Lost: My ‘mixtape’ skills. If found, please return here.

I probably should’ve noticed this a long time ago, but I didn’t realize it until I was putting together yet another playlist for my iPod. It’s the kind of playlist I find typical with most iPod/Zune/whichever mp3 player of choice you’re using (this isn’t a debate about the merits of each one, so Apple/Microsoft bashers go run along and write about your superior machine somewhere else): 50+ tunes that catch your eye and within a matter of moments you’re good to go. It’s convenient, no doubt…but there used to be a ‘skill’ to putting a mixtape (and later on, mix CD) together, and I’ve simply lost it.

Putting together a mixtape was a labor of love for me. With 45 minutes on each side (sorry, 60 minute tapes just seemed a waste), I had to plan how to lay out the songs I wanted. I’d try to keep the space between each song less than a second to pack on as much as possible (hey, when I started doing this I was spending good allowance money on blank tapes, had to get the most for my $), and also just tried to make sure there was a decent flow to it. I never wanted too many fast or slow songs in a row, and I’d always try to limit the mix to no more than two songs by the same artist. A couple of hours later, the mix is complete. I’d usually fire it up right then and there, but if I thought it was really good I’d wait until I was with friends before debuting the mixtape-if it made it through the whole play without getting a “can we fast forward through this song, it sucks”…SUCCESS. I’d also go through phases where I’d make mixes but deliberately left the tracks unlabeled, so I could just listen to them sometime down the road. More often than not, they would be like a little window into what my state of mind was at the time: if it was a bit on the mellow side chances are I had just broken up with someone, and if it was more on the sunny side I must’ve had some good fortune come my way. It was always fun listening to what I was enjoying (or not) at the time.

Making a mixtape for someone special? Even more planning, because now the tape takes on the added dimension of trying to deliver a message (yes, I was one of those that relied more on my music selection to say what I wanted to say instead of actually saying it…sometimes it worked). That’s the power of music, though-it can cover a wide range of emotions in different people, and I figured if I could get to know someone well enough I could put a tape together that I just knew she’d love. Sure it was a time consuming process, and on more than one occasion I probably should’ve been studying instead of looking for just the right track but ultimately the mixtape was just as much for me as it was for the one I was making it for.

Go forward a few years, and all of a sudden it’s possible to burn discs. That definitely took a lot of time off the process, but a majority of the time I had less space (around 70-80 minutes worth of blank CD) to work with. Printing up nice little CD cases was a nice bonus, and even better if you had one of those CD label makers (which I did) to really spruce it up for someone…of course, if you take a nice look at those stickers now they look all warped and make the disc difficult to be listened to unless you want to watch your CD player destruct Mission Impossible-style (I’ve always wanted to try that). Anyway, a short time later various mp3 players would hit the market-now all you’re limited to is whatever storage space you have. Set it to random if you choose, and your mp3 player will do the rest.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love my iPod-anyone that has set foot in my car in the past knows that there were usually a stack of tapes (later, CD cases) scattered all over the interior of the car like a Tower Records had met an untimely demise there. It’s nice not having to explain that mess to people anymore, and it’s also nice not having to fumble around for another tape or CD to play while doing 80 70 down the freeway. But I also fell so far into the trap of throwing a bunch of songs in a playlist and just letting the iPod do the rest of the work, that it might be hard to dig out. Can’t hurt to try though.

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