Honoring the lost art of making the perfect mixtape

I was building a playlist on iTunes the other day for a friend after a no-holds-barred conversation about which ‘90s bands stole our hearts during our high school days. As I scrolled through my music library and became both embarrassed and delighted by the robust and diverse selection of music I had acquired over the years, I was hit with a strong sense of longing. At first I thought maybe looking through the library was giving me retro-sadness about the Spice Girls break up, but as I continued scrolling I realized that my pang wasn’t for the rekindling of a girl group. My feelings were in disarray over the fact that I was dragging songs into a playlist with very, very little gratification. What I missed was the satisfying, all consuming, ever important art of making a mixtape.

Dumping a bunch of files into a Dropxbox folder for my dear friend just didn’t provide me with the same well of feelings that writing the song titles in thin Sharpie on a freshly made mixtape did. Yes, I was still curating my own selection of awesome tracks, but the act of sharing it all electronically was pretty blah and anti-climactic. I was so uninspired that I even (briefly) considered simply sending my friend links to YouTube videos or worse — an email with a typed up list of tunes for her to download on her own time. As I stewed over the boring way we communicate online I decided that now was the time to bring it all back old school.

When I was a teenager the Internet was just becoming a “thing.” And while I did not fully understand the nature of the beast, there was one thing I become speedily awesome at: Downloading music and burning said music onto CDs. My pre-teen years had me recording my CDs onto cassette tapes which at the time was a thrill, but a CD case provided more real estate to doodle on the liner notes and lend my penmanship to each track listing with the vigor of a burgeoning Frida Kahlo. It was during those times that I would allow the music to say all of the words that I was simply too shy or too immature to muster up.

Those mixes were for the times I had fought with my best friend and needed a way to tell her how sorry I was: Cue a compilation of songs from our favorite boy bands burned onto a CD, and decorated expertly with scented markers and hearts with Brian Littrell’s name in them. An email or download file just doesn’t hold the same weight, it doesn’t feel as important, or as personal.

My early boyfriends would reap the benefits of my mixtape obsession as well. For every word I could not say to their face I would put it into song with a 17-track list of love ballads and tracks that took us from “just hanging out” to being a full-fledged couple. Sometimes in my more over-the-top attempts to win the heart of my current crush I would spray the liner note with perfume just like Madonna had with her Like a Prayer vinyl back in the ‘80s. It may not have always worked (it probably even freaked some of them out), but it made me feel good knowing I had left my mark in the best way I knew how — a personal compilation of melodies meant to last a lifetime.

When I wasn’t making mixtapes for others I was busy burning up a solid collection of memories from summers spent at the beach and semesters consumed by the fear of failing. For each life event I went through, there was a list of 10 or more songs that pulled so tightly on my heartstrings that the only logical thing to do was capture them all on a disc and slide them into a CD sleeve where they could stand the test of time. I still have all the mixes I made throughout my high school days and my first year of college. When I listen to them now I am immediately brought back to that place and time — I can feel just how much those moments and those songs meant to me.

What this all really comes down to is personalization. The way we communicate now has changed, and that means the way we share music has too. Even though the Internet opens the doors to new and exciting ways to express your love and admiration for someone, there is still something to be said about taking the time to put it all together with your added flair of personality and tender hearted wit.

Here’s a challenge: The next time you want to share the experience of your best vacation, anniversary, or friendship through a glorious list of beats meant to consume and provoke, try your hand at burning said tunes onto a disc and decorating its cover with equal parts cheesy nostalgia and emotional flair sent straight from the heart. I am so confident in the power of this now vintage pastime that I am willing to bet my entire mixtape collection that you will get more feels out of that act of baring your creative soul than you ever could with a YouTube link subject line “love this song.”

Shorey Andrews is a Toronto-based writer that experiences massive pangs of anxiety when asked to write her bio. She used to be a Belieber and is sort of ashamed to talk about it. When she isn’t writing or watching bad reality TV you can find her singing any Taylor Swift song into a hairbrush. You can also creep her magic on twitter @ShorStar

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