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Posted on 7 April 2013


Almost Mainstream End of the World Mixtape

I’ve added a mixtape page at

When I was younger, I used to hang out in the living room, hand poised over the “record” button on the cassette player, ready to press down when a song I liked came on on the radio. I would do this over and over again until I had filled up ninety-minute (or, in some cases, two hour) tape with songs I liked. Then I’d label it and it would be added to my collection. I made a good two dozen of these, including a few hip-hop mixes by hooking up the audio input to the TV and recording MuchMusic’s RapCity. These were pretty good. Better still was when I would dub my absolute favourites, in an actual chosen order, onto another tape. These I would listen to over and over again.

Once the internet entered the scene, the mixtape took on a less important role in my life. First I was able to start making CDs, then iPod playlists, and now most of my listening is done through streaming.

In a digital world, you can access any song you want, make playlists of unlimited length, and constantly change the order of the songs in that playlist according to how you feel at that given moment in time. I do this all the time. But recently I’ve rediscovered a love of the limits of mixtapes.

When I’m working as the producer at CBC and I’ve assigned someone to put together a tape piece, I always tell them to make it as long as it needs to be. What I mean isn’t to make it as long as possible, but to make to make it the right length. More often than not this means shorter than you initially think. I just posted a bunch of quotes about this.

A 60 minute mix of absolute favourite songs will always be better than a six-day-mix of a bunch of favourites. There’s probably tons of gems in the six-day-mix, but the 60 minute one has had some real thought put into it. It’s even better if the person making it knows that you can’t skip or rearrange the songs, and has given consideration to flow and mood. A good mixtape is stronger than the sum of its parts.

Every two weeks I make a mix of songs for my CFUR radio show Almost Mainstream, and I do put consideration into it, but it’s not quite the same as a mixtape that relies completely on the music to tell the narrative. It’s my favourite songs with consideration to flow, but it’s also got a DJ (me) explaining what’s going on. It’s related, but not quite the same. Sometimes a radio show can be turned into a mixtape and vice versa, but mostly they’re separate beasts. I like making my radio show, but I miss making mixtapes. The pilot episode of Almost Mainstream was designed as a mixtape, as was my End of the World special and, to a certain extent, my favourite albums of 2012 episode– and they are three of my favourite hours I’ve made. So I’m going to start making mixtapes again. Here are my rules:

  1. There’s going to be limitations based on what was present on the cassettes I had growing up. That means my mixes are going to max out at 45 minutes, 60 minutes, 90 minutes, and 120 minutes. It’s an arbitrary limit, but that’s one of the main things that makes it work.
  2. No me. If I have to narrate, or write explanations, I’ve failed. Album art, a brief descriptor, and playlist. That’s all you should need.
  3. The playlist is set. This means no iTunes mixes, no Rdio, nothing where songs can be rearranged or skipped after the fact. This forces me to be fully committed to the tracks and the track order I put up. It also forces the listener to be committed to the mixtape as a whole. If it means they dislike it because of a couple of bad songs, that’s just the way it is.

What’s the point? Mostly it’s fun. I loved making mixtapes, I like listening to them, and I enjoy interacting with music. I’m also interested in developing a closer relationship to songs I like than what I have now, which (thanks to the internet) has been hit “love” and move on. The consideration required for a mixtape means you’re listening to songs a lot closer, and a lot more. I think this is a good thing. And finally, mixtapes are awesome memory archives. I still have some of the cassettes I made in high school, and they bring me back immediately. The same goes for my episode 0 mix from 2010. It’s an edited musical diary. I’d like to be able to put on a mix five or ten years from now and be transported back to today. It’s a fascinating exercise.

Anyways, that’s that. I don’t have any set times on when I’ll get these mixes up but when I do they’ll be going on Mixcloud. If you’re interested in making mixtapes, I recommend using it as a place for sharing them and if you want to hear mine when they go up, here’s my profile. I’ve also made a mixtape page here.


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