I use one of two methods for creating a Mix Tape: I go with a themed mix, or a variety pack. A variety pack is simply trying to use no more than one song by any one band in the course of the mix. My mix themes include:
- Almost No Lyrics Theme - featuring Phish, Garcia/Grisman, Dave Brubeck, REM, and any other band that's ever released an instrumental track. I use a track with one or two words, like TMBG's song Minimum Wage, somewhere in the middle so that I can call the mix "2 words" or "6 words" or what have you.
- Free Association Theme - Every song has something to do with the one before it and the one after it. A good example would be Red House Painters' Another Song For a Blue Guitar into Led Zeppelin's Bron Yr Aur into Screeching Weasel's I Hate Led Zeppelin, into a song about screeching or weasels... etc.
- Dr. Jekyll & Mr. B-Side - Do this on a tape or on two CDs. Side A or Disc One can be originals, and Side B or Disc Two can be cover songs; a good B-Side would be ska covers, or bluegrass covers (well, I guess it depends on your definition of "good"...). Alteratively, you can pair off songs like Dar Williams' and Leonard Cohen's "Alleluia", or Tori Amos' "Winter" and the Crash Test Dummies' "Winter Song". Two songs with the same title... but they're definitely not the same!
- Title Theme - my favorite one of these was inspired by They Might Be Giants, who produced an album called State Songs whose song titles were all names of American states. Without using their ready-made songs, I tried to make a mix whose track list was composed of state names. By stretching the boundaries, you could include "Meet Virginia" by Train, and "Californication" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Anyhow, I like to think these themes make my mixes a little more interesting. As always, good segues are the key--if you've got a nice movie quote or other sample, use it! If a song doesn't fit your theme, but it's perfect after one of the other songs on your mix, include it; if it makes you feel better, you can leave it off the liner notes.
As always, if you'd like a copy of one of my mixes, e-mail me or /msg me, and I'll see what I can do.