Inspired by an article in the Observer some weeks ago in which Sean O'Hagan talks about the way our 'digital lifestyle' has killed the mix tape, Tom Farrell (who still gets my vote for Ireland's funniest blogger) recently wrote a post on the subject of mix tapes which reminded me of the response to the Observer article I had drafted but not yet finished. So I finished it.
Reading Sean O'Hagan's story of the emotions he felt while recently compiling a mix tape is fascinating and I'd encourage everyone to read it as an eloquently-written piece of nostaligia. But I strongly disagree with his article's suggestion that mp3s have somehow made music less personal and I think he's just plain wrong to suggest that "mix tapes" are somehow dead. They're not - they've just evolved.
The "Mix CD" is the most basic 21st Century representation of the "Mix Tape". Sure, it might not be as difficult to compile these as it was to compile a mix tape, but this doesn't mean they're any less important or meaningful. I would even suggest that these are more important, more meaningful. With the actual creation of the CDs mostly taken care of by software like iTunes which allows the user to just click and burn a CD, more time can be spent putting thought into the content of these mixes. This means that the medium is no longer the message. The message is the message.
One of the traditions of the thumped.com Christmas bash is the 'mix exchange'. Everyone who comes is encouraged to bring a mix tape/cd, put it into a box and in return, this entitles them to take someone else's mix from the box. I've gotten some great stuff from this, and in recent years, have seen this taken to the next level: Mix DVD featuring some of the year's best movies (it's not like this is any more or less legal than a mix tape).
And what about when we outgrow CDs too? Well, we're already seeing the next stage in the evolution of the mix tape. Sites like Out of Five offer weekly themed collaborative mixes. Collaborative! Can you imagine the logistics of trying to do a collaborative mix tape?!
Personally, I think the whole thing has less to do with the death of the mix tape or music being less personal and more to do with the fact that the writer has reached the stage in his life where mix tapes are somehow 'immature' and music isn't the most important thing in his life. He and his friends have become old farts: grown up and settled into a rather rigid existence; less willing to try new things.
And After all, It's hard to put thought and effort into a mix when you don't have anyone to give it to.