If you’ve ever cleaned out any receptacle of nostalgic items and useless crap (your childhood room, first car, etc.), you’ve stumbled upon a mixtap that’s encased in a foggy plastic prism, labeled with a carefully scrawled tag. Sadly, most appreciation for the mixtape has gone the way of its junky jewel cassette case, with the amount of effort behind its creation lessening as well. Thanks to the digital evolution of compiling and sharing music, the true mixtape has been neglected.
Although, the playlist has experienced a resurgence in social media. Yet the attitude toward these autobiographical compilations has changed. Music was purged of romanticism thanks to the good ol’ drag-and-drop, which for a strong some created an alternative craving for music formats of the past, but this time the desire is for tape, not vinyl.
Before Spotify and such, it was the mixtape. Laden with hand-recorded radio snippets carefully arranged and painstakingly chosen, the highly physical process of creating said tape included a cramped thumb securing the “record” button and carefully scrawling every song title on the flimsy card stock track list.
That effort only added to the mixtape trifecta—the perfect title, and the perfect songs placed in the perfect order.
The title is the essence of the tape, as it will steer the interpretation of any song from then on. It creates the entire mood of the tape, and has the potential to completely undermine it. You have to have wit and you have to be creative when creating this. Then comes the songs themselves. Choosing the perfect song can turn into an agonizing process. Too obvious, and you seem overzealous, too literal; too subtle and you’ll have wasted your time. While the song selection may seem to be the most crucial, there is also the order. There should be swells and troughs, and it should be a journey. This is the stuff movies like High Fidelity reference repeatedly, and books like Rob Sheffield’s Love is a Mixtape and Joe Meno’s Hairstyles of the Damned recount in great detail. The mixtape is art from old art that inspires new art; it’s a transcendent beauty.
Unfortunately, when the mixtape took a trip down the digital highway with the popularity of iTunes and playlists, giving way to the ease and high use of the “shuffle” button, the order of songs was often left to the wayside. The damage didn’t stop there either.
With technology taking the legwork out of the traditional mixtape, a musical personal statement is just a drag and drop away, but in this simplicity lies a problem—there’s no magic.
Much of the appeal of a mixtape is the physical aspects of its creation, not unlike listening to vinyl. It just seems too easy now, so it’s just as easy to forget the grand scheme of the playlist in the first place, and the staples that bore major significance in the mixtape heyday are all but lost. These self-made compilations are more than a way to pass the time or passively admit feelings; they’re laboriously constructed statements for friends, lovers and acquaintances. From the title to the song selection to the careful arrangement, every aspect of the mix bears meaning.
Much more than a few old favorites and new discoveries scattered under a generically named file, the mixtape, the true playlist, the autobiographical qualities of music, seemed to have been nudged to the wayside. No one ever declared their love with a favorite Pandora station or gave a list of “starred” songs as a gift; it’s that grungy, crackling handmade tape that we all vie for. So, when is this going to stop? Hopefully never, because if we’re not worth a mixtape, then what the hell are we worth, anyway?