I’ve always collected vinyl for one reason, or another. When I was a kind in the 90’s, I collected vinyl mostly because it was dirt cheap and nobody wanted it. It was basically a means for me to accumulate as much music as I could, for as little dollars as possible. Seeing as I had no money as a kid, this seemed like the proper and astute route to take. In the summers my best friend Joe O’Brien and I would collect cans. After cashing them in, and dividing up the fruits of our labor we would head on down to a local shop called Rock & Sports Collectibles. As the name suggests, the shop specialized in sports memorabilia, records, CD’s and tapes.
As much as I love vinyl, my first experience with physical music actually came via cassette. When I was around eight years old, I found an original cassette of KISS’ Love Gun from 1977. It had no cover or case, and thus its white plastic exterior had turned a creamy yellow after being exposed to the elements for twenty years. I didn’t know it then, but this cassette would begin my obsession with music, more specifically – physical music. So, when Joe and I began to visit Rock & Sports Collectibles more often, I began to not only buy vinyl but cassettes as well.
I grew up in a time just when cassettes were waning, and CD’s were really booming. Still, mix-tapes – not mix CD’s just yet, but mix-tapes – were an important part of the friendship rituals of 80’s and 90’s kids. If you were a kid I liked and wanted to be friends with, I might make you a 60 or 90-minute cassette where I would show off my tastes. Furthermore, it was an easy way for my best friend Joe and I to share music with one another. You have to remember that back then there was no Apple Music. There was no Spotify. There wasn’t even YouTube. Sharing music wasn’t as simple as copy and pasting a link, and texting it over. No, back then you had to get all your tapes, CD’s and records out. Then you had to take an actual pen to paper and compile a physical list of songs you wanted to record to a blank tape. Oh, and there is the matter of the tape. You had to go out to the local pharmacy or department store, and buy those. There was no Amazon Prime next-day service.
In the mid to late 90’s, my friend Joe and I would make mix-tapes for each other all the time. Also, there was a sort of agreement between us, where if one of us bought a new CD or tape, we would always make a copy for the other. This way we each had all of our favorite albums (usually Kiss, Rush, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles etc). Once we had our tapes in hand, we would grab our Sony Walkman, and walk around the local park or woods, trading tapes and listening all day. It was a different time, and yet the mission was still the same. It was still about sharing music, and creating a sense of community and belonging through physical music. There will forever be memories attached to those albums through mix-tapes, and the journeys we took listening to them.
Overtime I lost all my tapes. I’ve moved so many times and with each passing time, more and more of them seemed to disappear. My cool, vintage Napa Valley rack got broken and lost. My boombox shorted-out, and ended up as dumpster fodder. I forgot about tapes, and didn’t think about them for years. Then recently at a yard sale, I stumbled upon a cool carrying case by Realistic. In it was about 30 random cassette tapes some of which were junk, but most of them were really cool, and interesting old-school Country; for twenty bucks, I took them home. There was a problem, however: I had no way to play them. So, I took to eBay, and scored a nice vintage Marantz Legacy Series dual tape deck. A few days later, it arrived and I could finally begin listening.
I know that by now you are probably wondering why I am writing about cassettes for a website that supposedly generally features vinyl. Well, for starters, it’s always about the music. Yes, it’s true we are all vinyl collectors, but first and foremost, we are lovers of music, and most of us are looking for a community of like-minded friends to share it with. In my opinion, there is no better way to share music than a good old school mix-tape! What I’ve learned as I began to rebuild my cassette collection is that it does not need to be a separate entity from my records. The reality is that there are so many albums that simply aren’t on vinyl. More so, there are many titles that are out of print, and are now priced to the point of nauseam. The good news is that many of these albums are on cassette, and can be readily had with great ease. I am not saying you should ditch your record collection. What I am saying is that cassettes can serve as the perfect compliment to your record collection. It’s still analogue. It’s still physical music, and it still has memories attached to it.
Now that you understand my intent, perhaps you all will appreciate this next part. A few days ago, I ordered a new set of RCA cables. Why? To created a tape loop of course! What a tape loop does is it allows your turntable, receiver and tape deck to communicate with one another. The benefit of this is you will now be able to take all those awesome records you’ve accumulated, and make mix-tapes for your analogue-loving friends! This week, I’ve started doing just that. I can honestly say it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve got tapes lined up that I want to make. Simply put, it’s one of the old school ways of sharing music is back for me, and I can honestly say it feels so very right.
Another benefit of it has been that I am rediscovering my record collection. Let’s face it – it’s not easy to consistently listen to over 4300 records (and counting), but now that I am making mix-tapes, and physically sharing music with others, I am pulling records off my shelves that have been too long neglected. The perfect yin and yang of music were never more apparent to me than now. So, in short, if you’re going to share music with someone, why not make it extra special? Why not go the extra mile? I guess when it comes right down to it, you don’t need to make mix-tapes, or be into cassettes, but maybe you can at least appreciate them.
What’s really special, and cool about the vinyl communities that’s developed over these last few months is that we aren’t all here for the same reasons. Some of us are here because we are stone cold vinyl addicts. Some of us are here because we wanted to make friends. Some of us just wanted to be part of a community. What I know we can all agree on is that we all love music, and we all want to share it with one another in the name of spreading kindness, friendship and of course the tunes. That is precisely why I love making mix-tapes. With all that being said, if you are going to dig into your record collection with the intent of making a mix-tape, there are three simple rules you should follow.
First, the order matters. In an age of Apple Music and Spotify I know many of you tend to ‘shuffle’ so the idea of a well-thought-out order has become meaningless, but trust me – it matters. When artists record their music, they designed the second song for a set of ears which have already heard the first song. A true mix-tape isn’t just a bunch of your favorite songs. It’s a tracklist of music which is designed with intent for your listener to hear in a specific order.
Second, the flow matters. There are rises and falls. There are tempo changes. All of these elements are integral components of the mix-tape game. There is a big difference between a ‘playlist’ and a mix-tape. Playlists suffer because people tend to treat them like a recommendation system, where they try and find similar enough things based on an algorithm. While that technology can be useful, it’s not the same as setting a mood based on genre, artists, and so forth. Playlists have no story to them, and thus they tend to be bland and disconnected. The tracks on a playlist came together for no other reason than they happened to be at the same party. Where is the romance in that?
Lastly, authenticity matters. A mix-tape cannot be created by searching “Best mix-tapes to share with friends” on Google. Well, I suppose it can be, but it would be a load of heartless bullshit. Mix-tapes are not supposed to come from “Here are the best 10 songs your friends will love during the Corona Virus lock down” posts. Mix-tapes absolutely should not come from “I ran some shit through Pandora and here’s what it told me you’re supposed to like” articles.
Let me ask you a question. Do you know your friends? Do you know your significant other? Music, vinyl, mix-tapes, life in general… these things come from the heart and are molded by experiences. What are we doing in our vinyl communities? We are trying to make qualitative experiences, attached to physical music, and share them through art and community. For you to say to your friend, “This song will change your life,” or “I’m going to make you a tape that will change your life,” this would have to mean that you know what life-changing requires. You know what it takes to open one’s mind.
I know it’s hard to follow these principles. Simple as they may be. In today’s world, we have Spotify. We have Apple Music. We have the problem of choice. Too many choices. Thousand of songs from thousands of artists at our fingertips at the drop of a hat. I bet you that on your way to work in the morning, or on your way home, you spent more time shuffling than listening. Am I getting warm? There is no process anymore. So, maybe for just a moment, we can get back to analog. Not to inconvenience ourselves. No, this would be in the name of qualitative experience, and sharing music with the ones you love. This would be about listening with intent.
This isn’t about cassettes are better than vinyl, or vinyl better than CD’s. This isn’t a war of who knows what, or what sounds best. No, this is about sharing music and creating community through art. If it isn’t, then what exactly are we doing here anyway? So, dust off the forgotten corners of your record collection. Unpack some of your old blank Maxwell and TDK tapes and make a mix-tape for your girlfriend, your best friend, or just for yourself, for the hell of it, because I think if you’re a music nerd, there is no better way to show someone you care. Sure, you can go out and buy them the album, but with a mix-tape you physically took the time to curate a playlist and lay it to tape. That’s legit.
“If only the spectator or auditors are infected by the feelings which the author has felt, it is art.”
Dig this article? Check out the full archives of Stories from the Stacks, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/stories-from-the-stacks-archives/
Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.