While the process of recording a mix onto an audio cassette from LPs or compact discs is technically straightforward, many music fans who create more than one mixtape are eventually compelled to confront some of the practical and aesthetic challenges involved in the mixtape format. From a practical standpoint, such issues as avoiding an excessive amount of blank tape at the end of one side (which requires careful planning of the length of each side of the mix) and reducing the audible click between songs (which requires mastery of the pause button on the cassette recorder) have been identified as part of the shared experience of mixtape aficionados. From an aesthetic point of view, many enthusiasts believe that because a tape player, unlike a CD player, lacks the ability to skip from song to song, the mixtape needs to be considered in its entirety. This requires the mixtape creator to consider the transitions between songs, the effects caused by juxtaposing a soft song with a loud song, and the overall "narrative arc" of the entire tape. One notable listing of such aesthetic "rules" can be found in a paragraph from Nick Hornby's High Fidelity
To me, making a tape is like writing a letter—there's a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. ... A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You've got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention (I started with "Got to Get You Off My Mind", but then realized that she might not get any further than track one, side one if I delivered what she wanted straightaway, so I buried it in the middle of side two), and then you've got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can't have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can't have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you've done the whole thing in pairs and...oh, there are loads of rules.
Many enthusiasts also devote substantial attention to the packaging of a mix tape intended as a gift, sometimes going so far as to create cover art and customized liner notes. The cover of the original McSweeney's edition of 31 Songs, a 2003 essay collection by Nick Hornby, was intended to suggest the packaging of a homemade mixtape, with the Side A half (of a Maxell cassette J-card) as the front cover and the Side B half on the back cover. It also came with an actual CD featuring ten of the songs discussed in the text. Indeed, the look of mix tapes, featuring hand-written notes on the recording medium manufacturer's supplied labels, has become one of the aesthetic conventions of modern design, a distinct style that designers may attempt to copy or cite. Many have been so widely distributed that the CDDB has logged and can identify ID3 tags when a disc mix tape is inserted into a PC.
From an artistic point of view, many creators(who?) of mix tapes seem to regard them as a form of emotional self-expression, although whether a mix tape retains the same web of emotional associations when passed from its creator to the recipient is, at best, debatable. Some argue that in selecting, juxtaposing, or even editing originally unrelated tracks of pop music into a new work of art, the "author" of a mix tape moves from passive listener to archivist, editor, and finally active participant in the process of musical creation. (Some legitimacy for this viewpoint was provided by Cassette Stories, a 2003 exhibition at the Museum of Communication in Hamburg, Germany, which featured stories and submissions from eighty mix tape enthusiasts.) However, this perception of the mix tape as a work of art has been criticized(by whom?) as resulting in a sort of elitism, with creators becoming more concerned with finding arcane and surprising combinations of tracks than with creating a tape that is listenable, enjoyable, or appropriate to its intended recipient. (In High Fidelity, for example, the narrator's girlfriend complains that his mix tapes are too didactic.) On a very basic level, the creation of a mix tape can be seen(by whom?) as an expression of the individual compiler's taste in music, often put forward for the implicit approval of the tape's recipient, and in many cases as a tentative step towards building the compiler's personal canon of pop music.