Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Long Forgotten art of the Mix Tape PT 1

Image source: Hometown Hip Hop

At the moment, BBC 6Music is celebrating 50 Years of the Cassette. Also, they presented a nice program on The Disappearing Art of the Mix Tape.

These programs really got me thinking just how much I miss receiving mix tapes, or Mix CDs or mix-minidiscs as much as I miss making them.  They're not wrong in calling the process an art-form.  There is a lot of effort and preparation that goes into making one of them.

In the days of Tape, and Mini-disc for that matter, you had to record all the songs in real time. On tape it wasn't easy to change the order of the songs, so you needed to predetermine the running order before you start.

Oftentimes, you were left with a small amount of tape at the end of each side and you'd hunt high and low to find the perfect short song to fill the gap.  This used to happen to me all the time as I always had a rough idea what I wanted to include and in what order, but I'd create the tape on the fly.

I think of the idea of a mix tape as a personally custom made product for someone whom you have a great deal of respect for.  Indeed, the amount of time spent on creating the perfect selection of songs just for the listening pleasure of that person is, in my view, a wise use of your time.  Then of course, there is the selection of the compilation title, the artwork (if any)...


In the 1980s, the music industry tried to tell us that "Home Taping is killing music".  Dubious legal status aside, personally I think that mix tapes did more good for the music industry than almost anything the industry at large ever did for music - even now.

Mix Tapes were in fact a musical endorsement - or an advertisement, if you will - from a hardcore music fan to someone else.  The selection of music therein was personally chosen for the recipient as the creator thought the music was worthy of a listen.  The added bonus for some people was that they may be exposed to music that they'd probably never listen to otherwise, and with it comes the seal of approval from someone you trust.  That selection of songs would, in many cases, inspire the listener to purchase the music for themselves in an effort to delve deeper into an artists catalog, after having a small taste on a mix tape.  Or, you would hunt down the album especially as the tape would eventually wear out, or even break.

With Mini-disc and CD there is still a lot of thought that goes into the track selection, but the sequence can be fluid, or indeed changed and reset before it is committed permanently to the media.

These days, iTunes, Spotify, Deezer and other streaming services have taken the "media" out of making mix tapes.  You get the same music, and indeed you would get to hear more music and different sorts of music than you would normally, but you don't get the lovingly crafted product in your hands than you would with a mix tape.  It just lacks some of the romance, and the coolness factor.  Plus, you can have an online playlist that goes for many hours at a time.  At least with a tape you were limited to 90 minutes, or 120 if you were really keen.

I've long retired my Mini-disc player and my tape-deck.  I've kept some tapes for posterity, and the devices to play them on, and one day I'll resurrect them for the sake of nostalgia, or for shits and giggles.  Still, it's another form of communication that is being lost amongst the digital shuffle of today's busy online world.  Sure I miss making up tapes for people, but most of my mates and I would have trouble finding enough time to make one properly these days!

C'est la vie, I suppose.

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