The subtle art of curation, exploration, and listenization of the mixtape.
When I was in college, my friend Devon hosted mixtape parties. The formula was simple: invite-only Facebook event, names distributed to each person in a DM, and the set date for the mixtape swap. Any format was an option but cassettes were always encouraged (by the way, this was like, 2 years ago, and I’m certain these types of parties are not exclusive to college crowds). To curate the perfect mix, these swaps usually occurred around emotionally vulnerable and seasonal transitions: Valentine’s Day, the beginning of summer, or Christmas. People search for a date in February, get naked in June, and gather the tinder and Tindr to build a fire in winter. I’d argue that curating songs for a mix in 2015 is much more difficult than in the days of our parents. Or at least mine, when it was FM radio and record stores that captured a more specific, universal definition of the songs that say “I’m so happy/sad/heartbroken.” You dig through all your streaming services, your personal collection, your digital and analog formats – everything. And if you’re not even close to being a rookie with recording, it can be a daunting task to put any mix together that doesn’t have a link you can copy and paste.
The less I knew the person, the easier it was to compile a mix. If I saw them at a Sic Alps show, I’d use it as a diving board for whatever else music they swam in on a daily basis. But if I knew the person or even worse, had a crush on them, it was all-consuming. How the fuck was I supposed to keep it neutral while subtly allude to deeper feelings? Am I boringly repeating the same “flavor of the week” singles on a vapid, shallow pool of indie staples? And at this point, putting “Caring is Creepy” on a mix may as well send the whole project to the annals of obscurity and overblown nostalgia. They may hate it, listen to it halfway and dismiss the rest of it, a book half read for its tedium and banal subject matter (not everyone wants a heartbreak mix, even if they are).
Or, you could make a mix that stays in the car stereo all summer, it could introduce the listener to a new world they’ve never heard until track five. It could change how they see you for how you see them, perhaps tapping a well of inner emotion overflowing with commiseration and understanding. That opportunity to find someone in a dozen-plus songs is too good to pass up.
No matter what Spotify radio station they have with creepily specific titles like “Thursday morning commute,” and the worst culprit “Road Trip,” it will never resonate the way a mixtape is made person-to-person. I feel lucky to have mixes from my friends over the years, my best friends and people whom I discovered connected with me musically more than I thought. So make one for your friend, your significant other, or hell, make one for me. Teach me a thing or two.