The modern mix tape: What’s the perfect match?

“Trying to find the perfect match between pretentious and pop” goes the lyric from the Los Campesinos! song “It Started with a Mixx” – clearly a sentiment understandable to those of you who have ever taken to the task of creating a mix tape, CD (or flash drive?) or a friend, loved one or potential boot-knockin’ buddy. But is it really worth all the fuss? Does a carefully, artfully and intuitively compiled mix truly create something larger than the sum of its parts? After a recent glut of mix CD creations, with many more on the way, I had to wonder why it’d become such a personal obsession of mine.

The mixtape, described by author Geoffrey O’Brien as “the most widely practiced American art form” is far from a modern invention, as it turns out. That said, the ease of digital sharing has certainly made it a whole lot easier to mass distribute faux-personalized compilations of tunes. The original mixtapes weren’t actually homemade as they are today, but were instead bootleg 8 track tapes often sold at flea markets or truck stops. In the ’80s, cassettes became popular as their quality increased and voila! Soon, teenage lovers and tech-savvy 20- and 30-somethings were communicating their feelings and thoughts by using other peoples’ feelings and thoughts. And yes, it is just as tricky as it sounds to have that work out.

Personally, I’ve been creating mixes for friends, lovers and whoever will listen for well over a decade now. They’ve ranged from the casual (“I just threw a bunch of songs on a disc to listen to in the car on the way to -road trip destination here-“) to the thinly-veiled flirtatious (“These 19 songs represent the 19 that come as close as physically possible to saying ‘I want in your pants’ without actually saying it”) to the esoteric (“This CD represents the progression of a modern relationship between a man and a woman; the songs are in conversation with each other – alternating between partners – and coalesce in heartbreak and eventual acceptance”).

They say hello, they say I miss you, they say I want you. Or, it could say “I searched for every possible name of a color on my iTunes playlist and these are the best that I got!” (No, it was not all Joni Mitchell covers.) No matter what the message, it’s the process of creation and sharing that becomes ultimately enjoyable to me, as the maker. It’s a joy that I hope is matched by the listener’s experience.

So, I ask you, why do you create mixes? Do you recall the best mix you’ve ever received? What about the strangest? What is the favorite mix you’ve created?

And finally, the question of the hour, what’s the secret to a “perfectly matched” mix? Because, despite all the years of practice.. I still truly have no idea. Is it all about a seamless build to a lavish finish? Is it about juxtaposing the unusual with the familiar? What about a mid-mix instrumental break? Can ABBA (Flower power/’Fernando’ ABBA not wedding anthem/’Dancing Queen’ ABBA) still be enjoyed ironically, or are Swedish disco acts passe?


4 thoughts on “The modern mix tape: What’s the perfect match?

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