8TRACKS: The Return of the Mixtape

9 Jun

mixtape

When iPods happened, most of us rejoiced. After all, if you’re old enough to remember the noise your bag made as the twenty five CDs you’d stuffed into it clanked together, then you’re old enough to be pleased that you no longer have to carry them all around. Access to your entire music collection on the go can only be a good thing – not to mention the fact that my CDs always seemed slightly fragile in my personal disc player – and iPods were so shiny and new that it was almost impossible not to like them.

Fast forward a little bit, though, and it seemed that the rise of the iPod had led to the fall of the mix tape.

Mix tapes are a precious thing, and one of my favourite things. From the ubiquitous cassette tape itself, to CDs burned on a desktop computer disc drive, there’s something to love with all of them.

Mix tapes started with cassette tapes and with taping songs from the radio, hitting record at just the right moment in order to bypass the DJ’s intro. For me, I missed most of the mix tape phenomenon – I wasn’t exactly around in the ‘80s – but I was there for the mix CD, and the circles I moved in at that time meant that the mix tape was still alive and well as a form of nostalgia.

I had more than a few mix CDs made for me, and I still have them all. I also did my fair share in giving people other mix CDs, and there were two types of mixes that I learned to enjoy.

The first was the ‘you have to listen to this’ mix. Sometimes it was because the music genuinely needed sharing, and sometimes it was an excuse to show off how good my personal music taste was, but either way the ‘you have to listen to this’ mix was an important part of growing up. The mixes made for me introduced me to a whole lot of songs and artists that I’d otherwise never have come across.

Take 2006’s The Grace Mix, made for me by an American boy that I used to talk to on a music forum.

The Grace Mix

1. Bayside – Baby Britain
2. Straylight Run – Existentialism on Prom Night
3. Glassjaw – Ape Dos Mil
4. Gatsby’s American Dream – Work, Lies, Sex, Love, Fear, Hate, Friendship
5. Yellowcard -Miles Apart
6. .Moneen. – Are We Really Happy With Who We Are Right Now
7. Acceptance – Take Cover
8. Cartel – The Minstrel’s Prayer
9. theAUDITION – You’ve Made Us Concious
10. The Format – On Your Porch
11. Spitalfield – Make My Heart Attack
12. Hit The Lights – Speakers Blown

Okay, so some of these I grew out of – Spitalfield, Yellowcard and Hit The Lights in particular – but some of these I’ve only recently been rediscovering. The Format’s ‘On Your Porch’ showed up on my shuffle a while ago and I listened to it properly for the first time in years – Straylight Run’s ‘Existentialism on Prom Night’ managed to make it onto my ‘lights off, volume up’ playlist and as far as introductions to Glassjaw go, ‘Ape Dos Mil’ has got to be one of the best.

But while The Grace Mix tells a story, it’s not essential that it has to be listened to in the order given. Not like the other kind of mix, ‘the art form’.

‘The art form’ is the kind of mix tape that you find in High Fidelity. As Nick Hornby writes:

“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.”

‘The art form’ is a mix that takes a while, even once you’ve discovered the songs that you want on there. It’s about more than just track titles – sometimes extracts of lyrics are needed in the description, and sometimes it’s more about the feeling involved. You have to have each song in precisely the right order, otherwise the whole feeling and message changes. Sometimes, the mix can be more as a whole than each song is individually.

It’s something that we’ve been missing lately, ‘the art form’, and it’s the one that suffered most of all with the rise of the iPod. While the ‘you have to listen to this’ mix found itself in iTunes and Spotify playlists, in YouTube links on Facebook walls and trending on Twitter, there was no place in there for ‘the art form’. When albums themselves are falling apart, with people choosing just one or two songs to listen to instead of the whole thing the entire way through, what hope does a mix tape have?

Yes, we have Tiny Mixtapes, which is honestly one of my favourite websites – but not many people know it, in the grand scheme of things, and there aren’t that many mixes on there.

Enter 8Tracks.

8Tracks fulfils both ‘the art form’ and the ‘you have to listen to this’ functions perfectly. Users make a mix, and can use it to tell a story – they can include images and descriptions, compile the tracks into a particular order (while the songs can be shuffled, it’s not the default). As far as ‘you have to listen to this’ goes, the tracks can be sorted in themes: if you want to discover new summer music, there are thousands of mixes.

Most importantly, people are making mixes who never would have before. You don’t have to be an elitist, or a music obsessive in order to get into it – the mixes aren’t the didactic, pretentious things that they used to be (although they’re still out there, if that’s what you’re into). The art and enjoyment of the mix has been opened up and made accessible, and there’s a conversation going on about mixes that’s been missing for so long. Gone are the High Fidelity narrators, the Jack Blacks sneering at newcomers to record stores.

Now people can discover music at their fingertips, and share it with others, and it’s easier than it’s ever been.

Now go make a mix.

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