The Lost Art of the Mixtape

by: Erica Feliciano

Music is my salvation and best friend. It is there for me when I need it most, and there for me when I least expect it to be. It conjures up memories at the drop of a hat when certain songs reach my ears. Music is my therapy. Often, as a kid I was found in my room listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite songs to play so I can record them on the blank cassette sitting in my tape deck. Putting together a mixtape made me feel like a DJ, but without the turntables.

I wasn’t a normal child. I loved books and music. While my classmates spoke about cartoons and Barbie dolls, I was talking about the latest Taylor Dayne single I heard on B96. I couldn’t relate to anyone in my 2nd grade class at times. They didn’t understand music. While all the girls swooned over how cute the New Kids On The Block were, I was thinking about how their music made me feel, and how badly I wished I could sing “You’ve Got The Right Stuff” to my crush. Because, back then that girl, who was in the 5th grade that I was crushing on, really did have the right stuff.

So, you can understand the sense of completeness that would come over me when a mixtape was finished. I would play the cassette over and over again, rewinding my favorite songs and learning all the lyrics so I could correct my friends when they would sing the song incorrectly. I would bring my mixtapes over to friends’ houses to play at sleepovers, or to have as background music while hanging out. If someone were having a party, I would bring my shoebox full of mixtapes for the host to choose from. Each mixtape had a theme; they were strategically planned out for specific feelings and occasions. I was proud of my mixtapes.

The mixtape was the best gift one could give. It took countless amounts of hours to pick and choose the perfect songs to put on the mixtape. Not only did you have to pick the right songs, you had to place the songs in a particular order. Placing the songs strategically onto the mixtape conveyed the theme in which you were going for. If you were recording songs from the radio, this could take you days, weeks even, to finish. You had to be careful to not record anything other than the song or to record a song and have the tape end on one side, cutting the song short.

Often times, my mixtapes had snippets of the radio DJ introducing the song or speaking to a caller just before the song came on. I used would get extremely upset when the DJ would have the song begin in the background and, yet, they would continue to speak over it, ruining my chance to record the song. I would then have to wait, yet again, to catch the song in its entirety for my mixtape. And, don’t get me started on how they would cut a song short by talking over it as well.

Often times, I made mixtapes for my crushes. Of course, I never gave it to them. It was bad enough the girls didn’t understand when I was flirting them. So, how could they understand I was pouring out my love for them through the music and lyrics of the best singer/songwriters at that time? Instead, I made the mixtapes and kept them for myself. I would lie awake in bed listening to the mixtape and think about what life would be like if I could be together with my crush. As I got older, I built up the courage to give my crushes the mixtapes I made for them. Instead of giving them a mixtape full of love songs, I would mask my feelings by throwing in only a few songs that expressed how I felt about them. They never knew that the song about unrequited love was placed on the mixtape because it was really how I felt about them.

When cassettes became obsolete, the CD became the new mixtape. No more having to rewind your favorite song, or fast-forward through songs to find the one you were searching for. I’m not even sure kids today understand the word “rewind.” The CD made a music lovers life so much easier. Only problem was, I couldn’t take songs from the radio to record directly onto the CD. I didn’t have the high tech CD recorder to do so. So, I diverted to making mixtapes with the many CDs I already had. And, I had a lot of CDs. By doing so, I came upon so many songs I never realized I had, or never heard of before. Often I would purchase a CD and only listen to my favorite songs. By searching for songs on the plethora of CDs I had, it was as though I began to really listen to and understand music.

These days we have iPods and other forms of online music shopping and storage. Sure, you can create playlists and send them online to others. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, there’s just something about the mixtape, on a cassette, that you can’t get through a CD or digital playlist. It fit perfectly in your pocket and was easy to cup in your hand while passing along to a friend in class, trying not to get caught. The mixtape was something personal and intimate. Unwrapping a blank cassette to begin a mixtape was like a blank canvas awaiting the soft strokes of a paintbrush for a masterpiece. If you weren’t around for the era of the cassette, then you’ll never fully understand the love of the mixtape.

Erica Feliciano grew up in Indiana knowing she’d be one of two things: 1. A lesbian 2. A writer. Lucky for her, she turned out to be both! After graduating from the University of Central Florida, with a degree in Creative Writing, she moved back to the Midwest. In Chicago she found a community, a home, and her amazing wife. Besides writing, Erica enjoys drinking too much at brunch on Sundays and shopping for watches. She hopes to, one day, write and produce good quality films and TV shows.

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One response to “The Lost Art of the Mixtape

  1. I really love this piece it brings back memories just hearing the word mixtape thank you for sharing and keep up the great writing.

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