Friday, January 30, 2009
Cybermixtape.... That will probably be the name of my post-electro-nintendo-synthpop group.
Anyway, I am lamenting the loss of the mixtape. When I really got into music (around 1990) it was through the magic of mixtapes. I had access to the KHSU library of CDs and I would go up there and tape songs that my friends were talking about. My aunts would loan me tapes or friends would suggest songs to go track down. I would make mixtapes of songs I had never heard based upon recommendation.
It didn't take long to cultivate the practice. Initially I made them for myself, but when you start to make more friends, especially girlfriends, they become a heartfelt gift. A sublime exchange.
Mixtapes were a stepping stone from the radio generation that spawned my own. They afforded personalization, but carried the varietal tone and flow of radio. What I loved was that I could follow Green Day with Holst, The Offspring, or Dre Dog and it worked. It was both more free to interpretation and more constrained by my own knowledge of music.
Digital music started off rocky. I remember transferring songs that I had downloaded on my Dad's computer (which had dial-up) to my computer via 3.5 floppy disks. One song wouldn't fit on a disk so we had to compress and break up the files into two or three parts. I would carry one at a time back and forth until I had transferred them. It probably took 100 hours to download 100 songs and transfer them from one computer to another.
Despite these setbacks, mixtapes rapidly became mix-cds. I was a bona fide napster junkie during its heyday. I had made the transition to digital music. It was convenient, and best of all, free. Mix-cds were basically the same platform, albeit more organized. Instead of judging time by the width of tape left, your burning software would tell you precisely how many seconds were left. I liked this advent, as it allowed you layout the playlist before you committed it to plastic. I could sqeeze some cool 46 second instrumental tracks or a clip from a movie to introduce my mix without worrying about cutting it off.
Eventually, though, CDs have disappeared from my life. I am the first to admit my technophilia. I am not a gadget freak, but I cannot imagine not having my ipod. My personal grasp of music has so digitized that my ipod is the only physical embodiment of my tastes. I haven't bought a CD in 2 years.
Many people have postulated the meaning of this headphone generation. Radio is certainly a dying form. Why listen to what someone else will play for you when you can self-program? Amazon and pandora and itunes will tell you exactly what you want to hear based on your finely tuned library. I was at the KRFH studio today and the DJ told me that 3 people were currently listening to the stream. Three people! What is happening?
I know I am partly to blame for this phenomenon. But I still love to put my ipod on shuffle and listen to the way it pairs songs; or discovers something I haven't heard before; or plays my favorite song from 4 months ago. I love radio and I think we need to make a conscious effort to pay attention. What better way to discover new music? What a communal, holistic way to share one of humanity's most beloved art forms.
Radio will never be the same but what we can do, us gen-y music lovers, is keep alive our very own radio shows: the mixtape. I am not sure how to do this. My dear friend Jamie has tried to revive the form multiple times with limited success. We're growing increasingly isolated, and can't bring ourselves to rally behind what we perceive as an archaic process.
So let's find a new format. I'm suggesting a written list. None of us are getting any less familiar with the web. If you post a list people can at least youtube the songs in order. It's not pretty, but for a generation that is rejecting both the album and the radio playlist, we must fight for this lost art form.
If you know a better way to express yourself, by all means share it.