Saturday, October 15, 2005

All Mixed Up

Cut a tape of my favorite songs
Said what I can't face to face
I hoped that you would share all my thoughts...

The above lyrics are from one of my favorite songs. It's got a great beat and a sweet melody, but the message is what draws me in. It perfectly illustrates the great impact that something as simple as a collection of songs can have on a person's life. It's an ode to that wonderful creation known as "the mix tape." Yes, mix CDs have taken their place now for the most part, but there's something special about those old cassettes.

First of all, it's really easy to burn a CD given the technology we have these days. Downloading or importing songs to a PC takes mere minutes and burning a disc takes up only a small chunk of time. Most burning programs will even allow you to level the volume of all the songs and fade in or out (although this rarely works as it should). But recording a mix tape was so much more complicated than that. Well, at least for someone as anal as me. I had to test the volume before each song to make sure it was level with the others, make sure the gaps between songs were just right, and be especially vigilant when taping from records that have songs that run together. Imagine trying to tape INXS's "Need You Tonight" from the CD without getting the beginning of that annoying "Mediate" in there. It can be done. I've done it. But it's tricky.

Secondly, tapes are just a reminder of days gone by. Even when CD usage became widespread, most people still made mix tapes to play in their cars because car CD players weren't as common as they are now. They certainly didn't come standard. But nearly everyone had a tape deck, making mix tapes the perfect driving companion, especially for those long road trips.

For me, making a mix tape was a very scientific process. I carefully computed the total time the songs would take up on each side to ensure that the tape wouldn't run out before the last song ended. I look down my nose at people who didn't bother to even estimate the time. There's something very wrong with them. (And don't even get me started on people who try to tape from the radio.) However, even the best laid plans sometimes go awry, so occasionally the tape would run out just shy of the calculated time. I can just imagine the people at Maxell or Memorex, sitting in their labs thinking about this and laughing: It's a 90 minute tape, so there should be 45 minutes on each side. But wait until the poor sap using it finds out there's really only 43.5 minutes! Mwaaah ha ha ha ha!! This has happened to me many times. In those cases, I would usually have the standard profanity-riddled freak-out, followed by a period of intense calm and concentration during which I would scour my record collection for a song that would fit in the allotted time slot. ("Bron-Y-Aur" has probably made its way onto more than one of my mixes.) I couldn't just tape over the truncated song with silence. I never liked having too much dead air left after the last song...that was simply not professional.

I also had to have a theme for each of my tapes. I was never a fan of just random songs thrown together for no good reason. Themes are important. Occasionally, I couldn't come up with one so I would name the tape something like, "The Theme of This Tape is That There is No Theme." So technically, to my obsessive-compulsive, highly disordered mind, it was thematic.

I've always loved making mix tapes for friends and family. The main goal is to introduce them to music that I like, which I think they would also enjoy. But I can never just give them the tape and let that be the end of it. I always have an intense need to know if they like it and how much they like it. Have you listened to my tape yet? What do you think? What's your favorite song on there? Are there any that you hate? How often have you listened to it? Feedback! I want feedback DAMMIT! Well, I try not to get that crazy, but I do want and appreciate some thoughtful commentary. I hate when I give someone a tape and they just say, "Yeah, it's good." What's good about it? I'm all about the details.

As I mentioned before, CDs have practically made cassettes obsolete. I don't have a tape deck in my car anymore or even at home, which is unfortunate because I still have a ton of old mix tapes lying around. Now, I make mix CDs, which has only helped to enhance my anal nature. Since the actual burning process is generally hassle-free, that just frees up more time for me to work on packaging. I am absolutely not happy unless my CDs look as if they were professionally made and could be for sale in any record store across the country. I work hard on getting the graphics just right and often include liner notes with my discs. I'm just as concerned about what the recipient thinks of the whole presentation as I am about the musical content. Stupid CDs. They've just given me more to obsess over!

Since I love to give homemade music compilations, I also love to receive them. To me, it's one of the best gifts anyone can give. It takes more effort than just buying a record off the shelf, and it usually reflects the giver's love of music and how well they really know me. It may not have any resale value, but the sentimental value is priceless.

Right there a song became a soundtrack for this space in time...
- Better than Ezra, "Rewind"

This post was inspired by Paul, my "musical soulmate." Everyone should have one of those. He understands the importance of liner notes.


Bar Bar A said...

You are a kindred spirit when it comes to music....You took me back to the days when I would add up each minute of each carefully chosen song to fit on the 90 minute tape. Of course there had to be a theme and OF COURSE I would write the name of each song on the little card provided. I just found two the other day "Bruce Mellow Songs", "Bruce Rocking Songs", "Chronological Zeppelin", etc. I don't miss those days, it was so time consuming, but I do miss the memories of driving around listening to my tapes. Then sometimes they would break, or get stuck in the deck or just plain wear out. I was so excited when they came out with auto-reverse.

Somehow I don't think the iPod/Napster generation will be able to relate to this at all.

Teri said...

You'd hte the tapes I threw together, errrrr, made. Really you would. Holy cow. Volume control? Themes? How's "These are all songs I like" as a theme.

On the other hand, all of my iTunes downloading is done in themes.

Bonanza Jellybean said...

I used to make sure I did mine on the Memorex tapes with the cool colored spools and stuff. I do still have some of them, and I have a feeling I would be greatly entertained by them now. :)

I am a closet radio-taper. Sorry.

Mr. Happy said...

I always loved making mix tapes. Kind of like being your own disc jockey. I don't make them any more but every once in a while I will still just sit down and play d.j. in the house. I was always very anal about my tapes as well. They had to be just right and I also needed feedback.

Music is very important in my life. Give me good music over good television any day.

Masha said...

I didn't even know that people listened to tapes still until my friend asked me if i wanted to borrow some of her russian music. I said, sorry, I don't have a tape player

Lee Ann said...

You are absolutely right! Definitely takes more thought and work to mix a tape. I love burning cd's now!

The Commentary (Online) said...

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