by Don Mackinnon
In the ways we created and consumed mixtapes, we find the earliest glimmers of the social media experiences of today.
We tend to think of it as a cultural anachronism. A short-lived oddity born out of that time between analog vinyl albums and digital files.
But I would argue that the mixtape was the beginning of everything. OK, that overstates it a bit. How about: in the ways we created and consumed mixtapes, we can find the earliest glimmers of the social media experiences of today. Looking back and thinking about why we loved them—considering what was beautiful about building them and receiving them—shows us what’s been lost as we’ve evolved and devolved into the feed-based formats of our current social world.
So, consider the mixtape; it has a lesson for the future.
I realize that most people on social media don’t even know what a cassette tape is—beyond the retro-graphic on a hipster iPhone case—and the benefits they brought to the world are features we now take comprehensively for granted.
But there was a time when songs were trapped in the amber vinyl of their albums and cassette tapes rescued them.
Tapes are inferior technology in every way. Terrible sound. Horror movie noises when you fast forward. A tendency—at crucial interpersonal moments of your adolescence—to spew out of the tape deck like so much tagliatelle. Vinyl is back but don’t hold your breath on the cassette.
Despite all this, cassette tapes did one magical and historically important thing: they liberated songs from their albums.
With a cassette tape, you could construct the perfect ninety minutes of music, song by carefully constructed song. It was an art. It was a craft. You chose a theme—borrowing a title from an obscure weather formation that fit your mood—and you mapped it out song by song, one after the other, each outro feeding deftly into each intro.
Most importantly, you recorded it in real time. No drag and drop. No progress bars. You sat there.
And what you did with that time was just as important as choosing the songs: you wrote about them. Short notes, free verse haikus on why you chose each track. Facts about the artist. Why this particular lyric was, well, perfect.
In this way, in making someone a mixtape, you didn’t just give someone the songs, you gave them the instructions for how to listen to them—printed in your super tiny font using a Uniball .55mm pen on the glossy Maxell insert, intricately origamied into the plastic case (which was definitely a reference for the iPhone form factor). You were curating.
And after all this work, late into the night, next morning as you sidled out of English, you handed it to her, super-casually setting it atop her Beowolf, as if an afterthought: “Oh hey, I made you this little mix.”
Read the rest of this story here:
Mixtapes: The Future of Curation? — Cuepoint — Medium.