Paperhouse: On Mixtapes

The mixtape is a criminally underappreciated art form. You have probably seen them used as novelty items — goodie bags at Sweet Sixteens and Bar Mitzvahs — that will never be played again. Such a waste of potential.

A mixtape can be so much more than just a playlist of songs. As a narrative medium, it is just as legitimate as the short story or the painting. By making a mixtape, you act as a curator, compiling an anthology that extends well beyond the reach of any time period or genre. You can draw on everything from Top 40 to proto-punk to chillwave to construct a unique narrative that connects its constituent parts in a manner that transcends their superficial stylistic differences.

You can weave a plot with the prodigious guitar playing of Michael Hedges and the visceral voice of Björk. Or you can construct a scene with the overly emotive Bright Eyes coupled with the soft, detached piano playing of Nils Frahm. Either way, there is intentionality to your work that is not often acknowledged in a mixtape.

But there is more to a mixtape than just intentionality. By creating this anthology of music, you are distilling the most intimate parts of yourself, just like any other art form. From your music library, you search for the songs that not only sound most appropriate, but also those that you have attributed significance to through repeated listening. By placing them in your mixtape, you again change their significance. Just as a writer conveys his or her own unique voice through words, you convey your own unique voice through the selection and arrangement of songs.

This mixtape that you create could only ever be made by you. You may not like writing or be able to draw a straight line, but you can listen. When all is said and done, you will have a piece of art that is yours and yours alone. All you have to do is listen.