Does it take skill to make a mixtape?

  • 5 September 2013
Cassette

Club brand Ministry of Sound is suing music-streaming service Spotify over playlists based on the label's compilation albums. It will provide a wry smile for anybody who has ever made a mixtape, says Finlo Rohrer.

Ministry of Sound has said "a lot of research goes into" creating the compilations. They're trying to establish the value of "curation" - the putting together of one song with another.

Once upon a time, on audio cassettes, perhaps a nice ferric C90, bedroom musos poured their creative energy into bringing a cornucopia of different acts together. Nick Hornby's novel High Fidelity is obviously the - albeit fictional - manual for the diehard mixtaper. "You've got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch… and you can't have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you've done the whole thing in pairs and... oh, there are loads of rules."

There are indeed long lists of supposed "rules". The side-by-side rule is a common one among mixtapers. Another is don't mechanically alternate quiet and loud numbers - 45 minutes of loud-quiet-loud-quiet can be exhausting to the listener.

Hardcore practitioners put in subtle references. For instance, a sequence where the writer of each song is the performer of the next. Example: The Jimi Hendrix Experience - All Along the Watchtower, Bob Dylan - Folsom Prison Blues, Johnny Cash - Personal Jesus, Depeche Mode - Dirt, The Stooges - Louie Louie. Then it might start to get a little obscure.

High Fidelity establishes one solid mixtape stereotype - romance. "I've done you a mix" was once the prelude to a million doomed teenage liaisons.

"I made mixtapes," says Popjustice editor Peter Robinson. "There were happy ones and sad ones. They are a way of sending a message."

The calligraphy for the tracklisting was often painstakingly executed. Now the audiocassette has passed into obscurity, mixtapers have moved on. Some went first to minidisc before admitting defeat by burning CDs. The playlist is now the inheritor.

And while there's been some scepticism about Ministry of Sound's stance, Robinson sees that the compilation album has a commercial value in the same way a mixtape has an emotional value.

"A lot of it is down to sequencing. It starts exciting, has peaks and troughs and builds towards the end."

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