Fans of the film High Fidelity might remember the reverence that Rob bestowed upon the mix tape “…I spent hours putting that cassette together. To me, making a tape is like writing a letter — there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again, and I wanted it to be a good one….” and in my opinion he’s exactly right, a mix tape was something you would have to put considerable time into, to ensure the mix was perfect. Whether you were creating that tape for someone, or for a certain event, the mixer would have to sit down and figure out what songs to use and in what order they were to go, and then you would have to stitch them together in painstaking fashion. It may have meant using some high-speed dubbing from cassette to cassette (or in some cases from Radio to Cassette – which made it exponentially harder), or the constant changing of CD’s to piece together the perfect mix. You always had to ensure that your message and intent was clearly conveyed, each song had to be scoured to ensure there wasn’t an underlying meaning from the lyrics that make skew the entire tape. The mix tape has become someone of a cliche in pop culture, but other than High Fidelity the amount of time and heart that goes into a true mix tape is never conveyed. Back then, you were forced to make hard decisions to convey a message, songs would have to be cut if they exceeded the time allotted to them, but nowadays playlists (while great) don’t bear the restrictions in the same way as a cassette.
Sadly, as technology evolved, the painstaking process of creating that perfect mix became far too easy and it lost a lot of heart that it took to make a mix. When CD Burning took hold with the mainstream consumers and people started to learn how to rip CD’s, it was nothing more than setting a playlist and hitting the burn button. Voila! A Mix CD, no need for the dedication, no need to carve out a few hours to assemble the tape, simply slap a few tunes together in a playlist and away you go. It was quick, it was easy, and if you took the time to carefully craft that list of songs, it still could hold some of the reverence, but for the most part a lot of the magic was gone. Or it was annexed ironically by the hipster crowd for its cool retrograde factor.
Then came the proliferation of the MP3 and the advent of the Mp3 player (or iPod nation), then the mix-tape took a further hit to its credibility. Those playlists that were being crafted for the endless supply of mix CD’s that were being burned quickly began to eschew the physical media that encapsulated them. The physical limitations that previously limited the mix to a scant number of tracks on both Cassette and CD’s was no longer a factor, the only limitation became the amount of storage of your device. You could now string together those 100 different songs, but the passion that went into those former cassette mixes dissipated and that digital playlist still couldn’t achieve the same emotional message that a single 16 song mix tape could.
So yes, in the past it was a much more difficult process to create a mix tape, than it is to create a playlist, but it was a far more satisfying experience. It felt like you accomplished something and had the proof to substantiate that claim. I know personally I don’t get the same enjoyment from making a playlist, as I did when I finished creating a mix tape or even a mix CD.