Monday, April 6, 2009

Errr.. can I make you a mix-pod?

Among the many items of modern life I don't own is an ipod, or for that matter, any sort of mp3 player. I just don't have a need for one. When I go for walks, it is with my family and so we chat as we walk. I don't take the bus to work, and as a news-nerd my radio is stuck on ABC Newsradio. And thus I don't have any time during the day when I would wish to tune out the world and listen to music.

This doesn't mean I don't listen to music - itunes is playing as I write. But pretty much the only time I want to listen to music alone is when I'm writing on the computer, and thus headphones and itunes does it for me.

To be honest I'm a bit of an itunes addict. And one of the more recent features, "Genius" has got me thinking about what we have lost with the improvement of technology.

The "Genius" feature on itunes essentially analyses any song and provides you with 25, 50 or how ever many other songs you want from your collection that itunes thinks you will like based on that song.

I have to say it's generally pretty much on the money.

Quite often I'll just pick a song at random, hit "genius" and then listen to the songs rather than skip from song to song throughout my collection of 2000 odd songs.

And yet it has got me thinking about what the "young kids" do nowadays.

When I was growing up, the only way you got music was either if you had enough money (which you didn't) to buy a tape or your mate had a tape and a double cassette player so he would dub a copy for you. Failing that you would even tape songs off the radio. Now through the interwebs kids (and of course me as well) have access to every single song ever sung at any moment. It is astonishing.

You can now own an ipod with 160GB of memory, meaning you could put more songs on it than would essentially be possible to listen to in one lifetime - about 40,000 songs. Just think - at an average of 3 minutes each (which is far too short) we're talking 2000 hours of music or over 83 days worth. Put the average at 4 minutes and we're over 111 days. But let's give us only 4 hours a day to listen our ipod and it would take over two years to listen to every song on your hypothetical ipod (and that's IF you don't listen to a song more than once).

Insane really. (But then again, who actually has 40,000 songs?)

The problem though with the ipod and indeed even itunes and its "Genius" button is the loss of that great item of romance; that vital step every male must at some point take; that true sign of affection which cannot be denied; that ultimate in cheap but valuable gifts.

I'm talking the mix tape.

What the hell do the youth do now?

As anyone who has read Nick Hornby's High Fidelity knows, making a mix tape for someone is an incredibly personal act.
My wife, when we we first going out, was living in country SA and thus out of range of the Adelaide radio stations and subject to the monotony of country AM radio. So I made her a mix tape off of SAFM featuring bits of humour from the Morning Zoo and songs taped over the course of about a week. I wasn't content to just tape just any old 90 minutes; nope I had that blank tape in the tape player at the ready all day, and when I heard the DJ say a song I liked was coming up, I'd stop my essay writing and would be there with my finger on the record and pause button (because if you just hit "record" it made a clunk). She loved it.

Even now when "I Don't Like Monday's" comes on the radio she'll comment how that was one of the songs I taped for her. It was a valuable gift at that point in our relationship.

Now of course she would just log onto the SAFM website and listen to the live stream. Ho hum.

The best mix tapes though were ones divined from your collection of songs based on one song a girl said she liked. It required thought and care. It had to convey everything you wanted to say, but were too scared to utter. Each song choice was vital, and thus debated and deleted and added. It had to reflect not only songs you knew she liked, but also what you liked and thus you were letting her into your world - like this tape, and you'll like me, it implied. The order was also important - do you want to end it on a downer, and have her feeling sad but wishing you were there to cheer her up, or do you want her to end feeling happy and wishing you were there to join in the fun?

The advent of CDs took the game to a new level. The quality was fantastic, and with a good printer you could do up a fake album cover to really show off your creativity.

And even when not doing it for reasons of romance a mix-CD is just a fun thing to do. I have dozens of them. Some are themed according to chronology - eg Hits of the 80s, Songs of 2006-07. For others the theme is more emotive. I have three collections titled "Beautiful Music" (1,2 and 3) which feature more mellow tracks such as Nick Cave's "Into My Arms", The Church's "Under the Milky Way", Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne", and various movie themes.

My most common mix-CDs are my "Eclectic Collection" series. I have about 5 of them, which feature tracks like Placebo's "Every You, Every Me" next to The Delfonics "Didn't I Blow Your Mind". I enjoy trying to find a perfect mix of fast, slow, sad, happy, bizarre new and traditional all on one 700MB disc.

And despite how hard I try I always end up with one track that I invariably skip - like the one CD I have with Coolio's "Gangster's Paradise" that I really only discovered afterwards I didn't actually like all that much - and for the life of me I don't know what I was thinking when I put Neneh Cherry's "Buffalo Stance" on one collection of "Fun Songs".

I also tend to have one or two songs that seem to crop up in just about every mix-CD. For a while there I was always having to stop myself from copying The Dream Academy's "Life in a Northern Town", more recently I have noticed the track "Now We Are Free" from the Gladiator soundtrack is on about 3 different CDs.

The point is though that you are limited by the size of the CD. Pretty much at best you'll be able to get 20 tracks on one CD, and thus the choice is the key.

But what do you give someone who only listens to music through an ipod? What do you give someone who views a CD as a bit of dated technology similar to how I look at an old LP record? What do you give someone who can come up with 25 songs based on the mood of one song by just hitting a "Genius" button, and then hits "save playlist"?

Do you give them a thumb drive with songs on it? Sure you can buy them a CD, or recommend a song/band. And I guess you can make up a playlist on itunes/ipod; but once again the discipline is lacking. You're not limited by space, and so you could make a playlist of 50 songs. Where's the challenge in that? And the mix-CD should also contain songs the receiver doesn't own; how do you do that in the days of downloads?

No doubt the mix-tape/CD has morphed into something, but I have to say the younger generation with their infinite choice have lost something quite magical.

Maybe I am gettin' old (of course I am); but even though the CD/mp3 player in our car has a thumb-drive slot, I can't bring myself to just plug it in and choose from a thousand songs as we go on long trips; much more fun is to make up a mix-CD to listen to on the drive.

Yep I'm old. But bugger it, I like being so, and on this issue, I think I'm right.

1 comment:

LiteraryMinded said...

I've made CDs for people in the past few years! And I draw the covers :-) I think a USB stick or whatever might work as well.