Saturday, December 27, 2008

mix tapes, mix cds, and playlists

back when i was in middle school, cassette tape was the medium for purchased music. tape players were the method of playing owned music. and after i had collected twenty or thirty tapes, cd's came into my life. the compact disc was louder, cleaner sounding, and best of all it was able to perfectly rewind or fast forward to the beginning of each song. the problem with cds was their high cost. $17.99 + tax to a person who made only $20.00/week allowance is not feasable. that allowance paid for clothes, shoes, entertainment, and contributed to savings.

the only way to satisfy my starving hunger for new music was to purchase cds, and blank tapes, then record the CD to the tape. afterwards the cd would be returned to the music store (an opened cd could not be returned for a refund, only store credit). you were allowed to return cds 3 times, so the third time was normally a cd that i knew i wanted to keep. remember that this time period did not have the option to listen to an artist's music online, there was no itunes music store or usually cds were purchased blindly, based on the cover.

usually a cd contained 1-3 songs that were listenable. thus, the ultimate listening experience came from mix tapes. having a tape with good song after good song required lots of time and effort. choosing the songs normally took the least time, it was the recording process that required not only constant attention, but also calculations.

this time period is where i remember mixes at their height, at least in my little world bubble.

shortly after, computers and internet came into my world of music. mp3, cd-r drives, napster, downloads, uploads, wav converters, and blank cds threw everything into orbit. the method to buy a cd, record the good songs to tape, return the cd, and repeat was now obsolete. with napster + a cd writer possibilities were endless. however, time seemed to always be spent downloading and hoarding, instead of listening and creating. time spent making quality mix tapes was time that could have been better spent discovering the next artist. instead of creating and sharing a great mix, an instant message was sent "hey friend, download this artist. you'll love them."

i made a ton of mix cds for myself, they took virtually no time and energy. however, since they were so effortlessly crafted, the quality of my mix cds were far inferior to the quality of my mix tapes. the idea that if i really wanted to, i could sit down and pound out the ultimate mix cd as i had every resource at the click of my mouse button. i never ended up making that ultimate mix. i just continued to create crappy mixes (in 15 minutes). i did stick to one rule, always put the best song on track number 9. i'm not sure where that came from, but i've formed a philosophy about track 9 and will discuss that at a later date.

ff to today, and cds are obsolete. the playlist is the new cd which was the new cassette. everyone has an ipod, strike that, everyone has more than one ipod. shuffle, iphone, ipod classic, ipod nano, and the list marches into the sunset. there is no use for a cd that only contains 15 songs, when the smallest ipod carries 250.

yet the trend continues, and this is where my sadness increasingly grows. when it was too much time and effort to make a mix, beautiful mixes were created. now that infinitely more resources are at our fingertips, it brings me down to think that i can count the number of good playlists given to me in the past 3-4 years on one hand. three of those quality playlists are a traditional birthday-present mix given to me by michael, a dj who creates compilations for the world famous pacha, and spins records weekly at establishments in the LA area.

it all boils down to a quote i've used one too many times:
"What may be done at any time will be done at no time." - scottish proverb


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