The Cassette Culture

The cassette tape enabled the youth of a generation to curate, compile and express their intimate emotions through music with the people closest to them. The cassette tape, commonly known as a mixtape, became more than a plastic film wound together by two miniature spools and more than a homemade compilation of music. The mixtape developed into a prominent and deep-rooted symbol of youth culture.

“The mixtape had to be considered in its absolute entirety.”

The craft of a mixtape was built on taste, patience and passion. The first step was curation. How to precisely convey the emotional elation or angst the creator was feeling? The fact that the tape player lacked the ability to skip from song to song meant that the mixtape had to be considered in its absolute entirety. The music choices needed to flow into one another to accurately depict the creators self-expression.

The next step was compilation. There were technical challenges to overcome when arranging a mixtape, from avoiding an excessive amount of blank tape at the end of one side, to reducing the audible click between songs. The compilation of a mixtape required meticulous patience from the creator to produce a musical masterpiece.

The last step was customisation. The finishing touches of a mixtape were those that made it unique. The creators well thought out title, hand-drawn cover art or custom track list and notes all enhanced the theme. These small characteristics made a powerful impact in extending the emotional flow of the mixtape.

“Curation should embody the musical taste and preferences of people, not artificial intelligence.”

The current digital music space has lost the craft of intimate curation that the mixtape epitomised. Curation currently goes hand-in-hand with algorithm. But, should it? Curation should embody the musical tastes and preferences of people, not artificial intelligence. Each one of us surround ourselves with music, develop our own personal taste and embrace the music discovery experience. Each one of us influence the discovery of music for the people around us.

Our primary curators are those that are closest to us, our friends and family, that understand our individual preferences. There is no greater feeling than sharing your own personal taste of music intimately with a friend and being witness to their response. Isn’t that why live music is so prevalent and will always remain so? And why people continue to pay a premium to attend concerts? That human connection and the associated memory of sharing together in real time is what transforms a good piece of music, into a great one.

“Each one of us has been sculpted with finite time and patience, but granted access to infinite content.”

In that loss of craft, we lost the value we placed on music. The current digital space has enabled access to what appears to be an unlimited catalog of music at our fingertips. This access can be utilised as a powerful resource to promote emerging artists to an untapped audience. But, how much is too much? Access builds congestion and clutter in a space. Artists now possess a closing window of opportunity to impress an audience, convey emotion or build intimacy. Each one of us has been sculpted with finite time and patience, but granted access to infinite content.

The next button has become bittersweet. The button provides people with both the freedom of choice and an opportunity for the next artist to be discovered. But, it restricts the narrative arc of the current song. We need to explore innovative mediums of music discovery to build upon our prior technological advancements. In order to further enhance the current digital space, we need to disrupt both artist-to-fan engagement and human-focused curation.

“As a society, we should be educated on this approach and the end destination of our spent money.”

Complicated royalty formulas are now the industry standard. Rights holders possess a lack of control and transparency over how their share is calculated, leading to inequitable payouts. The entire royalty process needs to be simplified and a direct approach from the fan to rights holders achieved. As a society, we should be educated on this approach and the end destination of our spent money.

The deprivation of an artists access to their data and analytics is also prevalent. The access to an exhaustive supply of data enables artists to engage with each of us at a more intimate level. Data will empower artists to make more informed decisions regarding how to reach us with their craft.

Can the cassette culture provide a foundation for us to build upon?

We need a tool to share our experiences and emotions intimately through music. We need a tool to rediscover the lost value of music. We need a tool to enable artists with control and transparency over their craft. And we need to progress on this together.

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