Sheet, this must be progress.

Personally, I think the killer track should be stuck right in there first up. Which, to whet your appetite, is "Debbie Loves Joey" by Helen Love, that sadly little known Cardiff punk band. See my blog for further details etc etc.

It's interesting how doing a comp on cd on a computer differs from a good old fashioned mixtape. Back in the day by the end of side 2 it'd be 3 hrs into the process, 3 in the morning, surrounded by piles of cd cases and random lps,
and all sorts of strangeness enters the equation.
Now, it's click, click, listen, hmm, click. Not nearly as fun.

Luddite mod.

Blogger The Paranoid Mod said...

PS "Fall"?! Speak English, boy!

Blogger thisismarcus said...

Eso ERA inglés o usted no lo habría entendido!

By all means download it if you want but a disc is ready for you. I'm away for work until Monday so I'll mail it when I get back if we don't have plans to meet up again by then.


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