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.
Brown, S.C. and Knox, D., 2016. Why buy an album? The motivations behind recorded music purchases. Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, 26(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