From Mixtape to Mixably

How an app rewinds the mixtape to connect you with the future.

Welcome to the Mixably journal: We will be releasing more articles like this in the future about music and music technology. The following article is the first of two parts. Please feel free to leave your feedback and we hope you enjoy.

Part 1: The analog days

It seems almost romantic doesn’t it? Capturing the sounds that reflect your feelings and handing them to your potential significant other. The beauty of the Mixtape wasn’t the collection of songs contained within, but what they meant. They were more than just a sum of their parts. All of this makes it seem strange that as technology has gotten better, this aspect of our music culture has slowly faded away.

In the Beginning

In order to understand the birth of mixtapes and their significance in history we need to rewind back to the start. The mixtape became possible after the introduction of an exciting new music technology that looked like it would replace vinyl records. Before this new technology was made available vinyl records were the only way for someone to buy and listen to their favorite music. They were so widely used that it would take something special to replace them. In the end it was the limitations of the vinyl record that ultimately led to new technology being developed. While it was impossible for a home listener to record onto vinyl the new RCA Sound Tape Cartridges that were released changed all that. Even though the RCA format was short lived and rather unsuccessful it paved the way for the future.

The Rise of the Tape Format

Before they became mainstream, tape decks for cars were sold alongside vinyl record players. With vinyl records being so large and requiring an equally large player, as well as being effected by road conditions, they weren’t as viable as a portable music source that tapes were. Car manufacturers, particularly in the USA saw the potential in the tape format. A smaller version of the RCA Sound Tape Cartridge the 8-Track Tape was the first introduced into automotive industry. Ford in particular pioneered by adding tape players as an optional extra on three of their existing models. This contributed to the success of tape based formats and also led to people recording their own. People were now recording their vinyl records onto tapes so they could listen to their favorite albums while driving. There were other tape formats such as the 4-track Tape but they weren’t as widely adopted as the 8-track. This is where the story of the mixtape really begins.

The Rise of the Mixtape

Compact Cassette Tapes really brought audio recording into the home with cheap and simple ways to record from radio, vinyl records and even from other prerecorded tapes. All you needed were a few blank tapes, a music source and a tape recorder and you were ready to go. It still wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to create a mixtape, it required patience and good planning to make it the best it could be, but that also made it more rewarding. Mixtapes became a form of expression. An extension of one’s emotions that could be packaged and given to a friend or potential significant other. The youth really attached to this new musical subculture and it began to penetrate pop culture and still has a presence today. Just look at Guardians of the Galaxy. Suddenly after sharing mixtapes among themselves young people had access to a music library that they could only dream of. Not only that, each tape had its own story to go along with it. Because of the simple packaging it was easy for people to decorate them with a cover, notes and a tracklist furthering the appeal. Mixtapes could even be considered to be the first form of social media.

The evolution of the Mixtape

Personal mixtapes aren’t always the first thing to come to mind when the word is mentioned. Nowadays a mixtape is more synonymous with the DJ Mixtape. Starting at parties, DJ’s would record their set onto tape cassettes and give them out/sell them to people who enjoyed the songs they played that night. Once their full potential was realised DJ Mixtapes were then mailed back and forth between clubs and music venues. A side effect of this was sometimes DJ’s wouldn’t actually perform and would just press play on their tape player. Young aspiring hip-hop MC’s started to record over the DJ mixtapes as a way of creating their own music, proving themselves to the world. This is probably the most common response to the word mixtape as the phrase is still being used today.

The compact cassette mixtape continued strong into the early 90's, however everything started to change when the next wave of music technology was introduced.

Tell us about you

So what was your first mixtape? We would love to hear from you in the comments along with any feedback. Also our new music app Mixably is bringing back the spirit of the mixtape and is currently in open beta and you can sign up right here!