David Gallagher looks at the transmutation of mix-tapes to mix-CDs in the NY Times:
- THREE or four times a week, Joshua Bernard opens his mailbox and finds a package sent to him by someone he has never met. Inside are homemade CD compilations of music that he often knows little about. The discs have featured big bands, death metal and even some Hawaiian music. The ukuleles did not scare him off.
“You know, it was great,” said Mr. Bernard, a Web designer who lives near Boston. “I’m not going out to get the entire Don Ho box set or anything, but it was a refreshing exposure to music that I wouldn’t necessarily go out and look for.”
That kind of personal introduction to new sounds is a big part of the appeal of mix-CD swapping, an increasingly popular hobby that has spawned an online subculture. Mr. Bernard is the organizer of a typical group of swappers. It has 13 active members who are each assigned a month in which they are to send a mix to the rest of the group. The result is something like file sharing meets pirate radio, transmitted by the Postal Service.
Homemade mixes have long been a part of pop music culture. For many music fans past their college years, the mere sight of a mix on cassette tape can be enough to bring back memories of old crushes and road trips. But now the cassette is on its deathbed, CD burners are standard equipment on many PC’s and hard drives are loaded with digital music files ready for burning. This may be the golden age of the mix CD.
….Joshua Benton, an education reporter for The Dallas Morning News, is a one-man mix factory. Members of Mr. Benton’s CD Mix of the Month Club (crabwalk.com/cdmom) get a copy of his latest mix if they mail him one of their own. Those who send two copies of their mix get his mix and someone else’s. In October, his busiest month since he started the club in December 2001, 150 people took part, sending Mr. Benton more music than he could process. Tastes are so idiosyncratic, he said, that each mix is “a carefully crafted window into a person.”
What about the legality of all this?
- Mr. von Lohmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation asserted that making a noncommercial mix CD was probably legal under the “fair use” provision of copyright law, but that notion has not been tested in court. He said that because of the 1992 Audio Home Recording Act, people who use blank audio CD-R’s were probably in the clear legally because a portion of the price of those discs goes to the music industry.
The RIAA disputes this interpretation of course:
- Frank Creighton, who directs antipiracy efforts for the Recording Industry Association of America, said that money did not have to be involved for copying to be illegal. While mixes on cassette tapes may not have inspired the wrath of the record industry in the past, Mr. Creighton said, digital mixes have better sound quality. And given the proliferation of CD burning for friends and relatives, “it would be naive of us to say that we should allow that type of activity,” he said.
And it would be naive for me not to say that is a giant steaming pile of crap. But moving on…
Self-programmed radio, whether on traditional radio or more germane to the digital theme, via webcasting, is the ultimate form of mix creation. I view all of my Cool Tunes shows as mix-tapes/CDs (depending upon how I recorded them) and have saved most of them over the years. A few of the playlists can be found here, here and here.
More thoughts on the mix-tape experience and aesthetic here.