Courtesy of The New York Times

August 30, 2016

ALUR | The Plight of the Mix CD/Tape

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A little over a year ago, my close friend and I decided it would be a fun experiment to start a collaborative playlist on Spotify. We had been sharing music for many months, sending songs in inboxes and chats, but we struggled to keep track of the tracks as our conversation diverged. We wanted a semi-permanent space to retain our varied musical interests over time. It would be a scrapbook of sorts, an arena for us to indulge our nostalgia as well as discover new content in the days before “Discover Weekly” became popular. And so, “Friends,” the playlist, was born as an endearing effort to keep the mixtape culture alive during the age of digital music.

I’ve long felt the urge to share music with friends. For the majority of my adolescence, mix CDs were my primary mode of communication. My best friends and I would curate music for each other, using compact discs as gifts for even the most mundane holidays. We would adorn them in sharpie doodles and place them delicately in construction paper cases. I made CDs for friends of friends, to strengthen bonds and to create a common language between us. They were always a way to maintain contact, a cheap way to show affection and share in something that we all loved. And we all still have these compilations — collections from our youth that encapsulate significant moments and identities. We reflect on these fondly and hopefully, understanding that despite the changes in our tastes and attitudes, the tracks of our youth still resonate in some ways and remind us of who we were and still are.

In this digital age, music has largely lost its tangibility. It used to be something you could hold and carry with you — a CD, a tape, and even before that, vinyl (though I recognize the resurgence of this form and will definitely discuss it at a later date). Playlists, unlike these material forms of media, don’t necessarily have boundaries on them in terms of length and content. They can be expansive, everlasting even. Yet, despite their lack of physicality and capability for expansion, playlists can still offer a similar sense of a personalization and care. On my birthday, the playlist “Friends” featured Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” — a fun and frivolous addition that made me smile but simultaneously kept with the balance and integrity of the collection. My friend and I have come to see the playlist as a reflection of our friendship — varied and dynamic, moody at times, but ultimately wholesome and holistic. And we continue to add to it as we see fit, relying on emotion and intuition in discerning what will fit with the mix.

This desire for someone to curate for us, to hand us a unique soundtrack designed exclusively for us, is by no means a new concept. It’s a way to make our lives easier as we seek to navigate the ever-expanding world of art and culture. Spotify, in many ways, does this for us. We can look at our “Discover Weekly” or newly compiled “Release Radar” for a cohesive yet concise collection that speaks directly to our interests and recent indulgences. But these algorithmically constructed playlists still feels less personal, and thus less impactful, than the one I share with my friend.

In reflecting on all of this, I’ve come to appreciate the ways in which sharing has changed. Yes, I do miss the days of creating something with my hands — of compiling songs online but having them appear on a physical disc. But this method wouldn’t survive in my current life, and I’m thankful to have an easier way to share today. I experience a sense of excitement with every new addition to the “Friends” playlist, and it’s both satisfying to add new songs and receive them. Every now and then, I scroll through and note the timestamps. I remember the sentiments associated with each of the songs — the reasons why I added them in the first place. And maybe it isn’t a mix CD or tape. Maybe I can’t grasp it with my hands and know that it’s mine. But I appreciate this scrapbook — this flourishing compilation of tracks — as it reminds of me of how wonderful it is, and can be, to discuss music with those who care.

But I’m left to wonder: Am I the only one who creates collaborative playlists, and will this trend be as iconic and emblematic as the mix tapes and CDs before it?

Anita Alur is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at aa567@cornell.edu.  Millennial Musings appears Wednesdays this term.

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