My first introduction to Pavement was on a tape a college roommate made—an early ‘90s indie rock compilation. This guy was a careful master of the mix tape, sometimes by label, sometimes by artist, sometimes by mood. Everyone used to make mix tapes—a cultural trope that defined a generation.
People still make mix tapes, of course, but they’re no longer tapes. I compiled some songs for my family last Christmas—downloaded a handful mp3s I didn’t already own, click-and-dragged together a playlist, burned it onto several discs. The whole process took maybe an hour.
I don’t know how carefully kids these days organize their musical tastes, how much they tailor the compilation according to their audience or the desired results. There may be just as many quality “mix tapes” out there now as there ever were. But they float in a much larger sea of playlists, Pandora stations, and iPod shuffles that make things easy but not necessarily better.
The ability to easily access whatever we need, or to explore something new without even knowing what we want—these opportunities offer endless possibility. But they don’t necessarily reinforce the discipline of sorting, prioritizing, organizing, and composing.
These are the challenges of the information age: identifying high-quality inputs, matching them to the right needs, and presenting it all in a way that makes it relatable to your audience.
And there is no shortcut to cultivating the skills needed to meet them.