Although some people think the era of the mixtape is over, I disagree. Of course, nobody is sitting around listening to the radio waiting for a particular song to come on so they can record it, and I think audio streaming on Spotify and YouTube has cut down somewhat on the music pirating people used to do to make mixed CDs, but now we are in the era of the playlist.
Granted, there’s something to be said for the labor that goes into making a mixtape or mixed CD. I tried making a mixed CD earlier this year, to try to relive some of the glory of making them in middle and high school, and it was so difficult to track down all the songs I wanted to use, especially when all the CDs I owned as a kid are scattered throughout time and space (as in, two homes, four apartments and three colleges). I also feel a little fortunate that I still have a sketchbook from high school where I wrote down the song list for two mixed CDs I made, so it was fun to see that and recreate it. I definitely picked some songs just to seem cultured and not because I really wanted to express anything with the selection.
Nowadays people make playlists, usually on a program like Spotify that lets you stream music and create as many playlists as you like that you can then share. Some people get really specific with their playlists (“Overnight at an abandoned church during a zombie apocalypse,” for instance), but a lot of people like using the feature to make playlists for each other, just like a mixtape or mixed CD.
Sometimes people use these mixes just to share music they like with other people, giving them a chance to hear songs they may not have heard before. I also view them as a puzzle, though, a way to send messages without being overt. What is the person trying to tell me by choosing these songs? Do they just think it’s something I’d like, or are they trying to say something more? Of course, one of the most cliche uses of a mixtape is to confess a crush, and while I definitely tried to go that route in high school, it never panned out for me (my selections might have been too indirect, or else the people I gave them to never listened to them). That being said, if you’re already in a relationship with someone, mixtapes might be a cute way to show affection.
Regardless of the intended purpose of the mixtape, or playlist as the case may be, I still enjoy getting them. The thing about getting a playlist, or being recommended a movie or book, or being lent something, is that it feels like a way of spending time with someone even if they’re not there with you. You’re getting a tiny peek into how their mind works, into what they enjoy. It also gives you a shared point of reference, something you can talk to each other about. You can share perspectives and learn more about each other.
There’s some amount of time investment required in that, of course. A standard playlist, that is to say, one that would fit on a CD, will run about an hour. That’s another reason why they feel so intimate, though, you’re committing an hour of your time to this other person, to interacting with something they’ve made for you. It’s not only an act of affection on the part of the person who made it, but it’s also an act of affection to listen.
Johanna Armstrong is the editor of the Lifestyle section.