Anyway, I found the tape and have played it a number of times since its resurrection, but it got me thinking about the idea of tapes and specifically of "mixes" and the craft of making a great mix tape. In the iTuned mp3 world we live in now, making a mix tape requires almost nothing of the mixer. It's literally dragging tracks from a library to a folder and then fiddling with the order. But such was not the case 15 years ago, when putting together a tape for friends, or a girl, or as catharsis for yourself actually required commitment.
My process was (and still is to some degree) always the same. First of all, there was a need to understand the rules (spins on which can be found here and here). My rules are simple:
- no repeat artists - there's enough great music out there that you should never need to rely on one band twice per mix
- think about variety and experiential arc - I don't prescribe to fast fast fast. slow slow slow. I listen to the ending of one track before finalizing the next one. It's got to flow. That might mean strings to strings or drumbeat to drumbeat or it might be a HUGE wake-up after an earned moment of silence. It just has to feel right.
- stay away from compilations - they are for cheaters. no mixes should be stolen. Yes, the soundtrack to Garden State is great. But don't copy half the songs and give them to me as your thoughtful contribution.
- don't give up - if you're tired of the process, go do something else and then come back to it. It's an artistic process. It requires something of you. Push though it or know your limits, but don't just stop and don't just throw six Stevie Wonder tracks on the end because you know they're killer.
Again, contrast that to today when a decent playlist takes maybe a couple of hours. It's still fun, but not nearly as meaningful. The connection to the mix is gone. Not to the music, there's an important distinction. The music is still moving, engrossing, alive, but the time, the pain, the song that was longer than you thought and got cut off, the starting over, the ruined tape because somebody hit record, the hours of planning and planning and care...they are lost in the drag-and-click model - gone the way of the cassettes that get locked up in storage lockers and lost to garbage cans.
One step further would be to look at all artistic processes. The value is coming back around for artisans. A hand-made chest of drawers. Personally tailored clothing. Original pottery. Photos taken and framed by someone you know. These things have value not just because they are "one of a kind", but because being "one of a kind" usually means that somebody poured their heart, energy, and attention into the construction of that object. I think we need more of those. Lots more. It's worth the extra time.
Now, if we could only get it all to fit neatly on side B.