It all started as a project to keep myself occupied. I was insanely stressed about my mother’s cancer, and as it turned out, she had under six months to live. I needed as many distractions as possible.
I met Dave Brown the year before and started contributing to Holiday Matinee. I always enjoyed the music he was into. I mean, the guy had worked with Connor Oberst, Jimmy Eat World and Death Cab for Cutie in their early days. He appreciated old-school hip-hop the way I did. I figured we would be as good as anyone at making mixtapes. And if no one liked them, it didn’t matter. It was fucking fun and that was reason enough to make them. After our first tape received some mild praise from a couple friends, we kept it going. Every month I’d ask Dave to suggest some songs, add my own and put together the mixtape. We kept it simple. We weren’t the kind of guys that wrote lengthy dissertations on albums. There was just music that we dug and felt like deserved to be shared.
Our first mixtape in June 2009: If you don't see the tape, listen here.
It wasn’t very long before I became obsessed. I’d listen to the transitions between songs so they made sense. Was the next song too abrupt of a change or is that what I wanted? I’d cut the silence at the end of tracks if it was too long. I had to pick the perfect handwriting typeface that made our tapes look like something someone recorded off the radio. Eventually we started hosting these files on a CDN so it didn’t kill our bandwidth. I learned a ton about file permissions and had frustrating experiences getting files to play or making typos in the playlist file that would render the whole tape useless. Nonetheless, it was a routine I grew to love. If one other person enjoyed them, I considered it a success.
When we added more contributors we brought them in on the mixtapes. There was Hannah, editor of Indie Shuffle, who turned us on to some great tunes. Her brother David would submit obscure tracks that I really looked forward to. Catrina shared my love of Voxtrot, Gregory of dream pop, and I could always count on Monique to send me Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin songs. Meanwhile, we experimented with adding standup comedy and movie quotes on our tapes. Sometimes I spent way too much time agonizing over what tracks made the cut. It had to have a final seal of approval from one person, but I worried there could be music a lot of people loved that I just wasn’t that into. I’m sure some of the team got fed up of me using Neon Indian and Toro Y Moi every chance I got. Not Hall and Oates though, because let’s be honest, you can never have enough of that. After years of putting together these mixtapes, I could tell who submitted which track just from becoming so familiar with their tastes. I instinctively know if we’ve used a song before without even looking.
We were ushered into the era of online streaming services. It would have been much easier to only use tracks on Rdio or Spotify, but that wasn’t good enough. We wanted to be able to put rough tracks with alternate lyrics that Donald Glover sent us via Direct Message on Twitter or ridiculous Kenny Powers rants. We wanted to include songs that hadn’t officially been released and old TV theme songs. We were proud to have something uniquely us — something born out of getting to dive bars early to listen to openers, late nights listening to bands play in our friends’ living rooms, basements and attics. Even the girls we’ve dated and the music they turned us on to had an influence.
Along the journey, we’ve earned a little recogntion. Sometimes it’s a college freshman telling us they look forward to those posts every month and other times it’s a creative we really admire. Either way, kind comments can carry you when you think about taking a break. That’s the real reason it’s been 5 1/2 years and we haven’t missed a month. Maybe they are just mixtapes that a few people listen to, but somehow that really matters to me.