mix tape sharing: a new hope

Back in the heady hay-day (sp? what has hay got to do with it) of the Internet Explosion II: This Time It’s Commercial, when filesharing was making it’s big post-napster comeback and p2p companies were bizarrely getting rich off IPOs, I wondered about the possibility of sharing mix tapes. As opposed to just songs you know? It comes back to this all-consuming problem/feature of the internet: too much data, not enough information. In this case I mean, there are a blue million songs available from filesharing, but which ones do you really want to listen to? And if you do find a band/artist/genre you like, because the cursory file details available from a ID3 tag don’t give you much contextual info, it’s difficult to get deep background on that band’s genre or complimentary bands. It’s difficult therefore to develop your taste in music to the full potential that the internet would seem to offer. There are a couple of existing solutions to this: listening to college radio (online or offline) and checking out what other songs are available from the filesharers who are distributing the ones you already like. I figured a complimentary approach would be to release and share mix tapes. Mix tapes are great because a) often a person’s general taste in music goes beyond what artists superficially sound the same or are in the same genre and has more to do with their overall spirit and mix tapes often capture spirit rather than genre and b) well done mix tapes are, regardless of musical-taste-building, just great musical experiences.

So, I wasn’t alone in thinking this way. People have been using the internet to share playlists for at least five years, and probably much longer. Taking a more file-sharing approach, there was a now-defunct service called “playlists.com” (link?) or some such, that attempted to basically p2p text lists of complimentary songs. Of course, the remaining difficult part is actually getting your hands on the music associated with the playlist. Even if you have filesharing tools like Kazaa, once you get the text playlist you still need to sequentially search for, download, and organize the songs. Just not convenient enough for most people. The obvious solution of sharing zipped folders containing a full ‘mix-tape’ of MP3s is still probably out of reach of the searching, bandwidth and storage capacity of current computers and filesharing programs. The older approaches like playlist.com didn’t overcome those problems, and perhaps that’s why they didn’t flourish. Recently, I’ve noticed a couple of new techniques that could revive the notion of internet-distributed music mixes.

First, bittorent. And other filesharing programs which allow you to insert a link into a webpage which begins a file-sharing search and download of the files which have been thusly linked. Someone who wants to share a playlist therefore doesn’t have to host the music themselves, and it makes the searching process as easy as clicking on all the links. You just throw up a webpage with a bulleted list of a bunch of songs you like and a bittorent link for each. Done.

Secondly, some folks who took matters squarely in their own hands, ignored whatever petty legal constraints there may be, and put together a very pretty interface for just plain old distributing/streaming a short but high quailty list of mixes: The Lo Fi Mixtape Network. A great model, and with these brave few running that flag up the flagpole, we can all watch and see if the music industry shoots it off or not. Not yet anyway.

Neato. Bring on the mixes.

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