The internet was the best thing to ever happen to music.
I know that many musicians, producers, and whatnot disagree with me, but they're looking at music from a business standpoint. I look at music as art; back in the day, and by that I mean before the internet, what kind of music did people listen to? Whatever was on the radio. What type of music was popular? Whatever was on the radio. I can't even imagine the power these record executives held over the general public. Whatever they said, went.
But who listens to the radio anymore? I don't.
(In my defence though, Vancouver, for a metropolitan city, has the most homogeneous mix of radio stations. It's either mainstream rap, hard rock, or QMFM soft favourites. The latter was played at my orthodontist, and to this day still reminds me of retainer glue and getting my teeth filed down)
I find artists and bands through the internet; if I see a movie and the soundtrack resonates deeper than any of the dialogue, I look it up. If I want to know which bands are popular in Europe right now, I can check that country’s iTunes chart (despite iTunes having yet to allow the purchase of music between countrys). My friends and I rap along to K-pop videos we’ve seen on YouTube, while Korean kids can see the latest Canadian indie video shot in Toronto. ‘The X-Factor’, the original ‘American Idol’, is broadcast live via YouTube, and clips from ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ landed Susan Boyle the number one album in the world.
OK, I’ll end history lesson. What was the point of all that?
The point is that the music industry has evolved; no record executive can tell you what to listen to as long as your local garage band is posting their demos on MySpace. Unknown bands can establish fan bases through comments and friend requests, and word of mouth has become the new publicist. Kids in remote Middle America can listen to music in languages they’re parents have never heard of, and no one can stop them.
Then comes the double-edged sword, however; with so much to choose from, what do you download?
With so many ‘journalists’ sitting behind computer screens and blogging about the latest ‘it’ band, how do we know who’s word to take? Are the reviews driven by opinion, or endorsements?
In a digital age where anonymity is the norm, who really gives the best advice?
Simple: your friends.
Think of how connected you are; how many forums you frequent, how many YouTube videos you’ve seen, how many bands have sent you a friend request on Facebook, etc.
Think of how much music you’ve stumbled across in your internet travels. Now double it.
If you’ve been able to amass an eclectic collection of today’s (and yesterday’s) greatest music, so have your friends.
What else do your friends have? MP3s.
So easily compacted into a tiny iPod and so easily sharable, plus invisible, so the breakability factor goes way down (sorry, CDs).
OK, so you’ve got your friends, and you’ve got your MP3 players of choice. Now what?
Take a step back into the past.
Enter the mixtape; a collection of songs of varying artists and genres, originally recorded onto a cassette tape (thus ‘mixtape’), though now normally burned onto a CD.
My friends and I called our group ‘The Mixtape Project’; we were a group of kids fuelled by ‘High Fidelity’ starring a young John Cusack, and our combined love of music and lyrics.
Basically, we wanted to discover new songs while keeping the intimacy of physically making someone an album, complete with linear notes and cover art, that had been lost somewhere in the early noughties.
Every week a Facebook a message would be sent out regarding the next theme of the tapes; we then had one week to complete the mix and cover art. To make sure that the CDs were distributed evenly, a list of our names was compiled alphabetically, and your name minus ‘x’ was who you’re tape was for.
The first step was creating a theme, which is more difficult than it sounds; our first topic was easy: love, though we made it a bit more difficult by changing it to ‘love transcends all, even death’ (we were reading a lot of Wordsworth and Coleridge in English Lit. at the time).
Other themes included hate, travel, your personal top ten favourite songs, and the essentials of whatever your favourite genre of music is. We also did a free for all week, where themes such as ‘awesome music’ emerged.
Next is creating the mix itself. There’s no concrete way to go about doing this; my objective was to create a list of songs that flowed. Start off with a bang, slowly fade to more melodic tracks, and then build up to the end. The ending track is the most important; what message do you want to relay to your listener?
The mix should be the average length of an album, ten to fourteen songs. A girl in The Mixtape Project attempted twenty plus song mixes, but no one was listening beyond track sixteen.
The last step is optional, but highly recommended: cover art. We were a diverse cross-section of high school students; some made images on their laptops, some painted and drew, and I used my photography, or searched deviantart.com for the perfect image. Whatever we did, it made the experience more personal; our CDs weren’t to be discarded after being downloaded into iTunes, they were to be kept, to be looked over while the recipient plugged in their headphones and indulged in the music.
We did this for a couple months, until the stress of final exams and university applications took precedence over our playlists, and it sticks in my mind as one of my fondest teenage memories.
I still listen to my mixes; I’ve discovered new artists, laughed over some odd choices, expanded my musical horizons, but above all, learned more about my friends then I ever could within a conversation.
That was the side effect none of us expected. We listen to music because it takes what we could never say and says it for us. Every lyric is personal; we are who we really are in music. The most intimate thing a person can do is share their favourite song; thanks to The Mixtape Project, we did that every week.
We live in an age of technology, an age where corporations are slowly losing their grip on the public mind, and anyone can say or be anyone behind a black profile and the name ‘Anonymous’.
The Mixtape Project brought a small group of Vancouver high school students together; on the surface it was about music, on a deeper level, friendship.
The internet may provide us with any genre of music we may covet, but what’s the point if behind it is just some unmarked source? Where’s the emotion?
You know that song? That one song that everyone in the world should hear? The one that’ll change your life?
Buy a black CD. Make a mix.
Change someone’s life.