Monday, September 7, 2009

Mix CDs: My Thoughts On Them and Why They're More Important Than I've Been Treating Them

I was chilling out at Jordyn and Nicole's room tonight, and while Kelly played Wii Fit, Jordyn started rifling through a large stack of mix CDs that she's made herself over the school years. Now, when I say large, I mean one of those huge (and I mean HUGE) spindles that's meant to hold at least 75 or so. Anyways, she pulled off like half the stack and we started listening to them one after another, occasionally stopping to listen to a part of a song, but mostly just skipping through after like three seconds of recognition.

We've all played THAT game before, where you're cruising through someone else's mix while on the bus or in someone's room, not to listen to the songs, but to listen to see if you can recognize anything. This is something that is starting to wain a little in the era of iPods and Pandora-suggested music binges, which is ironic because the ability to create a mix has never been easier. Playlists seem like they're meant to bridge the gap between a burned CD-R and a 120-gig iPod Classic, but there are too many small differences; you have to force the person to listen to your playlist on YOUR iPod, which cuts down on the sharable nature of the mix, and playlists have the potential to be INCREDIBLY lengthy, whereas mix CDs have to be 80 minutes or less, no questions asked.
Nine steps forward, but one step back

I was a huge mix fan when I was younger. All throughout middle school and into my freshman year of high school, I made mixes for myself and other people. I specifically remember having a mix titled "Road Rock" that I would throw on when we drove to Missoula for a Grizzly game (it had "Satellite" by P.O.D. and other stuff like that), and I always had a different mix for when we would go on the road to a track meet in 8th grade. Even into high school, I still made a few mixes here and there for my trusty DiscMan. Heck, I even made myself a radio-recorded mixTAPE during the summer of 2003!

Then I got my iPod, and that sort of thing went out the window for a while. This was also the time when I started getting really heaver into music, specifically into albums. I loved the coherentness and tightness that albums represented, so I slowly moved away from random collections of songs, to bodies of work that could represent themselves out of context. So for a while, I stopped making mixes and went with regular albums.
Let's face it, these don't look as good in CD wallets

Then in 2005, my friend Jeff's sister Amy asked if I could give her any bands that she could look into. Since I'm always sort of a hoity-toity highbrow when it comes to finding new music for people (I also like listening to more obscure, discoverable bands), I was only too happy to put together a collection of songs. This time, instead of haphazardly throwing all of the songs I wanted onto a disc, I sat down and deliberately thought out the genres I was representing, the sequencing of each song and how well they flowed into each other, and if I had a good balance of "lead single" songs versus "supporting" songs. It was a bit of work, but it was very rewarding. So much so, in fact, that I decided to christen it with a title: Testermix.

That sort of kicked off a mix Renaissance for me: I would make mixes for people at their request, sometimes with better results than others. It was fun to share music, and interesting for me to try and revisit my songs and rearrange them into something that felt cohesive and different. However, since I was making them largely for other people, I couldn't experience the thrill and nostalgia of seeing what the next track was, mostly because I didn't keep a hard copy for myself.

It wasn't until last month that I finally realized the pull that mix CDs have had on me, and how much I really value them. It started with Regi giving me a crapton of music when he visited Bozeman in August. Naturally, when you give someone a crapton of musc, there's a good chance that you can become lost in all of it. Fortunately for me, though, Regi was thoughtful enough to put together a companion mix to help introduce me to the artists he was putting on my hard drive. I ended up listening to the mix way more than I anticipated, which helped remind me of how useful and entertaining a good mix can be if executed properly.

The second thing happened a few weeks later, when I was visiting down in Colorado and stopped by Regi's. I figured I'd return him the favor, so I scoured my library and turned out another Testermix, only this time, since I was using some recent favorites, I ended up listening to the whole thing multiple times over the course of the trip. I made a couple minor tweaks to that mix and gave it to a coworker at RightNow, Joelle, as a means to introduce her to Goodnight Sunrise. I remember when I gave it to her, she said something to the effect of "Awesome! No one does this sort of thing anymore, so thanks!"
This woman is chock full of unconventional wisdom

The more I thought about what she said, the more I realized that people DON'T do mixes much anymore. This is a shame to me, because mixes are some of the most social things you can do with your music: you can share it with people and help them find new music, or at least give them memories of you. I remember a couple mixes from Luke's friends much better than I remember the actual people!

And so, to close, I'm setting up a new suggestion for myself: I'm going to try and create more mixes for myself and eventually burn them onto CD. Lately I've been having a hard time of choosing what to listen to on the way to class, so this could be just the fix I need. I think I'll also pass the benefits on to my dear readers, as I will be including further mixes in future blog posts; that way, you can follow along at home as well! In the meantime, here's a nice 7-song EP of some old-school Andrew joints to get you started:

1) Autopilot Off - "Make A Sound"
2) Jurassic 5 - "Great Expectations"
3) Little Brother - "The Becoming"
4) The Roots - "Get Busy"
5) Thrice - "Staring At The Sun"
6)Black Star - "Definition"
7) Fall Out Boy - "Grand Theft Autumn"


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