The Mixtape, The Great American Art Form
At some point in your life, you’ve probably either given or received a mixtape. Most likely you’ve given and received a mixtape. You probably know what it’s like to spend hours selecting songs, the perfect mix of new favorites, timeless classics, recently discovered, and familiar, know-every-word songs that go together just right and tell that certain someone exactly how they make you feel.
Yes, it is an art form. You have to start with a theme. You can’t do anything without that. For me, it was always emotions that I was feeling at the time. I’m sure I made an angry mix, and a sad mix. But I also made summer mixes, fall mixes, decade mixes, hang-in-there mixes, and happy mixes. Once you’ve got your theme, then you can move on to selecting the music.
Usually I would gather as many CD’s as I could that contained the songs that I wanted on my mixtape. The more songs I had, the better. I wanted enough options so that if something wasn’t working, I had plenty of other songs to take its place. For cassette tapes, you could get between 10 and 12 songs on a side, depending on how long the songs were, and of course how long the tape was. 60 minute tapes were pretty standard for me. On a CD, I usually put somewhere between 12 and 15 songs.
Now that I had all of my songs picked out, it was time to put them in order. You couldn’t just randomly put them on there. You had to balance upbeat songs and ballads; you had to make sure the songs led into each other perfectly; you had to tell a story.
Everybody Makes Mixtapes
Last week in my post, “Ready, Cassette, Go!” I talked about how my grandmother used to make me mixtapes to play on m cassette player when I was young. I was talking with my Dad over the weekend about it, and he was telling me about how he used to make mixtapes too.
He said he used to sit with his stereo and record songs directly from the radio. He said he was making mixtapes in the 70’s, long before it was cool. That’s my Dad, the original hipster.
He even said that his parents had given him a reel-to-reel tape recorder years ago and he would hold the microphone up to the speaker of the stereo and record songs from the radio that way.
I’ve had lots of friends over the years that I would trade mixtapes back and forth with. My parents made mixtapes to take on their weekend getaways when we got older. I made mixtapes for my brother and sister before they went away to college. They made mixtapes, their friends made mixtapes. Everyone makes mixtapes.
The New “Mixtape”
You don’t have to explain to someone what a mixtape is. It’s a part of our culture. Music is a part of us, it makes us feel, it sometimes says the thing we didn’t know how to say. We want to share it with others. We want them to feel what we feel.
One of my favorite movie scenes is in the movie “Garden State,” where Natalie Portman’s character hands the headphones to Zach Braff’s character and says, “You gotta listen to this song. It’ll change your life.” It’s one of my favorites, not because the song is so good, or because it changed the character’s life. It’s my favorite because Natalie Portman’s character can’t help but smile because of her eagerness to share her emotions through music with someone else.
We don’t make actual mixed tapes anymore. But the idea of the mixtape will never go away, no matter what form music takes. In the digital age, mixtapes have taken the form of playlists. Spotify playlists can be created and shared with anyone. No more timing the start of the tape with the start of the song!
Music will always be something we share. No matter how you’re feeling, or what you’re doing, there’s probably a song (or several) that can say exactly what you want to say. So go on, right now, log into Spotify, or browse through your iTunes, or pull some CD’s out and make a mixtape for someone special.