Muxtape: playlist nostalgia

By now you may have heard of a website called Muxtape. In a way, I’m surprised it hasn’t been shut down already. It’s probably the most blatantly illegal website since YouTube. Technically, I guess, you’re meant to own the copyright to everything you upload to the service. But of course that’s not what most people use it for.

Muxtape is an enticingly simple website that lets you make a little playlist of tunes, a bit like a mixtape. Webware jokes, as if you would remember mixtapes! Meanwhile, David Title ponders if you have to be between the ages of 29-45 for the mixtape to mean anything to you!

I’m 22 (almost typed 21 there… can’t bear the adulthood), and I love the romance of mixtapes. It is like instant nostalgia. Cassettes are meant to be naff, and they are to an extent. But holding a tape is quite special, like holding a past future in your hands. Defects such as tape hiss, wow and flutter are as acceptable as surface noise. They add to the quaint beauty of the cassette.

And here is the thing. I used to make mixtapes. Then one day I decided to “upgrade” to CD-Rs. The CD-Rs would surely be more reliable and durable, right? Pah. The CD-Rs I bought were defective. For some reason iTunes (or the CD-R, I don’t know which) was making the audio of each track start two seconds before the access points. I wasted 4 CD-Rs trying to fix it, to no avail. Then it was reported to me that the CD-R wouldn’t even play! Annoying or what? The packet of faulty CD-Rs still sits beside me unused.

For all of their faults, cassettes are at least more reliable in the medium term than this. I have come to the decision that CD mixes are a bit like sending someone a letter but typing it out rather than handwriting it. You still put in the hard graft constructing it, but it is still somehow less personal, less human.

Of course, Muxtape is nothing like a mixtape. Indeed, it is probably even worse than a CD. As has been pointed out by David Title, a real mixtape is:

hours of love and care and cursing your slipping on the pause button. It’s recording little personal messages between the songs. It’s handwritting the titles and artists in painfully small print. It’s an act of love.

Muxtapes cannot even be personal. The terms (whatever they’re worth, given the dubious legality of the service) restrict you to one account only — and that’s a public account.

Nonetheless, that cute picture of the C90, the blocks of colours, the oh-so-fashionable massive Helvetica font (not that I’m guilty of that one) and the sheer simplicity of Muxtape is enough to reel you in and get you to make your own.

And make my own I did. Here is my Muxtape.

I should point out that if you like any of the tunes on my Muxtape, I think you should buy the album (the ‘Buy from Amazon’ link on Muxtape is a new addition today — a handy hint). I bought all of these. In the case of John Cage, I bought four different performances of it. In the case of Autechre, I bought the album twice.

Incidentally, there is an interesting take on the legality or otherwise of Muxtape at WebJam. The fact that Muxtape does not provide you with an easy method to download the music may be its saving grace. Besides, the cat is out of the bag. In the same way as shutting down Napster didn’t stop peer to peer filesharing, closing down Muxtape will only lead to several new clones of it.

On the simplicity of Muxtape, it is appealing — but it does make it rather light of features. There is no search function and even Google is blocked from indexing pages on Maxtape. Instead, you are presented with a random list of Muxtapes. Apart from that, you have to rely on word-of-mouth to find anyone’s Muxtape.

It’s just as well some clever fellow has created a smart Last.fm / Muxtape mashup (via Qwghlm). Enter in your Last.fm username and it will find Muxtapes containing artists that you like. Awesome.

In the meantime, it’s worth remembering that Last.fm itself has provided its own playlist service for years now, and it is on much more solid legal ground. There are some annoying restrictions — of course, you can only choose from the tracks that Last.fm has on its servers. Plus, perhaps even more frustratingly, the music is shuffled. This robs you of one of the joys of putting together a mixtape: getting the track order right. Catch my Last.fm playlist here.

3 comments

  1. My mum has loads of mixtapes indeed but I prefer my music unmixed.Still , interesting to see what you listen to Duncan :).An ingenious way of sharing music but I’m not sure it’s not a bit niche.Not having the site allow Googlebots to visit them will hurt the popularity but at least it will keep it “underground” to an extent.

    I’m not really sure about the “easy to download” arguement – the player seems to download FLV files to your browser cache like Youtube files.All you need to do is pluck them out of the cache and rename them something.flv and with VLC you can use the files…

  2. I’m 22 (almost typed 21 there… can’t bear the adulthood), and I love the romance of mixtapes.

    Adore your logical explanations.