Showing posts with label mix tape. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mix tape. Show all posts

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Year Ender 2011

I've been stuck on starting my year end music mix for weeks now and it's mainly been because I didn't know what track to put first. Without a good first track a mix goes nowhere, but once I find it everything starts to pull together. I think I just found my first track.

Update (20 minutes later): I'm 7 tracks in already. Crafting a mix for me is like carving a statue. I start with a solid block of tracks I think I want to use and then I chip away anything that doesn't sound like it belongs. Since what I'm crafting is a linear experience however, the starting point is incredibly important. It's amazing how the path of the mix just starts to become apparent though, like it was always there and I just had to locate it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Begining The End

I've started seriously compiling songs for my year end mix. I'm planning on going forward with my original idea of making a mix tape concept album, basically telling a 2 disc story with other people's songs. Since the songs will be culled from my favorites from this year it's going to be semi autobiographical. This may end up being the most personal thing I've produced since college. Right now I'm thinking of breaking the mix down into 4 acts or "seasons". In a year that for me included: insomnia, anxiety, existential crises, and a new job/new city I've got a lot to draw on. Anyway, I'll have updates as it shapes up. I'll also likely be making a more traditional decade ending mix that I'm looking forward too as well.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I'll Make You a Tape

The mix tape may be one of the only true artifacts of my generation. If you were a teenager at any point between the mid 70's to the mid 90's it's highly likely that you have made or received a mix tape. The concept is simple and yet totally reliant on the invention and propagation of the compact cassette as a cheap and accessible medium for the recording of audio at home. In it's simplest form the mix tape involves the recording of music from various sources onto a blank cassette. For those of us who actually made them the process tended to be much more involved than that though. The mix tape was a form of expression, a means by which to create personal compilations of one's favorite music, but perhaps most famously the mix tape was a way for music geeks everywhere to communicate with members of the opposite sex. To quote High Fidelity "you're using someone else's poetry to express how you feel." And that's what it was all about for us in the days when the mix tape reigned supreme. When it came to dating, the mix tape practically replaced flowers as the go-to symbol of affection during the early stages of a relationship. It was a sort of ice breaker as well, or maybe more of a wedge. If you met someone and had remotely similar music tastes the next step was always to make them a tape. Construct a good tape and chances were you'd be hearing from that person again.

Sometimes you just wanted to make a mix for yourself though. This is something I did all the time. As someone who was a teenager during the "modern rock" explosion of the 90's I spent a great deal of time listening to the radio and unlike now, I didn't purchase everything I heard and liked; I had a tape deck attached to my stereo, all I had to do was hit the record button and those songs were mine. I still have a couple dozen tapes of songs recorded off the radio between 1992 and 1997 lying around somewhere. But as an analog medium, playing a cassette meant endless rewinding and fast-forwarding if you wanted to listen to a particular song and when you're recording off the radio you're going to get a pretty random progression of music, so I made mixes to sort it all out. It started out as simple year end mixes of my favorite songs recorded over the last year that I would sometimes copy for friends and evolved into mixes for various moods or situations; my "Mellow Music" and "Car Songs" series of compilations come to mind. The thing about making a mix was that you had to really think about it beforehand, because once you put something down on tape that was more or less it. Sure you could have re-recorded over something, but as soon as you did that the quality started to degrade and you wanted your music to sound good ... or at least as good as a dub on a cassette of cheap magnetic tape could sound. There were other concerns too because make no mistake, what you were making was an album and every mix tape is essentially a concept album:

Mellow Music 1 - Side 1 (circa 1995)

1. Fade Into You - Mazzy Star ... you have to start your mix out strong
2. Nothingman - Pearl Jam ... and you can't let it go right away
3. Anna Begins - Counting Crows ... but you don't want to overdo it so you start to pull back
4. Wonderwall - Oasis
5. Promises Broken - Soul Asylum
6. Isobel - Bjork
7. Free as a Bird - The Beatles ... and you start to think about coming in for a landing
8. I Want Everything - Cracker ... so you up the stakes a little, create a thematic runway
9. Warehouse - Dave Matthews Band ... punch the throttle
10. Ride - Pretty and Twisted ... and come in fast

Mellow Music 1 isn't greatest tape in the world and very much a snapshot of my musical tastes from a very narrow window in time, but it illustrates the point and for me at least it was the tape that taught me how to make tapes. It came together mostly by accident, but ended up sounding really good. and though my efforts on other tapes to recapture that ideal, I learned the secrets of making a good mix. "There are a lot of rules." My mixes have evolved over the years and migrated to CD and digital playlists to the point where my staple year end mixes have become double-album epics. Even the mixes I make for girls these days follow what is very obviously a three act musical narrative progression.

The other beauty of the mix tape is that unlike vinyl, where you can sort of see where the next song begins and ends by looking at the grooves, tapes were a mystery, at least while playing. If you wanted to skip a song you had to fast-forward through it which meant stopping short or going to far, at which point you rewind. If you were listening to a tape it was likely you were listening from start to finish in the order recorded, anything else would have been a major pain. With the advent of the CD the order of songs on an album and eventually a mix would become a mere suggestion. You wanted people to listen to your tape in the order you arranged though, that was the whole point and if it was a good mix your audience would agree.

While the tapes eventually went away, CD's and digital media didn't kill the mix tape, it just had to evolve. I still refer to playlists and CD compilations as mix tapes when I share them. For me the process is still the same even if the technology has changed. The days of the true mix tape are long gone though and while I still make mixes for girls on CD, the tangilble, crafted essence of the thing is diminished in comparrison to the tapes I made when I was younger. It's become a point of nostalgia that unlike vinyl records, is not likely to ever return to the marketplace or the collective culture of the music listening public. And good riddance, the compact cassette was an awful format prone to noise and degration and posessing all the fidelity of a tin-can telephone. But the mix tapes made it worthwhile and made us all producers in our bedrooms and although the artifact has been buried, the idea lives on.