I was given my first mix CD in February of 2012, and I loved it. I loved the idea that someone had taken the time to create something specifically for me—to select the songs and organize them so that they sounded like they belonged together. Since then, I’ve become quite a fan of the mix CD as a thoughtful but inexpensive gift for almost any occasion. The first mix I made for someone was a fairly well-rounded sampler of songs I enjoyed and that I thought the recipient would like as well. I’ve since branched out and embraced the idea of a mix CD as a concept album, a statement of sorts. I’ve made mixes to celebrate special occasions, to commemorate past events, and to look back on the progression of a friendship. I’ve made mixes intended to deliver messages:
I am here for you.
You matter to me.
I’ll miss you.
I’ve also made mix CDs without a having a particular recipient in mind. Some are fictitious narratives—for example, a dialogue between two people, one of whom is mentally ill. Others are attempts to capture the atmosphere of a certain time or location—the month of December or the summer after high school, a long train ride or lake in the Adirondacks. I’m currently working on a mix about an abandoned house, although I haven’t decided whether I want it to be organized chronologically or just atmospherically.
Over the last few years though, I’ve stopped purchasing individual songs from iTunes and started taking a more holistic approach to listening to music; I now prefer to buy an entire album (ideally a tangible CD and not just a digital copy) and listen to it top to bottom. That’s not to say I never just hit shuffle when cleaning or make a quick playlist based on my mood or activity, but I do think the act of really listening to music (as opposed to just putting something on and letting it play in the background) is more valuable when the album itself is experienced in its entirety, exactly as the artist intended.
So then I wonder about the place of my mix CDs. I’d like to think that they’re more artistically valuable than thrown-together playlists or <shudders> Genius Mixes. I spend a borderline-ridiculous amount of time selecting and ordering songs, obsessing over transitions, “test-driving” the completed mix, and sometimes even creating original cover art. But I’m still essentially taking individual components of a work of art and removing them from the context of the whole.
Then again, I suppose that same concept could be applied to almost any kind of compilation. If mix CDs are a violation of creative integrity, what about art galleries? What about poetry anthologies? I’m not trying to make a point here; I’m asking because I’m genuinely unsure.
So I’m interested to hear what musicians and music-lovers have to say on the topic. To the listeners: what do you consider to be the best way to enjoy your favorite sounds? To the artists out there: if a song of yours were to wind up in one of my mixes someday, would you be flattered or offended?