Ah, the mixtape. For the uninitiated, a mixtape has become the catch-all term for a homemade compilation of songs. It doesn’t have to be on an actual tape (although I’m sure some audiophiles out there still do this), and thanks to the low-cost and ease of burning, a lot of mixes are now burnt on computers everywhere.
For music geeks like me, the mixtape is our own little foray off of the bench and into the game. We get to pick what music goes on, what order it goes in, and what the whole package will look like. It can be as basic as a CD-R in a jewel case with a name in Sharpie on the disc, or it can be a full-blown production with designs on the cd and cover and handwritten linear notes. In fact, part of the appeal of a mixtape is the absurd amount of freedom; despite what some say, there’s no rules you must follow. It can all be by the same artist, all different, unified by a theme, no theme, all start with the same letter…your own imagination is the only limit. For example, a mix I made for a friend of mine started with “Bad Romance”, but ended with something from the “Where the Wild Things Are” soundtrack; polar opposites.
Another reason that I like the mixtape is that it can be such a great way to get into someone’s head. “But how can that work with someone who has thousands of songs? You can’t whittle weeks of music down to a little over an hour without losing something”, the naysayers say. But really, getting at the core of what people like is the whole point. Yeah, someone can have Kanye West’s full discography on their computer, but if none of his songs show up and, say, “Love Story” by Taylor Swift does, then that person has implicitly given me a clue to their personal hierarchy of taste. Making a mix for others represents a fun challenge; most of the time, you have to gauge what you like with what you think they’ll like too.
It also works as a mirror. If you make just a general of-the-moment mix, you’re able to give yourself a great snapshot for where you are at the time. Everyone sort of has an idea of what they like, but actually sitting down and picking out those 15 songs you like gives you a much better idea of where you are, and can help you pick out where you want to go.
But ultimately, I like the community aspect of mixtapes the most. For something that can be as isolating as music, the mixtape is the best way to reach out from your music world and enter someone else’s. A mix can be a little letter to a friend saying “This is the music I like, and on some level, shows who I am”. And it gives us a way to share in each other who we are. So mix it up! (God, I’m sorry for that)