Valentine’s Day. I hate it.
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 around this holiday like chocolate or jewelry fall short, so what’s an old guy gonna do? Make the perfect mix tape, of course.
I spend most of my working hours getting inside the heads of different personae and thinking of various ways my clients can have meaningful connections with them. It’s all about empathy.
After giving my wife a Valentine’s mix tape (OK, “mix CD” but old habits die hard) and heading into work, 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. Making a mix tape has all the elements of what I’m trying to do every day for clients:
- Know your audience
- Say something meaningful
- Make it a story
- Stay true to your own brand
- Never stop evolving
Know your audience. I’ve known Jennifer for over 25 years and have been making her mixes (to varying degrees of success) pretty much since I’ve known her. I’ve paid attention to what she likes and look for clues to what sparks with her. Nick Hornby has the perfect take on what it means to make a mix tape in his book High Fidelity, faithfully captured in the John Cusack movie. 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. 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.
Say something meaningful. You invest some time in the making of this and hope that what your audience gets doesn’t waste their time or energy or money. So while it 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.
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. 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. 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.
Stay true to your own brand. While I do put more emphasis on what Jen will like, I know I’m going to share in the experience so I damn well better like it too. And if it’s coming from me, it’s gotta feel like it’s from me and only my take on the mix tape.
Never stop evolving. People change. Music changes. Time marches on so if you think you’ve got things figured out, remember it’s probably figured out for today. In this mix tape evolution, I’ve now had to accommodate a second audience, my daughters. My second audience can validate or destroy my mix tape 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. I’m out exploring and finding new stuff I love and in equal parts new stuff that makes my ears cry. 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 4 months before the single’s on heavy radio rotation. This constant evolution gives me permission to keep trying new things since I know this mix tape won’t be my last. ”Good and shipped” trumps “perfect and paralyzed” every time.
- Forever / HAIM
- Is This How You Feel? / The Preatures
- Happy / Pharrell Williams
- Tourniquet / Jeremy Messersmith
- Unconditionally / Katy Perry
- Never Fade / Jack Johnson
- Closer to you / Brett Dennen
- Accidentally in Love / Counting Crows
- Step / Vampire Weekend
- Favourite Colour / Tokyo Police Club
- Your Theme / Superchunk
- Kinks Shirt / Matt Nathanson
- Let’s Be Still / The Head and the Heart