Express Yourself

The Art of Making a Killer Mix CD

In the age of endless playlists, the limitations of the compact disc are exactly what make it so special

Allison Gauss
Published in
5 min readAug 6, 2019


Photo: Dennis Aglaster/EyeEm/Getty Images

TThe drive to Las Vegas on a Friday night is very different from the drive home on Sunday morning. The former is brimming with anticipation and excitement, like the first hill of a roller coaster. The latter is a slog. When I’d road-trip to Las Vegas with some girlfriends for a birthday weekend, the mix CD I’d create for the drive there was designed to capture and escalate those feelings of reckless abandon and unabashed release.

After a long day at work, we needed energy for the six-hour drive. We needed an injection of party plasma directly into our veins. We needed to sing Katy Perry’s “Waking Up in Vegas” at the top of our lungs and bounce around the car while the All-American Rejects’ “Dirty Little Secret” pounded from the speakers. Even the title I scrawled across the CD in sharpie (“VAYGAS”) looked ready for a raging party.

Although our Vegas weekend ended up being more hiking and slumber parties than clubbing and debauchery, the drive home on Sunday was still a struggle. Wondering where the weekend had gone, we were on the road back to real life, with all its responsibilities. As our groggy eyes scanned hundreds of miles of desert, we needed something a little softer to cushion our fall back to earth. I titled the second mix CD “The Hangover.”

On the drive home, songs like the Kooks’ “She Moves in Her Own Way” and the Supremes’ “Back in My Arms Again” helped propel us down the freeway. The vibe was mildly cheerful, but not without its melancholy. A lot like “Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me” by Hunter Hayes, which made its appearance halfway through the CD.

InIn his book Creative Quest, drummer, band leader, and all-around music expert Questlove says of his DJ sets, “It’s creation in the sense that I’m bringing a mood into existence.” This is how I approach making mix CDs. It’s a fading craft that allows me to architect an experience, to choose just the right songs and make them into something new and unexpected. Many people recall mix CDs with nostalgia, but I see them as a way to combine the new and old, to illuminate the underlying…



Allison Gauss
Human Parts

Writer, musician, improvisor, recovering pessimist.