An ode to the mix CD

On Sept. 19, 2001, I took a blank Memorex CD-R, put it into my Gateway tower and made a mix CD. I know this for a fact because I have the physical proof.

After Prince’s death last week I was going through my CDs cases looking for my Prince CDs when I came across the pages and pages of mix CDs I accumulated during the ’00s. Some with random dates (I have no recollection of Sept. 19, 2001, being any day of significance) scribbled on them, some from ex-girlfriends, and some marking epic road trips. And it got me thinking and reflecting on the lost art form of the mix CD.

<begin old man rant>

Unlike curated Spotify playlists or even playlists in your iTunes library, there’s something distinctly personal about the mix CD. It’s a physical time capsule of what you were listening to at a specific moment in your life. And unlike playlists that can be erased with a click of the delete button, mix CDs are permanent. (Unless you were a baller and were burning your mixes on CD-RWs).

You had 80 minutes to express yourself, approximately 10–12 tracks, and once you hit burn, you were committing that mix to stone (or however CDs work). You will always have a copy of that mix — or until you’re unable to find a CD drive in your car or computer. The only reason I was able to listen to these mix CDs is because I’m using an old Macbook from 2011.

Just because I’m lamenting about an outdated art form doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate today’s technology — I do. No longer are you limited to 12 tracks. No longer do you have to drag around your CDs. No longer do you have to mourn a scratched CD.

But there’s something special about the mix CD that digital playlists will just never replace. Digital playlists can always be tinkered with, songs deleted and added, play order rearranged. You never really have an accurate historical record of what hip hop songs you were listening to in the summer of 2003. Sending your girlfriend a Spotify playlist isn’t quite the same as sending her a mix CD. In the ephemeral era of Snapchat, the mix CD is a heirloom of a time when things were just a bit more permanent, like my penchant for ’90s hip hop.