Buried somewhere inside a red trunk filled with old cards, letters, drawings, journals and other sentimental keepsakes is my first ever mixtape. I made it in 1995 when I was 11 years old. It’s filled with a bunch of songs I recorded off the radio when visiting my cousin in Atlanta, Ga. because the stations down there played better music than in my small Tennessee hometown. Around that time I also used my mom’s two-deck boombox to make mixtapes of my favorite songs from her tape collection. By the time I started sharing music with friends, Napster hit the Internet and I graduated from mixtapes to mix CDs…though I suppose a lot of us still say mixtapes in keep with nostalgia. My friends and I shared mix CDs all the time and for every occasion: band trip music for the gang; The Ultimate Driving CD for our summer adventures; a “cheer-up” mix for a friend going through a rough time; my favorite songs from the past few months I wanted them to hear. I have a case full of CDs named Spring, Fall, Winter, Summer, etc. plus the year. One of my best friends made us all a double-disc mix CD as a high school graduation gift.
Somewhere along the way I stopped making mixes. I occasionally make a mix of my favorite songs from the year, but I never make mixes for others. Sharing music with my friends morphed into posting a track or YouTube video on their Facebook walls, tweeting a new band they should check out, or texting them the name of a great album.
But in the last few months, I’ve rediscovered my love for the mixtape…in the form of a Spotify playlist. A friend of mine suggested every month we make a playlist for each other.
I remember transitioning from mixes on tape to mixes on CD. Making a mixtape involved a lot more work than just picking what songs you wanted and in what order. “You’re also going to need a pad and pencil,” Mike Monterior writes in Medium for a piece on making a mixtape. “There’s math involved. You write 45:00 at the top of the pad. With every song you’ll be subtracting from that, with the aim of leaving less than thirty seconds of blank space at the end of each side. More than thirty seconds and you might as well start over.”
When I started making CDs this process got easier. After painstakingly choosing the tracks and order, I added them to the CD burning program. I only worried about time when the program’s green bar turned red to alert me there wasn’t enough space on the CD. Then I labored over which song or songs to cut or weighed the possibility of making two CDs.
Spotify makes sharing mixes even easier. My friend and I make short playlists, but if I want, I can make a 2-hour list without any worries. I throw potential songs into the list, keeping it unpublished until I’m finished. I listen to the list, tweak it, add and subtract tracks, all with ease. I change the order and listen again. Once perfected, my friend and I set a time aside to listen to each list. Then, we discuss.
I do miss the physicality of music with regards to CDs, tapes, packaging, albums, etc. But Spotify helped me rediscover my love for making and sharing mixtapes, even if it’s just an intangible list floating in cyberspace. And as my digital mixtape waits to be heard by my friend, there’s a chance of it reaching a greater audience by some random Spotify user or another friend.
“Though built around other people’s work, mix-making is an art form like any other, in that you put your expression out into the world and then immediately relinquish control over how and whether people choose to consume it.” – Stephen Thompson on NPR