From Mixtape to Mixably Part 2

How an app rewinds the mixtape and plugs you into the future

If you missed out on last weeks article featuring the rise of the mixtape make sure you read it first! This week in the Mixably journal we’ll be focusing on the fall of the mixtape. Thank you for reading and we hope you enjoy.

The fall of the Mixtape

Towards the end of the 70’s the tape format was at the height of it powers. Going from strength to strength as a release format for new music as well as having the Mixtape culture following along. However tape technology was still inherently analog and still required effort to create your own recording. Ease of use became the new priority for people who were developing the next generation of music technology.

Birth of the Digital Age

The Dutch tech giant Phillips had teamed up with the Japanese Sony and was working on a brand new format that was set to take over the music world. The only problem was that music files were too big to fit on this new digital format. Phillips experimented with file compression, and the two front runners quickly became apparent. The MPEG-2 Audio Layer II (mp2) and the MPEG-2 Audio Layer III (mp3). The mp2 was an in house Phillips invention and the bias was clearly in their favour because of it. In the end the mp2 was chosen despite clearly being the inferior format. Feeling stung by this the team behind the mp3 wouldn’t go out quietly but we’ll get back to that later. The Compact Disc (CD) was the product of the joint Phillips and Sony endeavour, using technology that was first seen in the audio/visual format Laserdiscs, albeit much smaller. Investors saw the potential in the CD as a storage medium for computers as they had a far higher storage capacity than hard discs at the time. Phillips and Sony however had different ideas of the direction of this product which shaped how we see them today. In October 1982 the CD was released in Japan with 50 different titles to gain momentum. The following year in March the CD arrived with an explosion in the European and American markets and was widely adopted. Praised for quality and their convenience many artists started to release their entire back catalogue on this new format, the first to do so was the late great David Bowie. After proving themselves in the musical market CD’s were now being released as a storage format and this is where the story of the mixtape continues into the modern age.

The Mix CD and the mp3

The team that designed the mp3 (told you we’d get back to it) having been burned by Phillips were hungry for customers. A few deals were made with several companies such as the NHL, however the little exposure that was made wasn’t enough and they looked to other avenues. Still feeling as if they had been cheated by the overlords at Phillips and MPEG, the team wanted to create a home application of the format and did so with the Level 3 Encoder (L3Enc). The L3Enc was capable of ripping the songs off a CD and converting them into a file that could be played on a computer. The L3Enc was handed out at any event the creators could get to, making sure that their format was getting around. With it being so easy to get tracks from a CD onto a computer you could now burn it onto a new disc in the form of the CDR (called the CDWrite-Only at the time) with little effort. This was the latest incarnation of the mixtape and the culture just wasn’t the same. While people were still giving mix CD’s to people only certain audio players were able to play the discs (usually computer drives) and this stunted the rise of the mix CD. They were however popular for road trip mixes now that CD drives were starting to replace the old tape decks in automobiles. The real use of these were for DJ’s though who latched onto the mix CD so much that CDJ based DJ decks became the new standard. Now a DJ’s were able to craft their mixes in a way that just wasn’t possible before, creating the ultimate live mixes.

The rise of portable music

Towards the end of the 80's CD’s were starting to come into their own. With the Sony Discman and CD players being an option on all new cars music was becoming more portable than ever. The mix CD grew in popularity and use was widespread. All was not well though as there were downsides to the players. A slight bump to the player would cause the CD to skip, and Sony did try to get around this with a new format. The mini-disc, a Sony creation, was a smaller optical disc that promoted mixtape like behaviour. They ironed out a lot of the issues that portable CD players had but never really took off outside of Japan. They do have a cult following now but were discontinued in 2013. The next big thing in portable music technology turned out to be the mp3 player which made the leap of not needing the original source of music to play, just a transfer of files from a computer. This is sometimes considered the death of the album era of music as people would now only transfer their favorite songs leaving out the rest. As the storage of these devices appeared a new feature, the Playlist, was added to several devices. The spiritual successor of the mixtape they enabled people to make a list of their favorite songs in seconds even while on the go. There was one major issue though. You just couldn’t share them. Yes you could transfer the files and then create a playlist on someone else’s device which isn’t ideal for someone trying to express themselves to another. At this point it seemed like we had lost something.

Music and the Internet

With computer and internet technology improving at an exponential rate it was only a short amount of time before the next shift in the music industry. The internet was growing in strange ways not considered before. Conceived by 3 people in the late 90’s, Napster was built to be an independent peer-2-peer file sharing service. While technically not legal this service grew immensely in popularity particularly among college students. After a few artists, most notably Metallica, filed lawsuits against Napster, and the service was thus shut down after only 2 years. Leaving its mark however the file sharing trend would continue into the early 2000’s causing grievance for the music industry but free unlimited music to fans. Youtube was released in 2005 and did not take long to catch on. While it was a video sharing service people started to make their own mash up videos featuring their favorite songs. Lyric videos also started to appear really cementing the idea of streaming music across the internet. Once mobile internet services were at a place where they could compete with computer connections the mobile music streaming service began. The most widely adopted service was Spotify, released in 2008. Now there were larger groups of people all who had access to the same music library and sharing could begin again. While these playlists were cool they had lost what made mixtapes special. With a lack of limitations there became a lack of creativity. Playlists now lasted for several hours and no longer had the personal touch they once had. And this is where we come in.

The Future

Influenced by the mixtapes of old, we at Mixably are bringing back the elements of what made them so special. A social network with music sharing at its core. We are recreating the visual flair, length limitations and the sharing with the convenience of modern music applications. Send and receive mixes that once again mean something and are created by people who love music just like you. This in turn creates an experience where you no longer have to use a search engine to find music you will enjoy, it is all at your fingertips.

The future of music technology is just around the corner and you, yes you, can be part of history by signing up for Mixably here, and you can experience tomorrow today.