Making mixtapes is art and science. You want to show off your awesome taste, but also make something they'll love and listen to over and over. How do you balance impressive obscurity and feelgood hits? Do you go with a genre or theme - or let Otis Redding rub shoulders with Royksopp and the Modern Lovers and be damned? Structuring also presents a challenge - you need to allow for light and shade, but every opener and closer must be immaculately chosen. And then there are liner notes and artwork to tangle with. Phew!
It's a pretentious quirk to keep referring to them as mixtapes when no one has the patience, or indeed the equipment, to actually do them on cassette anymore. But I think the best mixtapes, even on CD, retain a kindred spirit with their magnetically spooled ancestors. Respect for the brevity of the format. A desire to be listened to in toto, in sequence, without fast forwarding (in bygone times, such would wear out both the tape and your Walkman batteries). And an invitation to obsessive overanalysis that goes hand in hand with its take-me-everywhere-with-you portability.
Yup, the only thing better than making the perfect mixtape? Is recieving one.
For more on mixtapes and their cultural significance, see:
- Hornby, N. (1995) High Fidelity (the film version is also serviceable)
- How to make a perfect mixtape (Wikihow)
- Mixtape Me
- Cassette From My Ex
Note: those pictured above aren't mixtapes, but oft-recycled cassettes of band interviews from my salad days as a street press rock journo. Too many great interviews to pick a best one, but I think the worst was being so awed by Paul Kelly I ran out of things to say. And the weirdest was a stoned Daniel Johns talking about putting peas in his iPod. Good times.