I haven’t made a mixtape in over eight years. I used to make them a lot and will admit to missing the process. Thinking about it now, it was a big commitment. Not only did you have to curate, record, design and manufacture a product, you were also making a huge time commitment all while trying to keep the person you were making it for in mind. This was a lot for a then twenty-something to take on. In some ways, the mixtape was the only business course I ever took and maybe explains why I continue to create things that only reach a handful of people.
Cassettes are on the rise as evidenced by recent mixtapes from Parquet Courts and Kurt Vile as well as the premiere of Cassette Store Day on 9/7/13. There’s even a short film celebrating the medium featuring the dude that runs Awesome Tapes from Africa.
As ridiculous and nostalgic as it seems, I’ve always thought that tapes were the perfect medium for music. They’re portable, durable, affordable and easy to hack. Yes, their sound is inferior to vinyl and CDs, I will not disagree. But somebody show me how to record over a Cranberries CD or explain to me how I can leave an album on vinyl in my car all summer long and it still play, then maybe I’ll change my tune.
All this schmaltz over tapes does seem to beg the question: Is the affection for this device just a mask for an attachment to the past? According to Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction To Its Own Past, author Simon Reynolds writes,
“… Cassettes are also a ghost medium in the sense that as far as mainstream culture is concerned, they are dead, an embarrassing relic. The cult of the cassette has spread beyond the no-fi underground to become a retro fad, with young hipsters wearing t-shirts adorned with cassettes or belt buckles actually made out of old cassette shells.”
Seeing Reynolds’ point every day in my own life has led me to return to the object and see if it still contains the wonder I remember it having almost a decade ago. I decided to make a mixtape in 2013.
The process began first by purchasing the actual cassettes. Thanks to the Cassette Gods blog article on how to release your own cassette, I settled on 25 individual 60 minute green cassettes with 25 soft poly cases to put them in. The cost with shipping was around $40.
Once the actual physical tapes were purchased, I was then onto the task of making the actual mix. The process was far different than I remember it being. Instead of sitting on the floor with LPs and CDs strewn everywhere, I was on a computer with a multitude of tabs opened, listening to selections via Youtube. Was the process any less enjoyable? Not really. It did, however, present the modern problem of having too many choices.
To narrow things down, I proposed a few self imposed parameters that I think help make a good mixtape.
The first of those being a theme. A theme imposes a rule that causes you to be diplomatic about song choices. I settled on the Side One Track One theme as a tribute to this site and its staff. Limiting yourself to the first track of an LP can deliver some much needed clarity and direction to a mix. I was able to settle on the rest of my criterion after briskly surveying my own biases and reading an intriguing thread called The Art Of The Mixtape. I decided on including a blues tune, a female vocalist, an instrumental, a live track, and a local band. It was all pretty subjective, but hey, that’s what great about mixes in the first place: it’s a self made environment, an artifact of you being yourself.
After making my track choices and putting them in their sacred order, the only thing left to do at that point was to give it a random title and create some lame artwork. This sounds flippant, but most mixes I have received bear these two seemingly insignificant characteristics. I chose the anagram method for my inane title. It was as simple as going to anagramsite.com and typing in Side One Track One. The title designated was Ocean Skirted One. (FYI: Other titles not chosen included Incense Road and Keen Coordinates) In the spirit of the mixtape and breaking copyright/duplication laws, I hastily chose some art by Brian Rea and then used an online editor called Picfont to apply my own spin on the whole thing. In the olden days, it would have been way more involved and a lot less good. Modernity is not so bad.
From there, I contacted a friend about using a high speed dubbing set up he had put together for his own recent return to tapes. He made a master tape of my mix for approval and after my endorsement, the dubbing commenced.
While waiting for the dubs to be finished, I decided to step out of the time warp and make the mix available online. I used a site called audio-joiner.com to create one long mp3. The site features an online editor that allows multiple uploads and fades between tracks with easy download. Mixcloud allowed me to post the mix without worries of copyright infringement and offered links and streaming. I should also say that during this time, I had the artwork printed onto business cards. Business cards are cheap ($11 for 50).
The tapes are now finished and I am pleased with how they came out. After having a few days to enjoy the final product, I realized that I have learned a few things through this process. The most important being that I still love cassettes. I had forgotten the dedication that goes into them and the satisfaction you get handing over the final product to someone. Maybe this feeling of fulfillment is what I was after all along …
While listening to the tape on a Walkman knockoff in a Target parking lot, I had this feeling that, in the words of Roky Erickson, I have always been here before. That may sound exaggerated, but you reach a point where you realize that music isn’t just part of your life, it is a fact of your life. From first recording You Give Love A Bad Name by Bon Jovi off the radio to now, cassettes remain a comfortable place for me to loiter. Is it nostalgic? Yes. Are there more important matters to attend to? Yes. But we all still need that golden place to hang and be ourselves, and mine is somewhere on this tape.
Want a tape? Send an email here. We’ll figure something out. Thanks to Alex, Toland, BG, and JL for their help. Limited quantity of this mixtape available (edition of 21).