The mixtape is dead. Long live the mixtape! We examine the present state of the art form which inspired our Mixed Tape – between cassette nostalgia and modern versions which are neither mixed nor tapes
We love music! In 2004 we started to share this love with you on a regular basis by compiling and giving away hand picked MP3 compilations consisting of our favourite songs by our favourite new artists. Inspired by the classical mixtape idea we called our musical gift to you a "Mixed Tape". We chose the term "mixed" to signify our specific mixture covering a wide range of genres by artists from all over the world.
But what is the original mixtape all about? The Merriam Webster dictionary defines it as “a compilation of songs recorded onto a cassette tape or a CD from various sources.” But for oh so many people it stands for something different. Here, we unravel the pop-cultural tape jam by rewinding the history of the mixtape. Explore various connotations and meanings of the term and find out how to retrofy your MP3 player.
In 1962 Philips invented the audiocassette, a tiny electromagnetic tape cartridge for audio storage. It was launched in 1963 with the trademark name Compact Cassette and became one of the most common formats for pre-recorded music from the early 1970s to the mid 1990s. It also enabled the consumers to record music on their own, thus it became an important medium of communication for a whole generation: cassettes served as a means of self-expression - whether emotional or concerning taste.
With the launch of Sony’s Walkman and blanket coverage of affordable tape decks, the 1980s became the compact cassette's heyday. At that time everyone was recording mixtapes. Jogging and aerobics disciples recorded the soundtrack for their training, music aficionados for people they wanted to impress or house parties they wanted to rock. Lovers dedicated tapes to the one they loved. This was the most popular utilisation.
Taped messages of love
The creation of a unique mixtape for a beloved was a popular means of conveying feelings you weren’t able to express explicitly. Making a mixed tape for someone you swoon over was like writing a love letter. It took time and effort to select and record just the right songs from your LP collection, the radio or any other source. By selecting, juxtaposing and arranging originally unrelated songs, the taper became an author/conductor utilizing words and vibes to deliver his personal message to the recipient. On top of that a lot of creative energy was employed to illustrate the cassette’s cover with appropriate visual references. The most polished examples of these sound and packing collages have artistic aspirations. Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity and Christian Gasser’s Mein erster Sanyo (engl. My First Sanyo) emphasize the importance of this form of expression to a whole generation.
Mixtape as a promotional tool
Hip hop DJs were the first to exploit the commercial potential of mixtapes. In the 1970s artists such as DJ Hollywood and Afrika Bambaataa started to sell audiocassettes with recordings of their club performances to increase their fame. Later on DJs like Kid Capri and Ron G pioneered the idea of “blends” by laying r&b a cappellas over instrumental tracks. The intro of Capri’s 10/9/89 mixtape is a prominent example, fusing Stephanie Mills’ Something In The Way You Make Me Feel with The Honey Drippers' Impeach The President. According to Egotrip's Book of Rap Lists Ron G was the first to blend hip hop beats with R'n'B vocals. His idea was the initial spark for two developments: On the one hand these blends were the prototypes of mashups, on the other hand they caused an evolution of the mixtape as MCs started to rap over classic hip hop instrumentals. Since the last decade, hip hop artists have been taking matters into their own hands, collaborating with DJs to create artist-specific mixtape-CDs including original material, with the DJ as a host only, which in most cases entailed shouting the artist's name loudly instead of mixing and scratching. Cam'ron & DJ Kay Slay established this mini-album version of mixtapes with The Diplomats Vol.1. 50 Cent succeeded by building his reputation on street-released cassettes and becoming the most successful mixtape rapper ever. He thus paved the way for the reconception of mixtapes.
Mixtapes in the age of the Internet
As the format shifted from analog to digital the mixtape became synonymous with releases that were neither mixed nor tapes. A plethora of acts such as Drake, The Weeknd, Odd Future and Dewy Sinatra offer albums for free download via their websites thus cemented the mixtape as it is commonly perceived today. According to Dewy a lot of artists “call it a mix tape because it is free”.
With the digital revolution private mixtapes developed as well. MP3-mixes have become the contemporary method of choice. The mixes are arranged on computers, iPods and other devices and distributed as podcasts, through their websites or via platforms like Soundcloud and Mixcloud. Making a mix no longer requires hours of work on your tape deck, nor is it evanescent or limited to a single copy. Most DJs and blogs use the same channels to present their mixing skills. For example the influential Gorilla vs. Bear music blog offers fresh mixes every month. Even bands like chillwaver Toro Y Moi or electronic indie act Hot Chip feel an urge to showcase their music taste with eclectic mixtapes.
Despite the apparent advantages digital mixtapes seem to lack the retro charm and physical appeal of cassettes. The look and feel of the hi-fi dinosaurs is used to zest modern products with the mysterious aura of stereo nostalgia. For example there are USB memory sticks such as Mixa and Mix Tape USB Stick in the form of a cassette. AirCassette is a cassette player app, which turns your iPhone and iPod Touch into a Walkman. It plays your music files and displays the song information on a virtual cassette label while the animated tape spins. The Mixtape Alpha is the most exceptional mixtape descendant. The miniature analogue synthesizer consists of a metal keyboard which is touched with a stylus – just like the 1960s stylophone. The cassette-like appearance and the ability to record make the difference.
All factors considered we’ve come to the conclusion that mixed tapes will survive, both in their original form and as re-interpreted offshoots. Why is that? By all appearances mixtapes are surrounded by an aura of the good old days and present hipness. The mixtape is dead. Long live the mixtape!