Thursday, 20 January 2011

Is Spotify Killing the Mixtape?

Or has it already killed it? Because I'm a kind-hearted soul, I'm currently in the process of making a mix CD for, well, for anyone who took up my offer of a mix CD of tracks from my favourite albums of 2010. It's a fun process, making a mix, trying to make sure all the tracks flow into each other, that there's some kind of natural progression. I like to group all my mix CDs into halves, essentially, and the halves into another, less well marked half. And there's a lot of fun you can have with it, messing around with the format, or just feeling smug when you unwittingly create an amazing link between two tracks.

"I'm a Mac. I'm a PC. We look like a pair of total spods." (Please, please come up with a better caption than that. I'm begging you.)

Before I go any further, it's worth pointing around that I'm aware that I'm coming at this from a rather...neologistic perspective. The fact that I've used “mixtape” and then switched to “mix CD”. Yeah, I am aware that it was the casette that really first allowed normal music fan plebs like me to start messing around with all their music. In High Fidelity, Rob creates tapes for girls, and it's that very organic, very labour-intensive process that's part of his rather oddball charm. He sits in front of a tapedeck for several hours, we can just imagine how it is. We get a snippet of it in the film, but you can imagine him doing that for all his crushes, throughout his life. These days, the process is a bit simpler, arrange the tracks in WMP or iTunes or something, then press “Burn”. It's not quite the same thing, and certainly isn't so romantic. There's probably a whole heap of subtext you can read into that, foremost in my mind that of whether the lack of effort we put into things is killing...well, something. But that's for another blogpost.

You could suggest that I should've asked whether Spotify's merely delivering the coup de grace to a rather diminished pastime, but you're being pedantic, and seeing as I'm already in paragraph 3 and haven't started answering, it's time to get started. As I mentioned earlier, the process of burning a mix CD is pretty simple, all told. But you've still got to do the tiny bits of work, y'know, writing the tracklist, actually buying the CDs, CD cases, doing the artwork if you're so inclined. And if you're an awkward gawky teen, nervously hand it over to woman of your dreams, either suggesting that “hope you like some of it”, or promising the Velvet Underground will change their life or something. Generally while your zits are in danger of reaching critical mass.

Spotify just takes all that away, and more. With this programme, you can connect to tens of other friends and with just a click or twenty, you've shared a playlist with a heck of a lot of other people. There's absolutely nothing personal about it, and moreso much less thought and internal conflict involved in the whole process. Despite myself, I enjoy trimming that Beach House track I thought I couldn't do without, or that Neil Young song I'd take a gamble on them having heard already. It's a horrible process, but no pleasure without pain etc etc. But hey, with Spotify, you don't need to worry about time limits, you can put anything on. And you do. You get indiscriminate, and the whole thing numbers 40 or 50 songs. Not in any order, either, because with that many what'd be the point, it's best put on random and just played whatever. No-one tries to put that many songs on an album, except maybe Stephen Merritt. And I really really hate Stephen Merritt. it killing mixtaping/mixCDing? Or am I just getting old. Heck, when I was younger I was said gawky teen, making mixCDs (and yes, it was CDs) for all the girls I had designs on, and it never failed to get me completely and utterly nowhere. In any case, be it because of paucity of success or because these days I seem to know a lot more people already into similar music to myself (because as a teenager you're convinced that it'll be the thrill of discovery that you gets you there – discovering amazing music being tied to you and thus, er, getting you into dreamgirl's knickers. Or in my case, not), but I haven't made a mixCD with the implict intention of getting a snog for ages. And this is the first one I've made for friends in ages, too. I'll check the list of people who want it, but I'm fairly sure I don't want to snog any of them. Actually, that might not be true, but I'm fairly sure I won't be snogging any of them. Stop talking about snogging you loser.

I think maybe I'm answering my own initial question with a “no”, here. I like Spotify, it's hell of useful, and bigger playlists, like the one my friend made prior to Belle & Sebastian's ATP are useful as anything. I use it to discover lots of new music, and listen to odd tracks I don't own elsewhere. I don't know whether teenagers are using it to impress the opposite sex (or maybe same sex, let's not discriminate here), but I'd like to think not, if only because there's something heartening in knowing that future generations will repeat your mistakes (so long as your mistakes weren't like, starting a land war in Asia) and learn from them. Or not learn from them.

The mixCD's got much to recommend it. And I think it's the personal touch, especially in an area when no-one really owns casette players, which really does it for me. I'll admit I was taken aback that people wanted to listen to a CD I'd compiled of stuff from last year, and I took it as a massive compliment that so many people (double figures!) expressed an interest. Hopefully, I'll be making them a good selection, full of stuff they've not heard that they take an instant liking to. I'm definitely hoping for a goosebump or two.

Of course, I'll write a piece on the CD when it's done, and hey, if you want, I can send you a copy too. Unless you'd rather wait for the Spotify playlist.


  1. minidisc mix or nowt, spotify can do one.

  2. I trust your selection. And I will snog you.

    However, I agree that it's less personal but I wouldn't say it's 'killing' the Mix Tape, but redesigning it. Re booting it. I would imagine Rob from High Fidelity would say the same for you about making the CD mix - rather than lining up transitions and recordings (something I used to do, interestingly, with tape). So I don't think it'll kill it, but will create more value in the creation of a CD mix.

    In the recent DiS mixtape swap I asked for CD 4 CD. A few people asked for Spotify and I don't see anything wrong with that, but it is a change.

    I wondered if you were going to mention Muxtape and that fact that a site that allowed you to creat personal uploaded Mixes online would be interesting. Imagine if Spotify allowed you to skin the look of the background of the playlist you create, that you could upload images that linked to your playlist or something? Maybe even a text file? That'd be a good personalisation of the online system.

  3. Mark, I see your points, in fact I do try to touch on them, particularly the tape/CD problem.

    The issue for me is that every single step we take, from casette to CD to various online services now, makes it that one bit easier to do. Now, from a purely utilitarian point of view this is a good thing, because it makes things easier to do, which means more gets done.

    The problem for me is that the mixtape/CD isn't by definition a utilitarian enterprise. It's something born essentially from a love of music, often including a love of a person in there as well. And to peel away layers of personality and general care that is put in, well, you're not killing the mixtape, but you're certainly destroying its magic for the music fans of the future for whom this may become the norm.

  4. I sure would like your mix! I just stumbled upon this blog when looking for info on how to burn a spotify mix someone sent me to cd....and now I want that mix of the best of 2010. Is it possible? Do dreams come true?