Author Topic: Mix-tapes and CD burners  (Read 1170 times)


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Mix-tapes and CD burners
« on: January 22, 2004, 08:42:00 pm »
two articles, one pro CD burning, on waxing nostalgic on making mix-tapes - I'm in the CD burning camp myself
 Praise be to the CD burner
 Now is the golden age of compilations and mixes, thanks to computer technology. We should all be grateful.
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 By Andrew Leonard
 Jan. 22, 2004  |  Some three years ago, I attempted to create the perfect mix tape. It was to be a thing of art and beauty. Technically, it would be without defects, dead space between songs kept to a minimum, recording volumes carefully controlled. Musically, it would delight the discerning listener with both odd juxtapositions and sublime segues. Lyrically, it would have its own narrative arc, full of love and heartbreak.
 How I labored. I was my own most vicious critic. I was ruthless, obsessive, manic. After each song was added to the mix, I would listen to the entire sequence from the beginning, to ensure that the segues were in fact flawless, that my choices stood the test of repeated exposure. If I had the slightest doubt, I would rerecord, try a different tune, go in a different direction. Over and over again.
 Then, about two-thirds completed, the tape broke. The whole thing was ruined. I was heartbroken. Had too many abrupt fast-forwards and rewinds stressed the tape, or had I rerecorded my songs one too many times? I don't know, though I suppose someone may have been trying to teach me a lesson in hubris. Whatever the case, I didn't have the heart to start over. I gave up.
 Then, a year or two later, oh happy day, I bought a new computer with a CD burner. And in that miracle-working piece of equipment I saw all my hopes and dreams for the revolutionary potential of digital technology realized. I can only scoff at the suggestion that the holy trinity of CD burners, digitized music and broadband access have somehow tainted the art of the mix by making the act of compiling songs too easy. Poppycock! The truth of the matter is entirely the opposite: CD burners have helped usher in a renaissance of mix-tape brilliance. They have freed me and millions of other mix-tape auteurs from drudgery, from being slaves to the machine. Thanks to the wonders of new technology, our only limitation now is our own creativity (excluding annoying digital rights management restrictions). Long live the burner: Mix-tape makers never had it so good.
 Indeed, I realized, this is what computers and the Internet are for: making mix CDs!
 Today, when I choose to make a mix, I can easily sort through hundreds, even thousands of songs readily available on my hard drive. No more rewinding cassette tapes endlessly to find a particular song, no more hunting through piles of CDs and albums for that elusive track. And if I need a particular song that I don't happen to have, I just go online, buy it or find it. I don't have to worry about CDs breaking or getting too scratched to play -- the playlist is always there, safe on my computer, ready to be burned again. Best of all, if I want to experiment with a different order of songs, I just drag and drop. The closest I could get to that freedom during the pre-burner Dark Ages was to program a multi-CD changer with a list of preselected songs, but even that was cumbersome.
 It has long been commonplace to decry new computer technologies as somehow depersonalizing the human experience, or making things so easy that they enable stultifying laziness. Thus, word processors that make the job of revision so painless are supposed to encourage writers to indulge in mindless bloviation, secure in the knowledge that trimming the fat is just a few clicks of the delete key away. The boon of e-mail has been charged with the crime of enabling criminally colloquial communication. The restrictions built in to Microsoft's PowerPoint, we are told, even affect how we think!
 In general, such comments usually strike me as neo-Luddism of the most juvenile kind. If you would like to spend your free time sharpening your quill pen, go right ahead. The rest of us will go on enjoying our spell-checkers and e-mailing our friends, while you wash your clothes by hand and haul water from the nearest well.
 That is not to say that computer technology is an unalloyed boon -- just ask any outsourced Silicon Valley programmer whose job is now being done over the Internet from India or China whether the globalized job market made possible by new communications technologies is peachy-keen with him or her. Or contemplate how the increased productivity of workers, thanks to computers, may well be depressing overall employment numbers. I'll even concede that some new mediums do have harmful effects; I swear I've physically felt thousands of my own brain cells die while in the midst of one too many utterly meaningless instant messaging chats.
 But that does not mean there is an inherent value to drudgery, or that we should be nostalgic about the discomfort endured when banging one's head against primitive technology. Being creative is not like training for a marathon: It's not a "no pain, no gain" type of deal. If there are ways to cut out the crap and get right to the heart of the matter, we should embrace them. Please, the next time you see a CD burner, hold it to your heart. It is proof that God smiles on the compilation maker.
 With the annoying obstacles posed by archaic technologies removed, I have more time to pay attention to what really counts: the music. More time to be a perfectionist with regard to the essence of a compilation -- the act of song selection. More time to create, to think, to do. It is easier than ever to be a mix-tape artist. Yay!
 Does the new ease of mix-making mean that the world will now be flooded with bad compilations, randomly gurgitated assemblies that demean our appeciation of music by implying that every juxtaposition is OK, that the "random shuffle" is culturally valuable? Perhaps. Maybe there should be some rules. Maybe people who've just been dumped by their lover should be prohibited from simultaneously imbibing alcohol and operating a CD burner. Hey, every rose does have its thorn, but that doesn't mean the band Poison needs to live for eternity in a million maudlin mixes.
 But, really, I don't care. I'll take that trade-off every time, in return for having my own shackles loosened.
 PCs killed the mix-tape star
 Putting together a home-brewed compilation of songs used to be an act of love and art. Now it's just too damn easy to be worth caring about.
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 By Joel Keller
 Jan. 22, 2004  |  I miss the way I used to make mixes. I'd sit in front of my tape deck, with a stack of CDs or records on one side of me, and a beverage (adult or otherwise) on the other, and spend a couple of hours or more finding just the right combination of songs to put on the tape. The levels would all match; loud songs got softened and soft songs got a boost. I would attempt to take the mix right to the end of the tape; I'd spend over an hour finding that perfect minute-and-a-half song or snippet that would fit musically with the rest of the mix.
 All the while, I would be swigging the beverage, and listening to each song as if it was the first time I'd heard it, usually with head down and some appendage keeping time. After a side was done, I'd rewind, punch out the tab, put on a custom-made label, and go to bed knowing that I've made something that I or my friends were going to enjoy for years to come.
 This experience is not unique among music fans, as any die-hard song mixer will tell you. Mix tapes have been mentioned in various pop culture forums almost since the invention of the cassette, the most famous and loving example being in Nick Hornby's novel "High Fidelity." In the book, Rob Fleming, the owner of a London record store and the main character of the novel, explains in extraordinary detail what doing a proper mix tape entails: "You've got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention, and then you've got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch. You can't have two tracks by the same artist, unless you've done the whole thing in pairs, and, oh, there are loads of rules." Most of us who've poured hours and hours into our mix tapes would be able to rattle off a similar set of rules.
 But "High Fidelity" was released in 1995, a time when the music-listening world did not have CD burners, high-speed Internet access, and MP3 players. In the nine years since the book came out, the way most people listen to music has changed dramatically. All of the above methods of music listening are created by the PC, a device that is decidedly different from the old stereo system that Rob Fleming used to record his meticulous mixes. Unfortunately, the technological advances that have made music portability easier to accomplish have taken the entire visceral experience of making the mix and reduced it to just another procedure that can be executed with a few clicks of a mouse.
 Because a temperamental tape deck in my old car kept eating my tapes, I started making CD mixes about three years ago. Compare the way I used to do my tape mixes with the way I do things now: I sit in front of my PC and either rip an entire CD to disk or download files from any of the legal services like iTunes or Musicmatch (in pre-litigation days, I will admit I downloaded the occasional song via Kazaa). I drag the song titles from my song list to the playlist window; I check to see if there are any abrupt endings or bad transitions, but I rarely listen to the songs all the way through. Once I'm satisfied, I pop in a CD-R, hit "record" and go to sleep. No muss, no fuss. And not nearly as much fun.
 Many people who don't have the same passion for the mix as I do simply copy entire collections of MP3s to CD or onto their iPod, not caring what order the songs are in. "I can now rip or download the songs I want to MP3. Then I dump them onto one of my MP3 players. The way the process has improved for me is that I can just hit shuffle and not know what the order [of songs] is always going to be," says Jason Meurer, an engineer from New Jersey. He is one of the people who answered my e-mail queries regarding people's mixing methods. From the limited sample I received, I noticed that while a fair number of people still perform meticulous mixes, just as many play randomly from their massive MP3 collections. No one has made a mix tape in years.
 That's a shame. The process of making a mix tape gave people a connection with music that the electronic version simply can't replace. Because it is so easy to drag and click a mix into existence, the sense of satisfaction with making what many feel is a work of art gets diminished.
 "On the subways you see people with iPods. They have, what, a thousand songs on them. Ten thousand, even. They stare random-glared into oblivion. [R]obots with shitty music taste and too much money to spend on music-listening hardware and shoes, in that order," is how Sal Tuzzeo Jr., a music writer, describes the phenomenon. Fewer people who are connected to the music they listen to translates into a less critical and picky audience for the crapola that the record companies and radio stations promote. The quality of music overall goes downhill.
 Why don't I just go back to doing tapes, then? Well, I could go back, but I would have nothing to play those tapes on. Most cars no longer come with tape decks as standard equipment. Tape-based boomboxes are rare finds. MP3 players are smaller and easier to take on a jog than a tape-based Walkman. When making the decision between practicality and artistic merit, I'll choose practicality more often than not. I may be wistful for the old days, but I'm not an idiot.
 So let's have a moment of silence, for the mix as we used to know it is dead. Technology has overtaken the experience and made it cold and impersonal. But it's time to look forward, as the Internet has allowed us to trade and download more varied types of music, making for better-sounding, albeit more antiseptic, mixes. One of these days, Nick Hornby should do a sequel to "High Fidelity" and list Rob's Top 5 music downloads. I'm sure it'll be a nice read. But it just won't be the same.

thirsty moore

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Re: Mix-tapes and CD burners
« Reply #1 on: January 22, 2004, 08:53:00 pm »
Damn shame he's wrong about this.
Originally posted by brennser:
 "On the subways you see people with iPods. They have, what, a thousand songs on them. Ten thousand, even. They stare random-glared into oblivion. Robots with shitty music taste and too much money to spend on music-listening hardware and shoes, in that order," is how Sal Tuzzeo Jr., a music writer, describes the phenomenon.