I Still Make Mixtapes (CDs), Does That Mean I’m Outdated?

This past Christmas I gave my college roommate a mix CD with all of the songs that we jammed out to in the past semester. It was a beautiful mix of catchy pop tunes, rap songs (the ones that I would blast and she would awkwardly try to dance to), and a couple of Nickelback songs. Don’t ask me why, as I’m still trying to understand why she likes Nickelback as well. Point being, I like making mixtapes. There has never been a time in my life where sent someone a playlist via Spotify or 8tracks. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I like having to take the disc out of its case and pop it into my laptop/car CD drive/CD player. But the world doesn’t revolve around me and it’s becoming more popular to ditch the mixtape* and to create digital playlists.

I think the transition from making your own mixtapes/CDs happened when we were introduced to the mp3 player and its shuffle function. This new technology let us listen to our music without feeling like we were overplaying or over-listening to it (Brown & Knox 2014). Now services like Spotify are on the rise. It’s much easier and faster to gain a wide range of genres of music than it was in the past. Spotify is not just a place to listen to music, but it is a social network. You create playlists and you can share them with your friends, or people can follow your playlists. But what gets me is that with Spotify you can create a playlist, throw in a bunch of songs that you like, and then hit shuffle. You can even put multiple playlists in a folder to create a combined-genre/mood playlist. With the mixtape, you have to listen to the possible songs that go on the tape or CD; once you have your set songs, you then have carefully compile them in the order or play (Skågeby 2011 pg. 14). To me, that seems more intimate and personal than getting a notification that someone sent you a playlist.

Which brings me to my next point, according to Brown and Knox (2016) “A quarter of all songs listened to on Spotify are also skipped in the first five seconds (Guardian Music, 2014), which highlights that consumers are not simply listening to anything.” Let me repeat that. Consumers are not simply listening to anything. That leads me to wonder, if our modern day technology is supposed to make our lives easier/enhance our thinking/listening/seeing experiences, then how come we’re “not listening to anything”? We’re listening to fives seconds of this and five seconds of that until we reach a song that we can sit through its entirety. I admit I’m one of those people who will skip to the next song within the first one to two seconds of a song if I’m not feelin’ the vibe. It may seem like I’m bashing Spotify and the playlist, but I’m not. I use Spotify all of the time! But after reading that quote, it made me really think. Compared to the mixtape, the playlist seems like some cold-stone product of our “creativity.” Now I may be digging my own grave here, but anyone can throw some songs in a playlist and hit shuffle. There’s no craft to that! With the mixtape, you have to carefully plan out the songs, the tracklist, the mood/vibe of the mix. There’s more thought/feeling/time that goes into a mixtape than a playlist.

Our society is so go, go, go. We don’t really take the time anymore to actually take in our surroundings and fully appreciate them. This can be said the same thing with music and the playlist. We moved from carefully choosing the right music to go on a cassette or CD to hitting the shuffle button. So maybe we should try to retract from our fast-paced, plugged in culture at least once and dig out our blank CDs/cassette tapes and make a mixtape…

*Let me just clear this up now: there are two different uses of a “mixtape”. There’s the home-compilation of songs that are put onto a cassette tape or CD. Then there’s the “mixtape” that many hip-hop artists use as a “promotional tool packed with exclusive freestyles to an actual album-before-the-album…without labels at the helm” (Horowitz 2011). Just the other night I downloaded Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap and on April 1st, Hamburger Helper (an American packaged food product of General Mills) dropped their five-track mixtape on Soundcloud. For this post, I will be focusing on the first use of the mixtape.

 

 

References:

Brown, S.C. and Knox, D., 2016. Why buy an album? The motivations behind recorded music purchases. Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain26(1), p.79-86.

Horowitz, S 2011, The Economy of Mixtapes: How Drake, Wiz Khalifa, Big K.R.I.T Figured It Out (Listen), Billboard, viewed 5 April 2016 http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/1168371/the-economy-of-mixtapes-how-drake-wiz-khalifa-big-krit-figured-it-out

Skågeby, J 2011, Slow and fast music media: comparing values of cassettes and playlists, Transformations Journal of Media and Culture, p.14, viewed 5 April 2016

8 thoughts on “I Still Make Mixtapes (CDs), Does That Mean I’m Outdated?

  1. I could not agree more that the careful creation and ordering of a (personal) mixtape’s track selection is not only crucial to it’s impact as a mixtape, but is also infinitely more recognisable than sending someone a playlist link which they may realistically shuffle through. Despite holding out the last few years for the use of Spotify on the convoluted principle that I to wanted to ‘own’ my music library (ignoring obvious piracy), I am certainly not ragging on the usage of Spotify. Despite the obvious shift to online consumption of music, I believe there will always be place for tangibility tragics like ourselves to make physical mixtapes, and the notion and nostalgia of receiving one of them will never wear off. That’s my hope anyway, I once went to next step and even got a mixtape made onto a hand-cut vinyl for someone, so I’m a true believer of your sentiment here!

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  2. As someone who can relate to the idea of making their own CD for the car or stereo at home this post was really interesting to unpack, and the sources you had to back it up proved useful in backing up your arguments! I particularly found it interesting where you touched on the idea of “shuffle” influencing the production of mixtapes. It’s almost the autonomous effect of today’s technology that is fading out old hardware. Now the user can simply hit play and they receive a whole range of genres, moods and artists, as you detailed. Of course this is possible on a CD however servers such as Spotify have shuffle feature in their ‘radio’ section that takes what kind of music you choose and chooses similar types for you. The premium service has an unlimited skips feature that digs into the point you raised about people only listening to the first few seconds of a song. Being a “free” service user of Spotify and running out of skips kind of annoys me knowing I’d have to pay for more, which further provokes me to just make my own mixtape! This book (https://books.google.com.au/books?hl=en&lr=&id=Yc916lAlzEwC&oi=fnd&pg=PP10&dq=mixtape+&ots=sw1FTCnryN&sig=gJP2FfRsu–oid8rfO19eiHi-as#v=onepage&q=mixtape&f=false) I found while looking into the idea of a mixtape from your blog post touches on the idea of the
    colonization and control of popular music and suggests the homemade hip-hop mixtape as an
    emancipatory tool for community resistance. I think in your exploration of this topic his views align with yours and could help further your understanding of an industry that I fear could lose its agency due to this fast paced lifestyle you mentioned. It’s interesting how social media can be alikened to the ever-decreasing attention span that users have generated, with Facebook videos only requiring around 3-5 seconds of viewing to be counted as a “view” or play. Is this really enough to be considered a statistic? Perhaps something else to consider! Goodluck with your research!

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  3. A long time ago when I was just a fresh faced teenager (about 13 -14) I was really looking forward to the day when I could own and drive my own car. I was constantly making a compilation of songs to play in my future car. After I finally got my car though many years later I never used these CDs, I don’t even remember where they are. Nowadays I treat my old ipod nano as the mixtape, I only put songs on there that I’m going to enjoy while driving. I think that the technology which has allowed such a greater access to a wider variety of music has change our ability to pick and choose but I think the core concept of a mixtape has never really left and is probably stronger now that we have better programs to do them on. I still go through all the songs I have to listen to while driving, the effort hasn’t left, the physicality of mixtape has definitely gone though.

    Although I do think the max size that a CD was capable of having put more pressure on you to really critique the song you were going to put on the CD. The notion that made in the last paragraph about rappers using mixtape as a way of promotion and introduction to them, this carries over to us individually as well. It is our own way of promoting our style and introducing others to what we are into.

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  4. I totally understand your commitment to the mixtape. When my dad bought an old bongo van a few years ago, and I discovered that it had a tape player, I jumped right onto iTunes in order to compile a set of songs which I could then burn onto a tape, because if I didn’t create the mix tape, then no one would, and the chances of someone having an old cassette lying about were low. Unfortunately, the tape player was not functioning, much like the rest of the elements of that van, but the process was still there, and I still have the playlist in iTunes with that particular mixtape assembled in a digital form.

    Does the appeal of the mixtape lie in it’s physical form though, or the limited amount of time we have to fill with a very particular set of songs. CD’s are a very limited source when compared to an iPod which can hold much more). I know most of my mixtapes are capped at about 21 songs because that is all the disc will allow for. Does the process of choosing, eliminating, debating over, curating, and organising this small number of musical snippets add to the value of the mixtape because of the time and energy utilised to create this compilation for someone?

    On another note, it’s interesting that you highlight how songs seem to be skipped frequently, and early on. I have always been a strong believer in listening to the whole song whether it’s your favourite or not (how else would I ever get to experience the variety of music I have access to if I skip it all), but perhaps this trend is a result of our ever decreasing attention spans. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/03/12/humans-have-shorter-attention-span-than-goldfish-thanks-to-smart/) We live in an age of constant digital distraction to the point where we are not satisfied with anything, even our music.

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  5. I’m going to start off by saying fuck I love CD’s.The authenticity of it knows no bounds, also vinyl’s as well. However, the convenience of playlists makes my life much more bearable – if I’m studying, or at the gym there’s all sorts of music I can listen to at the push of a button, which is awesome. I listen to basically every genre, but I CANNOT STAND Indie music man. Music is a feel thing for me, I listen to house to feel good, rock to return to my roots, Jazz to drum to, hiphop for a different vibe etc. I listen to everything, Indie is just too weird for me, is that because I listen to the first 5 seconds and skip? No, I just don’t feel the vibes. And the statistics suggesting that 48.6% of people skip songs before they’re finished seems a bit one sided and could also be correlative to the type of music that a majority of people enjoy. I don’t have evidence, but a lot of 16 + year olds seem to just be into Triple J these days. Through spotify and other streaming services, shouldn’t this diversify our taste in music? My Dad got Apple Music the other day and it was a real task to teach him how to use it.

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  6. Funny story, I actually purchased a brand new discman the other day. It was Dick Smith brand and I got it super cheap coz they were closing down. I wanted something I could just reliably use to play my CDs on my walk to work. But you know what, the damn thing skips with the slightest nudge. I completely forgot that they had to develop special “anti-shock” technology to prevent this from happening.

    I found it quite funny that now, over a decade after that tech was perfected then made obsolete – I am still able to buy a brand new discman made for a very niche market and they managed to sell me a version of this tech that is actually even more dated than I wanted.

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  7. Thanks for the post, while I pretty much stick to streaming I definitely appreciate you’re still rocking the cassette/ CD combos.

    I think CD’s are liked in modern times for the same reasons that vinyl records are popular. There is this element of nostalgia that people like which also comes up in areas outside of music. The difference I believe between records and CD’s is that CD’s are a bit further down the spectrum towards streaming than vinyl due to the fact that there is the digital element and primarily that you can edit and make a mixtape.

    I think you may be underestimating a range people who use streaming services, I think the fact that people skip 1/4 of songs within the first 5 seconds is more likely due to people wanting to listen to a particular sound and are actually listening more actively than just skipping whatever.

    Also while I do believe people do focus more on the vibes and are more specific with their song choice when making a mix tape, I think that playlists can easily be just as specific but it’s due to the large number of songs that playlists can hold that sort of dilute a certain feel.
    I’m not sure if I’m an outlier in this way but I just have a few smaller playlists where I pick out pretty specific songs and then I just have a wider library when I’m in the mood.

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  8. Love your topic! I think that ‘time’ plays a major role in the increasing obsolescence of CD’s and in the creation of mix tapes. You may personally enjoy physically placing the CD into your laptop/car but that takes effort, well at least more effort than pressing a play button. In this day and age people are either time poor or lazy and having ease of access is considered highly important for engagement. The same can be said for books! Taking the time out of your day to sit down and enjoy a physical book has now become a phenomena of kindles and online reading as a means to pass time rather than spend time.
    It is interesting how people take time to compile playlists so that later they don’t have to keep clicking ‘next’ until a song they like comes on but then end up doing just that. I think that as a result of society becoming time poor, people’s attentions spans have shortened in order to adapt to constantly changing stimuli and so this applies when they are listening to music. No one takes time to enjoy the small things in life anymore but in saying that, it is also hard to do so when life is so demanding! 😦

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