Bring Back the Mixtape: A Remedy for Creative Block by Christie Nesbit

I can’t imagine my art practice and my studio without music. Music in the background, music in my headphones, or music left lingering in my mind. Much as food is the sustenance of life, music is the sustenance of creativity.

My first and most special music memories come from my late aunt. A textile artist, she was always hunting for the next great album to play in her studio. I can remember rolling down the highway with her singing and adding percussion with the shakers she stored in her cup holders. She taught me the significance of lyrics, their meaning, and the instrumentation so carefully paired.

Not only was my aunt always on the hunt for beautiful music, but she felt it was important to “gift” music. That is, to share her discoveries. We always spoke at length about what we were listening to. I can still remember when we shared excitement over the new artist we had both discovered: Amy Winehouse.

Beyond vocalizing her new discoveries, she gave physical gifts of music. She was known for her carefully curated mixtapes with beautiful covers she had designed. And, at Christmas, she would send family and friends her favorite album of the year.

This tradition left an impression on me. How simple to share something that you love, that is making you happy, that is feeding your creativity with those you love? A timeless, meaningful gift.

After her passing, my partner and I decided to try our hand at making mix CDs for loved ones. I’ve found it’s not only emotionally rewarding, but a great way to push through a creative block. Crafting a mix CD will push your mind into different creative tasks. It will stretch your right-brained muscles as you problem solve:

  • Choosing the music: For a lover? For a group of friends? Do you want them to dance or be in awe of the lyrics? Do you want them to remember a specific time or trip?

  • Track order: Once you’ve chosen the songs, it takes consideration to order them appropriately. You will be contemplating transitions, the mix of fast versus slow, total length, and a possible hidden track. This is an art form in and of itself – not a step to be missed!

  • Album title: Here’s your chance to be witty as heck and name your first album! Think about the content, the audience, and occasion.

  • Album art: Armed with your album title, think outside the box and design the album cover. This is a perfect opportunity to experiment! Try a new technique, process, and/or materials you’ve been considering using in your visual art. I’ve used photography, printmaking, and most recently, collage.

  • Track listing: Give credit where it’s due! A track listing allows your recipients to dive deeper into artists of tracks in which they fall in love. Make sure you measure twice and cut once so that your insert fits.

These are tasks which most visual artists are not familiar with practicing. It gets the creative juices flowing in a rewarding, fun way. Also, you’ll feel warm and fuzzy giving the gift of music!

Here are a few examples of mix CDs we’ve made over the years: