“The genres of mixtape are many and varied, though the most common is the courtship tape and its corollary, the break-up tape. There’s the “tape you thought was a courtship tape until she mentioned her boyfriend” tape. There’s the walking tape, the summer tape, the dance party tape. There’s also the good old showing-off-your collection- to-a-new-mate tape.” “Tim Walker- The Independent”
I wanted to approach this guide in the same way I would a mixtape- by collecting things I think other people will I like, putting them together to tell a story and giving it away to as many people as I can get to listen (or read it in this case).
Hopefully it presents a range of articles, resources and ideas which act as a nice point of reference on both mixtape and DJ culture.
Whether we consider a mixtape to be a cassette tape compilation passed between friends, or a supremely programmed deep house journey hosted on Mixcloud and distributed over the internet, in my mind, both practices share the same common principles. As a starting point, I thought best to share some ideas on what defines a mixtape.
What Is A Mixtape?
“1. Hybridity: The mixtape is a uniquely hybrid form, part composition, part compilation. It combines elements from multiple sources, media and timeframes and frequently blurs lines between read and write cultures, or cultural consumption and production.
2. Distribution: Mixtapes are distributed via non- mainstream methods. This may be via personal exchange, mail order, download from non corporate/commercial websites, purchase from merch stands at gigs, or via non-mainstream formats (in which category the cassette tape may now be placed).
3. Intervention: The creator of a mixtape must be able to intervene in the recording process and to attain control over what is heard, to affect where sounds begin and end, to overlay material, and to combine elements from multiple sources.
4. Labour: The creation of a mixtape involves an investment of labour at least equal to that required to listen to it in full. This time, effort, and investment of labour differentiate the mixtape from the playlist, mix CD, or disc drive filled with MP3s, often created simply by dragging and dropping file references from one window to another or via algorithmic selection.”
Mike Glennon- Sounding Out! June 2018
“Curating a mixtape is an art, not a science…..”
The essence of the mixtape, as well as the semantics surrounding what a mixtape actually is have evolved dramatically since the invention of the cassette and its subsequent surge in popularity during the 80’s. In our first article, Warren Henry shares some ideas with The Federalist about the methodology of a mixtape. His observations are centered around both the mixtape in the broadest (hold down play and record on a double tape deck) sense of the word, as well as the sharing of music in today’s digital landscape. Regardless of the format and your own viewpoints and principles surrounding what comprises a mixtape, the sentiments discussed can and should be applied to producing both contemporary DJ mixtapes on Ableton Live and your “ 80’s new wave” cassette compilations.
“In practice, the mix curator’s first concern is common to artists across media: the audience. Some artists create with an audience in mind. Other artists actively try to block thoughts of an audience, although even creating purely for oneself implies an audience of one. As Rob Fleming suggests, the mixtape is often the audio equivalent of a love letter (or the expression of a musical bromance)… but it not need be. The mixtape culture portrayed in High Fidelity has been as affected by the information age as has the culture at large. Today, a mix may live anywhere — from a solely personal playlist on the mixer’s copy of iTunes to an audio file uploaded to a cloud with a potentially limitless online audience.
To be sure, old skoolers like Rob may contend that only hand-crafted cassettes, meticulously wound past their leader with the aid of a pencil and painstakingly compiled with the deftest of digits on the pause button, should be considered proper mixtapes. The ability to instantly shuffle an iTunes playlist, or seamlessly cross-fade songs as burned to a compact disc via software may affront older generations of mixers, much as bloggers affront traditional journalists.”
“There is something romantic about this traditionalist view of mixing; a well-crafted cassette bespeaks a labor of love. However, the democratization of mixing need not be viewed as a dumbing down of the form. Rather, the advanced ability to easily re-sequence and mix should serve to place the listener’s focus even more squarely on the quality of the mix itself. Moreover, these new technologies open new artistic horizons. Mixers may continue to think in terms of the halves of a cassette or vinyl album, but they are no longer required to do so. Today’s mixers have the option of considering the mix as a single unit, or mentally divide it as they wish (e.g., along the lines of a three-act play). New structural options thus increase the mixer’s ability to create and sustain a mood or message.”
Read The Full article here:
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The following is an exert from a book that comes highly recommended and explores the beauty and magic of the mixtape in what has become the bible for mixtape culture. I have included a link to buy it and I strongly recommend you pick up a hard copy.
“In those days, tape decks were as essential as turntables. And they were as bulky as well. But right around this time, Sony issued the Walkman. These new Walkman players were all about hanging off the shoulder with headphones and bopping around the city listening to tunes. I suppose the record industry expected the consumer to buy cassettes of the LPs, and the consumer surely did, but hey — why not buy blank cassettes and record tracks from LPs and play those instead? Of course this is what every Walkman user did, and before long, there were warning stickers on records and cassettes, stating: HOME TAPING IS KILLING MUSIC!”
“I had not the coin for a Walkman in the late ’70s or early ’80s, but my upstairs neighbor Dan had a really nice one — plus he had tons of LPs. He was buying every punk rock and new wave record issued, taping them, and turning me onto tapes which I’d then play on my ragtag stereo. Around 1980-81, there was a spontaneous scene of young bands issuing singles of super fast hardcore punk, most of which subscribed to a certain formula of thrash. Bands like Minor Threat, Negative Approach, Necros, Battalion of Saints, Adolescents, Sin 34, The Meatmen, Urban Waste, Void, Crucifucks, Youth Brigade, The Mob, Gang Green, etc., etc. They were great! I was fanatical and bought them all as soon as they came out. This, of course, cost money — but not too much. Each single was only two or three dollars. I was still just a dishwasher at a Soho restaurant — not exactly raking in the dough — but I needed these sides!”
Pick up a copy of Thurston Moore- Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture here:
Up next we take a look at how the mixtape has evolved over time from the perspective of one of Hip Hop culture’s most well-known mixtape creators. Here Dan Rys of Billboard Magazine talks to DJ Drama for a lesson in the history of the Evolution of the Mixtape:
Early Days (1980s-1990s)
DJ Drama: I would consider the Golden Era to be when I was a teenager growing up listening to the real masters of mixtapes, from Ron G to Doo Wop to Kid Capri and S&S. And then DJ Clue, who I feel really revolutionized the mixtape game and took it from being pretty much a DJ’s set on a tape to making it about exclusives and new records, and almost being its own project and its own form. Clue birthed a whole era.
First Evolution (Mid 1990s – Early 2000s)
There’s the mixtape game pre-50 Cent and post-50 Cent. There was the era from Clue and Doo Wop, when so many rappers came and spit 16s on beats that weren’t theirs, into 50 turning them into his own records. Instead of just spitting a 16, he started to re-do people’s hooks and make his own songs to the point where as DJs we wanted to play his versions in the club.
Street Album Evolution (2003 – 2007)
From the 50s’ era, that’s pretty much when it became a street album. Mixtapes destroyed the demo tape; nobody cared about your demo tape anymore, it was like, “What are you doing with your mixtape, and how are the streets selling it?” I definitely can say that they helped inspire what I went on to do with Gangsta Grillz and the artists that I came up with.
Blog Era Evolution (2005-2009)
I felt like blogs and sites were becoming the new DJs and mixtapes on their own. Because around that time, you would have to go to the mixtape to get the new music that somebody dropped, but when sites
like NahRight and OnSmash and RapRadar were putting up the new records from everybody, you technically didn’t need the mixtape anymore, with new mixtapes coming daily every day forever right to your doorstep. Social media did create that environment where it changed hands; you couldn’t charge somebody for a mixtape or go on a website and say, “This is $2.99 or $3.99,” when you could go to this other website and it was free.
Mixtape-As-Album Evolution (2009-2014)
The generation of [Big]
Sean and Kendrick and Drake and Cole and Wiz, here’s a whole new crop of artists that are kind of putting out projects in a sense where they’re not as DJ-related as they once were, but they’re still called mixtapes. And I still respect them as that, but they almost took the concept of the mixtape and the demo and they were able to create their own lanes and their own avenues.
Streaming Evolution (2014-Present)
Now, mixtapes are bigger business than they ever were. We’re at even a stronger point from the kids that look at Cole and Kendrick and Drake as their influences and OGs, [now they] are putting projects out. It’s an abundance and it’s overwhelming, but it’s dope. It gives artists a platform and an opportunity to express themselves and create their own fan base without really having to go through the machine
Read the full article here:
Download Our Free PDF Guide To Mixtape Culture Here!
Can anyone make a DJ mixtape and sell it?
I think its time we addressed the elephant in the room……..Ownership.
Anyone who was around in the 80’s will have heard the term “HOME TAPING IS KILLING MUSIC!” and it could be argued that this was the forerunner for the mass panic among music industry professionals when Napster appeared and posed questions on music ownership at the turn of the millennium.
Whatever your viewpoint may be on the legalities of music, the moving goalposts have meant that copyright law has had to evolve even quicker. Although nothing has changed in that music has always had a producer and a consumer, it is the way it is distributed which has caused the biggest issues.
“1. Culture always builds on the past.
2. The past always tries to control the future.
3. Our future is becoming less free.
4. To build free societies you must limit the control of the past”
This four part manifesto is cited in Brett Galors 2008 documentary RiP!: A Remix Manifesto, which explores copyright law and its consequences on the music creation process in the digital age. Its underpinned with footage and interviews with mash-up artist Girl Talk and is a must watch for anyone with an interest in the legalities of sampling and music ownership.
Stream RiP!: A Remix Manifesto here:
Regardless of the form, the ethics surrounding the re-appropriation of art have always been subjective. Over the years, cultural icons such as Picasso, Andy Warhol and Noel Gallagher have all offered strong opinions on the matter.
Ben Murray writes for tech crunch on the cultural significance of remixing.
“The line “good artists copy; great artists steal,” attributed to Pablo Picasso and appropriated by Steve Jobs in a 1995 interview, is in some ways at the core of much of the aesthetic endeavors that engage modern technology.
Jobs freely admitted to being “shameless about stealing great ideas,” and many of today’s bedroom artists might be said to have taken this mantra to heart. Meaningful appropriation remains a key tenet of creativity and innovation, whatever form they take, and Jobs understood this better than most; so do those whose natural form of expression is the remix or mash-up.
From Duchamp to Damien Hirst, artists have consistently challenged the idea that meaning ascribed to objects is permanently fixed. All cultural artifacts are open to re-appropriation. As with much else, technology has made this process easier and more visible. The news report, the cult TV show, the summer blockbuster, the chart hit or iconic photograph – all are open to endless reinterpretation by anyone with the right software. As Cory Doctorow puts it: the Internet is “the world’s most efficient copying machine.”
He goes on to make the point that “Copying stuff is never, ever going to get any harder than it is today. Hard drives aren’t going to get bulkier, more expensive, or less capacious. Networks won’t get slower or harder to access. If you’re not making art with the intention of having it copied, you’re not really making art for the 21st century.” The best examples of this kind of creative work are often marked by a reframing of the original narrative, and so produce a fresh perspective on both the source material and the context in which it first existed.”
Read the full article here:
In 2002, As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2 became the first official mash-up album. Prior mash-ups were bootlegs and never officially released, but Soulwax, and their record label PIAS Recordings, went to great lengths to get clearance for the recordings used in the mixes.
Stream Soulwax – Part of the Weekend Never Dies here:
So its probably about time we mentioned the ’S’ word…..Spotify
Spotify has become ‘the’ platform for digital music streaming and, as is common with all tech advances, has shaken the tree. It also raises the question “what is the difference between the mixtape and the playlist?”
In the next article Mike Glennon- writes for Sounding Out! and explores the current manifestations of the mixtape and takes a deeper look into the spotify playlist.
The mixtape has been presented as something of a forerunner to the music industry’s current streaming and a subscription model and, in particular, of the curated playlists which Spotify sees as its, “answer to product innovation.” For Kieran Fenby-Hulse, writing in Networked Music Cultures: Contemporary Approaches, Emerging Issues, “the mixtape’s aura has underpinned the development of music streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music”. Spotify’s corporate literature makes this connection explicitly via multiple references to mixtapes. The press release announcing the launch of its Discover Weekly playlist, for example, promises, “our best-ever recommendations delivered to you as a weekly mixtape of fresh music,” stating, “It’s like having your best friend make you a personalised mixtape every single week.”
Where the mixtape’s audience of one however, is the favoured other, friend, loved one, lover, Spotify’s curated and algorithmic playlists shift the focus inward. They are not created by someone for another, nor gifted to someone by another. They are created algorithmically for me and me alone. The promise of Spotify is that of “every playlist tuned just to you every single week.” Spotify delivers on this promise via its vast accumulation and exploitation of user data. The labour of the Spotify playlist thus is not the labour of love often associated with the mixtape, but rather it is an example of the increasingly prominent practice of corporations and service providers benefiting from unremunerated fan labour via, as Patrick Burkart notes in an essay entitled Music in the Cloud and the Digital Sublime , commodification of the “comments, playlists, recommendations, news, reviews, and behavioral profiles,” of music fans.
Spotify’s party playlists also seek to dispense with the unexpected juxtapositions and sonic clashes that have formed such a vital and valued component of DJ/sampling culture and the amateurism, imperfections, and crude edits of their supposed mixtape forebear. Thus ‘the mix,’ what Paul Miller (DJ Spooky) refers to as the process whereby “different voices and visions constantly collide and cross-fertilize one another” is replaced with promises of “professionally beat-matched music [where] every song blends smoothly with the next.” The hybrid of the mix thus is homogenised in the playlist.
In seeking to provide a music mix that is smooth, adaptable and perfectly transitioned, Spotify’s mood-based playlists (“Your Coffee Break,” “Sad Songs,” “Songs To Sing In The Car”) are more closely aligned with the aura of Muzak and the Muzak Corporation than with that of the “mixtape” (a comparison previously made by Liz Pelly in her article The Problem with Muzak). The Muzak Corporation provided background music for the workplace from the 1920s and public spaces such as hotel elevators and shopping malls from the 1940s onwards aiming, as Brandon Labelle states in Acoustic Territories: Sound Culture and Everyday Life, to provide “a form of environmental conditioning to aid in the general mood of the populace.”
Mike Glennon- Sounding Out!- June 2018 Read the full article here:
Im a massive fan of Mike Glennon’s writing on this subject but I think it only fair to draw next on an article which is from the other side of the fence. This brings us on nicely to our next topic area.
“Where is mixtape culture today and what will the future bring?”
Khalila Douze talks to spotify about the significance of mixtapes today.
“From the streaming debut of Drake’s So Far Gone to top-charting Kehlani tape While We Wait, we take a closer look at the new and withstanding roles of the mixtape.
In late February, music outlets across the web were once again talking about Drake’s So Far Gone, a mixtape the rapper released for free in 2009 just as he was emerging as one of hip-hop’s most exciting new voices. This year the tape was made available for streaming for the first time, and it debuted at No. 5 on Billboard’s albums chart, making it Drake’s 10th consecutive Top 10 placement—remarkable, considering he hadn’t actually put any new music out.
That same week, R&B star Kehlani released While We Wait, her third commercial mixtape and fourth- ever project (she’s released only one studio album, 2017’s SweetSexySavage). Her mixtape, titled to emphasize its unofficial nature, debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200, and it came complete with a marketing rollout: Kehlani opened merch pop-up shops and has since released a batch of elaborately produced music videos. While commercial mixtapes aren’t a novelty in today’s music industry—they’re pretty common in hip-hop and R&B—seeing a ten-year-old Drake mixtape contend with today’s version of the format poses some interesting questions about the significance of mixtapes in the streaming era.”
Read the full article here:
Another great article on the rebirth of is mixtape culture is available over on the Clash music site here:
For the final part of the guide I wanted to take a look at some of the best DJ mixes and mix series over the years. This includes a look at mixes which inspired me to start D.Jing and pusue the art of collecting and compiling music. We also hear from some of the people behind the famous compilation mix series which have subsequently become part of popular culture today.
First up, Nick Gordon Brown writes for Defected and presents a comprehensive list of must-have DJ mixes going right back to 1983.
“It’s frequently the instant hit of individual tracks on the dancefloor that kick starts new scenes, so it’s no surprise that every musical genre that is at home in a nightclub has spawned hundreds of compilation albums.
The very best have more than stood the test of time, with specially commissioned artwork illustrating a carefully curated track selection with detailed sleeve notes telling its story. When we asked our community to nominate their favourite compilations, one constant jumped out that united the majority of the selections – they were DJ-mixed.
So while we doff our nattiest headgear in appreciation to several decades’ worth of genre-defining unmixed comps, let us focus here on the many and varied roads down which we have traveled with DJs as our sonic tour guides.”
INNOVATORS & GAMECHANGERS Street Sounds Electro (1983-85)
If ever there was a compilation series that wasn’t only ‘right time right place’ to reflect a vibrant new scene, but went on to all but define that scene, it was the Street Sounds Electro series. Not only did these albums showcase the freshest new sound of the era, they did so in what was billed as a “specially mixed” format, with the small print on volumes 1-3 stating ‘A Mastermind Mix by Herbie’. After Herbie, Irish brothers Noel and Maurice Watson, who would go on to become seminal figures in the London club scene, took the controls.
Mixmag / Kiss 100FM Cover Mount CD (1990)
Having started life as part of the monthly package received by subscribers to DMC’s DJ only remix service, in July 1989 Mixmag had made the bold move of launching onto newsstands nationwide. Sales were steady but far from spectacular – certainly, the magazine was not the club culture powerhouse it was to become by the mid-90s.
Meanwhile trailblazing London pirate radio station Kiss FM had won a legal license in September of that year. It suited both parties to collaborate on an eye-catching promotional project and so, the December 1990 issue saw the world’s first magazine covermount CD – previously only cassettes or 7” singles had been glued to mags.
Warp– legendary Sheffield based techno imprint – mix by Colin Faver
Gee Street– London label for both homegrown and licensed in hip hop – mix by Richie Rich
Renaissance The Mix Collection – Sasha & John Digweed (1994)
Early pacesetters in the mix series stakes were MixmagLive (launched by the magazine in 1992), and Journeys by DJ (launched in 1993 by London clubland entrepreneur Tim Fielding).
Each played a pivotal role and released many a classic mix (see below), but both would agree that Renaissance took things a stage further.
Mixmag initially stayed cassette only, and by featuring two DJs per release, the mixes were relatively short. JDJ allowed solo DJs to spread their wings over a full 79 minutes and committed to CDs from day one but understandably reveled in being an underground, cult series. By contrast, everything about the Renaissance release was LAVISH. A triple CD meant the dynamic duo had the best part of 4 hours to play with. The packaging eschewed the standard CD ‘jewel case’ in favor of a fold-out ‘digipack’.
The timing could not have been better. Sasha had already had two Mixmag covers, the first asking “Is this the first superstar DJ?”, the second christening him “son of God”. When kicking off Renaissance as resident in 1993 after a spell playing gigs nationwide every weekend, it was hyped up as “the restoration of Sasha to the north”.Digweed had carved himself an impressive rep down south, with his own Storm parties on the coast, and warming up for Fabio & Grooverider at London’s Rage.”
Read the full article here:
Fabric in London’s Farringdon have been releasing high-quality mixes for a number of years and has a pretty impressive roster.
Head on over to the fourfourmag website and check their 10 best of all time right here:
And to round things up, I’ve included my personnel favorite “go-to” for new (and archived) DJ mixes.
Check out the Beats In Space music achieve here:
And that about wraps things up for our guide.
I hope it serves as an interesting reference tool for mixtape culture and that it acts as a catalyst for you to keep on making and listening to music mixes with love and creativity.