My girlfriend and I are going out of town this weekend. Well, we’re leaving separately and meeting up, as her trip is more business-based than mine, which means she’ll be leaving a day earlier than me. This being the case, I thought I’d be a good boyfriend and throw a handful of songs (15) in a very particular order and find some way to conveniently get them into her ears. You might call it a “mix.” However, once the job was completed (and very well, I might add), I found myself unsatisfied. When the time came to give her the gift, what I held in my hand was not a mix tape or a burned CD. It was a flash drive.
It doesn’t diminish the thought, or the quality of the gift (I can’t stress this enough, very high quality, I am an excellent mix maker), but when I went to upload my carefully crafted compilation to her MacBook Pro, the small piece of machinery in my hand simply felt empty. It was a reminder of the things I used to love about buying and sharing music that no longer seem relevant.
Between the ages of 13 and 15, I spent as much time as possible in a store called “Record Express” (coincidentally, a teenage favorite of Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba – that’s right, we went to the same high school at different points in time, jealous?) in West Hartford, CT, an indie record shop that closed not long after I began frequenting it. I quickly became a regular, perusing its aisles partially because I wanted to see what was new, but also because I’ve always loved seeing an artists representation of the music within the case. After purchasing Green Day’s Dookie at the age of 10, I spent countless hours staring at the cover in an effort to properly capture the madness depicted (not to mention memorizing all the lyrics in the liner notes). My college bedroom was plastered with a collage of album covers, ranging from G'n'R's Appetite for Destruction to Give Up by The Postal Service. To this day, whenever I download new music, I make sure to download the cover art. What can I say, I like eye candy as much as I like ear candy.
The point is this: an album isn’t a few songs haphazardly put together, it’s a total package, and when I make a mix, I want it to be perceived similarly. I’m not exactly including cardboard cutouts à la Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, but I miss the wholeness of the album.
As described in one of my favorite scenes from 2000’s High Fidelity, not unlike the creation of an album itself, there is a subtle art to making a mix. I’ve spent countless hours making sure songs are in the proper order (you simply can’t put two songs from the same band back-to-back, I don’t care if they’re two different eras of The Kinks), assigning a clever name to the work as a whole, even drawing (doodling, really) endearing images on the CD or tape casing itself. It’s all supposed to lead up to that satisfying moment where you can place it into someone’s hands and show them what you’ve done for them, culminating in the actual listening of the aforementioned gift. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but looking at a flash drive just seems anti-climactic.
Just before moving to New York City, I was looking for any way possible to make a quick buck or two. I decided to sell my neurotically organized collection of music. I had been keeping every CD case I ever owned in a box in my closet, so it wasn’t a problem to package everything in it’s original casing.
“Are you sure you don’t want to keep them for sentimental value?” my mother asked me. My parents had always kept a large collection of records which was eventually given to my brother.
“Records are different,” I argued. “You can’t beat the unique and incomparable sound of vinyl. There’s no variation in sound quality between CD’s and the MP3’s I’ll inevitably download.”
By the end of the day I had an extra two or three hundred dollars from the sales. Looking back now, I don’t regret the decision. We’re off to a digital space where music sounds pristine, but the experience of receiving it has changed. I always enjoyed reading the lyrics to all of Weird Al’s brilliant parodies, and although I can find with a quick Google search, I’ll always miss holding the liner notes. I suppose if all else fails, I can always make a Powerpoint for each song.