I've been making mixes for a long long time- I've gone from mastering the play/rec button synchronization, to plugging my laptop to my "boom-box" for those 8-bit MP3s, to owning my very own CD burner (which is the best thing since sliced bread). Here are some of the techniques I use in my CD creation. I use these more as guide-lines rather than hard-and-fast rules; and depending on the mix, the mix's message, or the mix's theme I often veer off from them from time to time.
• Try not to repeat artists. This is a very loose rule, but when I make CDs I generally try to keep variety high. I'll us an artist more than once if: it's a specific artists mix, my library is thin in that genre/mood, the artist is just too good not to repeat, or if I'm just in the mood.
• Keep the flow going. I always try to make sure the songs work back-to-back. If I'm going to use a slow song and a fast song on the same CD I'll try to place a medium paced song between the two. Or if I'm going from Hip-Hop to Soul I'll try to sandwich a hybrid in there.
• Let the mix create itself. My general process in CD creation is: pick a theme/topic/message, then throw songs together that I think fit the above mentioned. I'll then arrange them to a tentative order, and give it a listen or two, or three, or four. I'll then rearrange, add, or subtract, songs as my ears/mood dictates. Depending on the mix I'll spend anywhere from a day to two weeks on this.
• Keep lyrics in mind. This usually only pertains to those special CDs I make for that special someone. I like to tell stories, evoke moods, and send messages through my mixes, so lyrics sometimes can be very important. Of course there are times where I don't follow this either. I've definitely put "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" by the Looking Glass on a feel-good/high-energy mix even though it's a very sad song about a girl who's hopelessly in love with a sailor, who's hopelessly in love with the sea.
• The mix should have a rhythm. I've always said, "Making a CD mix is like making love to a beautiful woman. You need to be firm yet gentle, and mix up rhythms." (Ok, I've never said that, I actually just made that up, but it kinda works). Unless I'm making a work-out mix, sleep mix, or a mix that is based upon a single energy/rhythm, I like to try to keep it interesting. Having a mix go hard the whole time can be tiring, so I try to mix it up. I generally start out with a faster paced selection, slow it down in the middle, then pick it up again at the end.
• Start off strong. Of course the first song of the mix is the first one that gets played, so you'd better put some careful thought on who your lead-off batter is (so to speak). It usually sets the tone of the mix, so like the Templar Knight in Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade said, "Choose wisely...".
Anyhow, hopefully these tips will give you some insight to the fun hobby of CD creation, and help you onto the road of becoming a CD making maven.
I hope you enjoy the mixes to come!