Monday, September 29, 2008

Mixtapes and Creativity

I tried this new Genius feature of the latest version of iTunes. It creates an entire playlist based on songs in your library, other users' similar playlists and tastes, and a little bit of randomness. The first playlist it churned out was...well...pretty darn amazing. Sufjan Stevens, Death Cab for Cutie, The National, Iron & Wine, Jeff Buckley, and quite a few others appeared. In one click, I can have my computer make the "perfect" playlist for me.

Yet I feel like I'm missing something. I liked perusing my music library, picking out albums I haven't heard in forever and sticking them next to my most recent purchase (which is a band called Seabird, and they're incredibly catchy). I like taking my time comparing and contrasting Lupe Fiasco with My Brightest Diamond and debating which I should listen to at a given moment. I like the creative process.

It's the beauty of the mixtape from my childhood. True story: in the 7th grade, I would record favorite songs from Seattle radio stations using a tape recorder. I literally listened to the radio at night while falling asleep, then jumped out of bed to hit the record button when I heard a song I liked. (This was the mid-90s, so I was very into the early Foo Fighters and Everclear). Then in high school, I graduated to the burned compact disc. Burning my Napster-pirated music into 119 minutes and 56 seconds--you had to pack the songs on there!--onto stacks of CDs was an addictive habit. It wasn't quite as much work as the mixtape, but it still required effort. It also required effort trying to rig my personal CD player to the tape deck in my 1982 Toyota so I didn't have to purchase a real car stereo.

Nowadays its the iPod playlist, the most efficient way to get music from the device to your ear. And with Genius, you don't even have to listen to music any more to create perfect mixes of songs and artists. Perhaps "create" is too strong of a word. True creation requires time, energy, and contemplation, not just the click of a mouse button. And even though it's just the order of songs in my iTunes library, it's a small picture of a larger issue--corporate efficiency stunts personal creativity. Efficiency gets the sound from your computer to your ear, but it runs the risk of bypassing the soul. So while I will still probably listen to the mixes Genius gives me--if I feel I would have made it myself--I still love creating new ones on my own. Emphasis on the word creating.


  1. was that an everclear reference?
    how about spacehog!

  2. Absolutely. One of the album I learned the drums on was Everclear's "So Much For The Afterglow." I wore the CD out playing along in 7th grade.