Mix CD Assignment

English 213: Mix CD Assignment

(Worth 10% of your grade; due on September 4)


Geoffrey O’Brien, editor-in-chief of the Library of America, once called mix tapes “the most widely practiced American art form.” Sadly, with the advent of CDs and MP3s, the mix tape has almost vanished from popular culture. Although you may not have created a mix tape (or even a mix CD), chances are that you have shared iTunes playlists with friends or compiled some type of collection of your favorite songs. This assignment asks you to select and arrange an audio compilation, write liner notes that explain your song choices, and design cover art that complements both the aural and written elements of the compilation.

Once you have created your CD, you will share it with the other members of the class throughout the rest of the semester. Each week, you will exchange CDs with a new person, listen to the compilation, and comment on your classmate’s CD in an online forum on the class website. Not only will this project expose you to new music and ask you to think critically about your classmates’ work, it will help you get to know the other members of the class and find out what “makes them tick.”

Getting Started

Your work on this assignment will center on three specific activities:

Creating the CD: Your CD should either reveal some important aspect of your personality or follow a narrative structure. In other words, your classmates (the primary audience for this assignment) should know you a little better after they have listened to your CD. As you consider what songs you want to include in your compilation, try to identify a theme or storyline to guide your selection. Your CD should not simply be “My Favorite Songs”; rather, a common thread should run through the entire CD, and the arrangement of songs should be coherent and discernable by the listener. Although I’m not a fan of censorship, I do ask that you try to avoid including aggressively violent or sexual content on your CD, out of respect for your classmates, who will be required to listen to your compilation. (At minimum, you should include some type of warning in the liner notes if your CD may be offensive to other members of the class.) You can use any program of your choosing to create the CD; we will use iTunes in class to experiment with creating and arranging playlists.

Writing the liner notes: Although your classmates should learn more about you by listening to your CD, sometimes the songs alone can’t tell the whole story. For decades, musicians have included explanations, stories, acknowledgements, jokes, etc., in the liner notes of their albums. Your space for writing these liner notes will be quite limited (less than a single 8.5x11 page), but it should be sufficient to tell your listener the stories behind the songs. Your classmates should be able to sit down with your liner notes as they listen to your CD and have their aural experience enhanced by your written text. You can compose your liner notes in any word processing program, but you will format them for printing using InDesign.

Designing the artwork: I will provide you with a CD for your compilation, as well as a case and paper/labels for liner notes and cover art. For the liner notes, cover art, and CD label, you will use pre-designed templates from the Jewelboxing system, which you can download from the class website. These templates are available for a variety of software programs, on both Mac and PC platforms. I would encourage you to use InDesign or Photoshop for the artwork, but if you feel more comfortable with one of the other programs, that’s fine, too. You may create your own artwork from scratch, use photographs you have taken, or find images online. As with all assignments in this class, if you borrow or build upon the work of others, you must acknowledge the original source of the materials you’re using and properly cite them in the liner notes.

Assignment Details

We will spend two days in the lab discussing the art of making mix CDs and working through basic Photoshop and InDesign tutorials. You will need to create the playlist and compile the songs outside of class, but if you do not have access to a CD burner, you can bring the music to class on your flash drive and burn the CD in the lab. To print the CD label, cover art, and liner notes, you will meet with me during the third week of the semester (after Sept. 4) to print your work and assemble your CD.

This assignment is due at the beginning of class on September 4; however, I won’t collect your CD until you’ve printed and assembled all of the components.

UPDATE: After you have submitted the physical copy of your CD, create a zipped file with all of your design files (name it "Full Name Mix CD.zip") and upload it using the link below.

Evaluation Criteria

Your mix CD will be evaluated based on how well:
  • the songs on the CD are arranged around a theme or tell a coherent story.
  • the CD label and cover artwork employ the principles of visual design we have studied in class.
  • the liner notes explain and/or justify the choices you’ve made in creating the CD.
  • the music, the artwork, and the liner notes work together to create a unified whole.
  • the liner notes adhere to the conventions of standard written English (grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.).