In eighth grade, my class was asked to write about a recent experience that meant a lot to us. I decided to write about my first concert -- Fall Out Boy's From Under The Cork Tree tour -- because it seemed easy. But when my pen hit the paper, every line that came out was a cliche. How do you describe something that you had been anticipating, that made you feel both overwhelmed and empowered, where you could physically feel music despite it being invisible? I wanted to relive the first of many evenings spent being taken over by music, but its importance to me at the time made it impossible to capture.
Thankfully the next best thing to experiencing music is sharing it. Mixtapes are the best way to invite someone to experience a part of your life. It shows them your gratitude by offering up something that’s more than just an item. Regrettably, it seems we, as a whole, have started to forget that's an option.
When mixtapes went from 80s cassettes that took several hours to record onto 90s CDs, the effort that went into creating them changed. Then, of course, came the 00s and the shift to online streaming and creating playlists through the internet. Sharing music became less about the experience and more about the content. Drag and drop your favorite songs into a Spotify playlist and message your friend the link.
That carelessness is what detracts from it all. Sure, the song names are there and the album art for each song will pop up, but where’s the fun in having your friends do the research themselves? What happened to song order? Careful planning can make it so one song blends into the next with ease, allowing for a more enjoyable listening experience. Plus choosing that perfect closer is what can get your friend to immediately start the whole CD over again, eager to keep the moment alive.
We have to keep it going. Nothing compares to holding a mix in your hand and looking at the cover art encasing it, even if it’s a simple doodle and the track names written in faded chicken scratch.
In an effort to recapture that first concert feeling, I went home and put together a mixtape for my teacher. Only one song on it was actually by the band; the rest were songs that embodied the spirit of the concert and the technicalities that stuck with me, like the bass's ability to vibrate your foot when lifted from the ground or the weird resemblance all those flashing cameras have to nature when the house lights are cut before a band walks onstage. It didn’t count towards my grade, my teacher didn’t say much other than an extended thank you, and I may not have been able to recount that experience in words, but I could sure give that moment justice when shared with someone through a pool of songs.
The most overlooked part of it all is that mixtapes aren’t just for summer roadtrips with your best friends or heart-doodled gifts for your boyfriend or girlfriend. Mixtapes are for introducing yourself, for getting to know one another better, for helping someone out. They’re a birthday gift that show you’ve given your time and thoughts to a friend, an explanation of culture from your point of view for a pen pal in another country, a soft fist to the chin when you try to cheer someone up with the sounds that pick you up on the worst of days.
For those who can’t peel themselves away from the ease of online mixtapes, don’t feel like this is an attack. Instead, head to music blog Tiny Mix Tapes. One of their features, aptly titled “Mixtapes,” encourages collaborative mixtape creations. Viewers send in a thought, phrase, or question to be the theme and title of the mix; another will then get to help compile its contents based off the name. Nothing gets you thinking like “I Just Quit My Job. That Felt Awesome” and “Dance Songs For People Who Claim They ‘Don’t Dance’”.
If anything, mixtapes should be our reminder that giving is the most important, and one of the frequently overlooked, ways to live. They allow us to share what we believe is the best of what we’ve found so that way others can experience it. Why hoard that to yourself? The world is a hell of a lot better when everyone gets to hear its greatest sounds.