THE BLOG
11/07/2014 04:25 pm ET Updated Jan 07, 2015

The Lost Art of the Mix Tape

A few days back, my wife and I watched the John Cusack movie "High Fidelity." Classic movie for any music lover for many reasons -- not the least of which is that it unleashed hilarious Jack Black to the world. In the film, Cusack plays the owner of a vintage record shop who is part slacker, part confused by life, part hopeless romantic but 100 percent believer in the power of music (something I wholeheartedly share -- case in point, later today my 14 year old girl, Hunter, and I will drive to LA from San Diego to see indie band "Warpaint" in concert, a band I have now seen about five times including most recently at Outside Lands).

Cusack recounts his "top 10" romantic breakups in life, and essentially sets each one to music. He is an avid creator of mix tapes (remember those?) and agonizes over every single individual track he adds to create the most impactful and meaningful "whole." He literally caresses the vinyl and plucks out tracks he deems worthy to establish the perfect overall vibe of what he experienced in that particular moment in his life, and with that particular romantic entanglement.

And, that got me thinking about that old mix tape. I vividly recall those days when I too spent hours with my vinyl creating that perfect mix tape that was meaningful to me and hopefully meaningful to others. SO much effort was put into this process. SO much thought. So much nurturing. You see, it wasn't easy to make them. You needed to manually select the right album pull out the vinyl, select the right tracks and place the needle down onto the vinyl on the perfect spot, meld track by track and fade them in and out to the next one, write the name of each track on the cassette's "sleeve," and, then, ultimately (and the crescendo to the entire process) come up with the perfect title/name for that mix tape.

That perfect title was particularly critical if your mix tape was intended to be given to someone else, because the goal was to make an impact. This all was time-consuming both physically -- and frequently emotionally. You sweat the details. Why? Because each individual mix tape mattered. You couldn't simply churn them out one after another. Volumes were low (as in number of tapes, not in the sound itself, which you frequently cranked to 11). But, the "love for the game" was high.

And, here's the thing. The person to whom you gave your beloved mix tape -- be it a friend, or your girl-friend or boy-friend at the time -- knew it! They knew how hard it was to make that tape. They inherently understood all of the steps involved. All of that care and feeding. And that's why it had the potential for such deep impact for them. It was meaningful. And, that was the point.

Fast forward to today and to the world of digital that I love -- and have deeply immersed myself both professionally and personally (I write a blog titled "Digital Media Update" after all). Yes, digital gives us so much power. Yes, digital gives us so much access. So much discovery. So much control.

But, frequently too much?

Think about today's digital music playlists that we share. Yes, we frequently give them some thought. Perhaps many of you give some of them much thought. But, the amount of effort -- the amount of expenditure of time -- the amount of care and feeding -- are entirely different. Digital is easy. We can simply find and select individual tracks in rapid fire and churn out playlist after playlist, and share them not only individually, but also with the entire world with one touch of the keyboard or smart phone. It is precisely that mass volume. That mass sharing. And, that physical ease and fractional time commitment that make each less impactful. Less impactful to you -- as the playlist creator -- and to the person (the world?) with whom you share it.

This "lost art of the playlist" serves as an allegory of life in a sense. Digital is incredibly powerful. Sharing your musical tastes with the world is cool -- very cool -- indeed. But, something also is left behind UNLESS there is pause, reflection, and dedication to seeking out some kind of "soul" to augment that power.

Many music lovers see that. Feel that. Thirst for it. That's why vinyl is making a comeback. That's why vinyl record stores -- both Amoeba Records in LA and remaining labor of love "moms and pops" -- have staged a comeback (small, but growing). That's why vinyl is cool again. Speaking of Amoeba, on my last family vacation to LA, my wife and I took too our music loving 14-year old daughter/musician/music lover and growing music loving 12-year old son to that pilgrimage that THEY had requested. And, it was impactful -- a highlight of our 10 day trip (which ended in San Francisco at Outside Lands, by the way). For the first time, they saw the racks of vinyl records -- the mass individual album covers that we spent hours fingering through -- back in the day. They saw -- and deeply internalized -- how important and impactful album cover art was to showcase the music inside. And, they "got" it. In fact, my daughter's room is now lined with about 20 vinyl albums that she bought on that Amoeba pilgrimage (and others since then from the local vinyl shop).

How cool is that?

It is that thirst for deeper, augmenting "soul" -- that thirst for a deeper sense of engagement of the physical in this frequently virtual digital world -- that also has given rise to the ever-increasing number of music festivals. You see -- we are physical creatures. We crave a sense of community. We want to share our love of music with others. And we want to see those others -- and "feel" the music and emotion -- when we share (like we did when we handed over that mix tape). We frequently and increasingly want to do more than put out our music to the anonymous masses.

To be clear, this is not an indictment of digital. Not at all. Digital's power is real. I respect it. Generally love it. Have made it a centerpiece of my career and everyday life (in fact, I am streaming Warpaint as I write this in prep for tonight).

But, for me, and for my music "experiences" -- digital is just the beginning. The introduction. It needs to be augmented with more. With effort. With dedication. With "soul." It takes a lot of "work" and commitment to prepare for -- attend -- endure -- and survive a music festival. But, boy is it worth it! Those experiences last a life-time.

Vinyl -- and the mix tape -- represent that same kind of dedication.

That's why you gotta watch (re-watch?) "High Fidelity." Even if you need to order it digitally.

(For other more "personal" musings, here is "Sometimes You Just Gotta Take the Time ..." - a homage to looking up, taking a pause. Here is another one, "Pause & Reflect, the Cause & Effect.")