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Published on December 24th, 2012 | by Alan Cross

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The Lost Art of the Mixtape

I have a rack of ancient cassettes in the basement that I once listened to in the car.  Right next to them is a series of carefully-crafted CD-Rs burned with music designed for certain situations.  I doubt that I’ll ever pull anything out of these piles ever again.

Mixtapes used to be a big thing, especially with cassettes.  First you selected the music.  Then you decided in which order the songs should run.  Then you recorded the music in real time.  A 90 minute mixtape required almost two hours of your undivided attention.  

Today we have playlists.  Provided you have all the music ripped, they’re quick and easy to assemble. And although they live on our computers and MP3 players, sharing them with a worldwide audience is a snap thanks to streaming music services like Rdio and Spotify.  

This has some old-school people lamenting the death of the mixtape–or at least the art of creating the perfect one.  Even Forbes has a point of view on this.

I’ve been hearing rumors that the cassette tape is making a comeback. First vinyl, now this. Can 8-tracks be far behind? Probably not. 8-tracks are like Betamax and ET for Atari: things that newer generations only know of as punchlines to jokes. And really, the cassette comeback isn’t about music at all, but science. Still I can almost get behind a cassette comeback, for purely nostalgic purposes. Because if you’re like most people who spent any amount of time sticking pencils in the holes of a cassette to wind them up after the tape came loose, just looking at an old cassette can make you pine for the days of the mix tape.

The art – and make no mistake about it, it is an art – of making a mix tape is one lost on a generation that only has to drag and drop to complete a mix. There’s no love or passion involved in moving digital songs from one folder to another. Those “mixes” are just playlists held prison inside a device. There’s no blood, sweat and tears involved in making them.
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About the Author

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.



2 Responses to The Lost Art of the Mixtape

  1. Mark A. says:

    In high school, my big programming project was create an application that let you type up the list tracks you wanted with their run times, then flip around the order, move them between side A & B with it giving you the total time per side.

    Cassettes were also my first MP3 player. Making mixtapes became practically automatic (set up a playlist, hit play and record, side A done in 45 minutes), and I could even crossfade between tracks. I went through a lot of Walkmans in the 90s!

  2. mbyaudible says:

    Seemed to miss this first time around.

    I can truly say I know this topic. I started to make mix tapes on a Sony monaural open reel recorder in 1970, then on a stereo Sony TC377 a few years later. I also got my first cassette deck in 1980. I still have a Revox B77 and all the reel tapes, and I have two Nakamichi cassette decks and all my cassettes, 98% of which I made at home. I made hundreds of mix tapes over the years for friends as well, but in the 2000s I started making these on CD-Rs using full resolution files from CDs or digitized from vinyl and cassettes. It's easier to assemble a compilation for a CD on a computer but the art of making the compilation is still alive. The "mixtape" lives in beyond formats.

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