Making the Perfect Mix Tape

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or "Everything I learned about marketing I learned from creating mix tapes." …

or "Everything I learned about marketing I learned from creating mix tapes."
I spend my working hours getting inside the heads of different people and thinking of ways brands can create meaningful connections with them – it’s all about empathy. I spend lots of my free time making mixtapes, dating all the way back to my pre-teens. I draw six parallels between the two processes and how empathy is at the core of the experiences we craft.
++ Transcript below has extensive notes! ++

This deck was inspired by an earlier post I wrote: http://let5ch.tumblr.com/post/76661966187/making-the-perfect-mixtape

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  • STAY TRUE = YOU BE YOU
  • KEEP EVOLVING
    People change. Tastes change. Music changes.
    25 years ago, Jen liked Cocteau Twins and Everything But The Girl, bands I don’t think she’s spun in two decades.

    Life is a moving target. Having “it” figured out probably works for today. That’s all. In this mix tape evolution, I’ve now had to also accommodate a second audience: my daughters. My second audience can validate or destroy my mix tape in seconds, so I have to keep up with their tastes, too. To do all that, I don’t only keep spinning the Pixies and Replacements (or Zeppelin, Beatles, Police) as much as I love them. Constant evolution keeps me fresh. Like Brad Pitt says in World War Z, “Move to survive.” I’m out exploring and finding new stuff I love and in equal parts, new stuff that makes my ears beg for mercy. It’s the only way to stay fresh and it’s ultimately satisfying when I put something like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on a mix tape a good four months before the single’s on heavy radio rotation. Since I know this mix tape won’t be my last, I have permission to keep trying new things. “Good and shipped” trumps “perfect and paralyzed” every time.
  • KEEP EVOLVING = TEST AND LEARN
  • Whether making a mix tape for the one you love or devising strategies for the brands you love, keeping these six things in mind will ensure success
  • By the way, here’s the mix I made for 2014 Valentine’s Day. It still gets pretty heavy rotation in the mini-van.

    And if you don’t like every song on this list, well, maybe you’re not in my target audience!

    Peace.

Transcript

  • 1. MAKING THE PERFECT MIX TAPE
  • 2. or HOW TO WALK IN SOMEONE’S SHOES Valentine’s Day. I hate it. Really. Luckily, so does my wife, but that doesn’t stop me from doing something as a symbol of the love I feel for her. The typical gifts like chocolate or jewelry feel trite, so what’s an old dude gonna do? Make the perfect mix tape, of course. After giving my wife a Valentine’s mix tape (actually a CD, but old habits die hard), it dawned on me that making someone a mix of songs could be the ultimate exercise in empathy and knowing your audience. It’s an act of multiple moments that add up to more than the sum of its parts. It’s what I’m trying to do every day for clients: Know your audience Say something meaningful Give it a deadline Make it a story Stay true to your own brand Never stop evolving
  • 3. A GOOD MIX TAPE WILL PUT YOU IN THE RIGHT MOOD. To borrow a passage from High Fidelity: “Now the making of a compilation tape is a very subtle art; many dos and don’ts. First of all, you’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing.” You can’t just make something for yourself. It needs to forge a bond and communicate emotions where words can ring hollow or trite. Music, especially shared music, operates on some cosmic level.
  • 4. A PERSONAL EVOLUTION OF MY MIXES When I first discovered the power music had over me, I was probably 10 or 11 and had my first portable tape recorder – the one with the condensed mic. I’d sit next to my radio, waiting for a song to begin, trying to time the recording perfectly. And if the DJ came on before “Black Dog” was over, it was a real drag. Or if my mom called me down for dinner in the middle of “Hot Blooded” she’d feel the wrath! For the next decade or so, I found my musical soul mates and I’d put together mixes more or less to impress them with my taste in music. The methods got sophisticated with recording levels and needle drops and Nakamichi tape to tapes and I’d say it was for them, but really, it was about me. About who I was and my identity. Then in college, along came Jennifer. We dated and have now been married over 20 years. Looking back, my first years of mix tapes for her were still about me. What I liked – What I wanted to impress upon her. It may have taken me a long time to get a clue, but now I make mixes with Jen in mind first; and our kids too since they love to weigh in with their own judgement!
  • 5. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE It’s been in the course of this musical mix tape evolution that I realized a lot of what I do in my career can be captured in the making of a mix tape. It begins with knowing your audience. Look for clues to what sparks with them. For Jennifer, she usually has Pandora on at our house and began jotting down songs she liked on a pad of paper. That’s a pretty great place to start. That list was an indirect way to get me started. When getting to know an audience, a great way to start is to just ask. If asking outright feels too obvious or forced, oftentimes it’s incredibly helpful to simply listen and pay attention to subtle clues. And this research is not exclusively about the “what” but also the the “where” and “how” to say it. In Jennifer’s case, I know she’ll listen primarily in the car; one without USB or an auxiliary jack so the medium has to be a CD.
  • 6. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE = PERSONA
  • 7. SAY SOMETHING MEANINGFUL In an age of media overload and bombardment, the deliverable has to resonate with your audience. You also have to balance this meaning with the acknowledgement that what you’re creating will not be the only thing you’ll ever make. Whatever you make has to contain familiar elements mixed in with surprises. The familiarity opens up receptors in the brain to be more accepting. It’s how Hollywood pitches movies – familiar constructs combined in unfamiliar ways.
  • 8. SAY SOMETHING MEANINGFUL = CONTENT STRATEGY
  • 9. GIVE IT A DEADLINE Humans respond incredibly well to time constraints, often accomplishing very much in very little time. Parkinson’s Law decrees that, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” My mixtape deadlines inevitably were dictated by events already locked down – birthdays, road trips, anniversaries… I can still hear the frustration in my dad’s voice the night before ANY family vacation when I had yet to pack and my brother and I are still laying down some tracks for the road trip mix tape. Today, I’m usually up late the night before a big swim meet weekend assembling the 18 or 20 songs that will get us from Minneapolis to Rochester. You invest some time in the making of this and hope that what you give your audience doesn’t waste their time or energy or money. You want it to be as great as it can be. But while your content can’t be flippant and self-serving, it also shouldn’t be overly concerned with perfection. “Good and shipped” trumps “perfect and paralyzed” every time.
  • 10. GIVE IT A DEADLINE = CONTENT CALENDAR
  • 11. MAKE IT A STORY The construct of the mix tape is perfectly suited to the concept of pacing. The moods and tempo can’t remain constant. As much as Jen loves Jack Johnson, she tired of him when I made a Jack Johnson compilation. Lesson learned. Each song can be viewed as a chapter and while it can stand on its own, when viewed as part of the whole, the impact gets magnified. Play with tempo and mood. You know the first song needs to grab the listener and spots 3 and 4 are like baseball’s heart of the order, but the whole collection has a role to play. The story you tell as a brand should take time with an eye on the bigger story arc. TV shows like LOST or Fringe have story arcs that took years to play out with smaller story lines happening to keep interest high. For a brand, especially in social media, this arc plays out over months or years. Gary Vaynerchuk has a killer line about brands on social media: “stop acting like a 19-year-old dude.” Be patient. Tell a story. Build a bond.
  • 12. MAKE IT A STORY = PATIENCE AND PACING
  • 13. STAY TRUE Steve Jobs is famous for saying “people don't know what they want until you show it to them.” If I only made a mix solely based on my audience’s existing tastes, I wouldn’t be offering anything new. I wouldn’t be expanding any horizons or pushing any boundaries. And while I do put more emphasis on what Jen will like, I also know I’m going to share in the experience so I damn well better like it too. If it’s coming from me, it’s gotta feel like it’s from me and only my take on the mix tape. If there was none of “me” in the mixes I make, it wouldn’t have a much meaning and frankly would be pandering to only the whims of my audience. Similarly with brands, if you are obviously trying to hard, you’ll come across like Flounder in Animal House. “You guys playing cards?” People can tell when you’re trying too hard and they can smell a fake. Stay true to your own brand.
  • 14. STAY TRUE = YOU BE YOU
  • 15. KEEP EVOLVING People change. Tastes change. Music changes. 25 years ago, Jen liked Cocteau Twins and Everything But The Girl, bands I don’t think she’s spun in two decades. Life is a moving target. Having “it” figured out probably works for today. That’s all. In this mix tape evolution, I’ve now had to also accommodate a second audience: my daughters. My second audience can validate or destroy my mix tape in seconds, so I have to keep up with their tastes, too. To do all that, I don’t only keep spinning the Pixies and Replacements (or Zeppelin, Beatles, Police) as much as I love them. Constant evolution keeps me fresh. Like Brad Pitt says in World War Z, “Move to survive.” I’m out exploring and finding new stuff I love and in equal parts, new stuff that makes my ears beg for mercy. It’s the only way to stay fresh and it’s ultimately satisfying when I put something like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on a mix tape a good four months before the single’s on heavy radio rotation. Since I know this mix tape won’t be my last, I have permission to keep trying new things. “Good and shipped” trumps “perfect and paralyzed” every time.
  • 16. KEEP EVOLVING = TEST AND LEARN
  • 17. Whether making a mix tape for the one you love or devising strategies for the brands you love, keeping these six things in mind will ensure success
  • 18. By the way, here’s the mix I made for 2014 Valentine’s Day. It still gets pretty heavy rotation in the mini-van. And if you don’t like every song on this list, well, maybe you’re not in my target audience! Peace.