Friday, March 21, 2014

Hey! Listen! - Mixtape by Jimmy Eat World

I've been on a Jimmy Eat World kick lately. Invented is an amazing album that punches me right in the feels every time I listen to it.

The title of this song had me thinking about the art of making a mixtape. I wasn't old enough to be making them for girls before CD-Rs came and killed them, but I remember putting tremendous amounts of care into selecting which tracks would go on the mixes that accompanied me in my Walkman. I even made some for my friends -- one was a birthday gift that had my favorite Nirvana songs on it, and months later he told me that it was an awesome tape. So, success.

Coming up with a playlist can still be a good experience. I'm not trying to be That Guy who hates all this Newfangled Technology for Ruining Everything, but it's different. With the playlist, you can take shortcuts. Listen to the first 30 seconds and the last 10 seconds of a track, figure out what fits where, and the end result ends up being more cohesive. Amusingly, I think that shortcut makes it take more time.

Contrast with the tape -- Even if I planned ahead, once I got rolling there was a great chance something would pop into my head that demanded to be on the cassette, and then what? I wasn't going to redo it and wear out the tape. It got added wherever it got added.

The end result was raw, disjointed, chaotic, and yet still great to listen to, because the songs were curated, vetted, approved by the part of my brain dedicated to making sure I heard music I loved as often as possible.

And the limitations! 60 minutes was a good length. It was ripe for multiple trips to the grocery store, or multiple listens on a drive across the state.

CD-Rs were harder to fill. 74 minutes doesn't sound like that much more (3-4 songs), but the space was hard to fill. When I was burning CDs regularly, they would either be half-empty, or they would be full of filler, both of which felt wasteful. Since it was easy to skip songs I didn't feel like listening to, so I opted for filler. Indie rock for 19 tracks with a U2 song in the middle was the wrong kind of chaos.

In more recent years, it's been mp3-capable devices, like my iPod and my Nexus tablet. The other day, I put 9 gigs of music on my tablet, and I've listened to Invented and the soundtrack to Valdis Story. This isn't a problem, it just amuses me -- I have ridiculous portability and I still fall back to smaller groups of songs.

Perhaps the solution is to take an afternoon and curate some new mixes.

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