March 26, 2024

Sharing Is Caring

From the author’s collectionFrom the author’s collection

In many ways, though not in all, it’s gotten much harder to share the music you love with others. I was reminded of this a couple of days ago. For my wife’s birthday, my sister made her a playlist on Apple Music. This was thoughtful and kind, but unfortunately, we don’t have Apple Music. So my wife had to copy down the tracks that made up the list and find the songs to make her own playlist on Qobuz.

Back in the day, when you had a crush on someone, or simply wanted to spread the gospel of superbad tunes for getting down, you made a mixtape. If the recipient of your tape had a cassette player (which everyone did — it was standard government issue), they could listen to your creation until their heart’s content. Or until the tape wore out (this is a real thing).

Austin Kleon has returned to the practice of making mixtapes, buying sealed cassettes in bulk, then taping over the music on them and creating his own covers. It has become a monthly ritual for him. I’m assuming those creations are for his own personal enjoyment, though, as there is only a slight chance that anyone else will have a cassette player to play back the contents. Kleon gets around the sharing limitation by making a YouTube playlist that showcases the songs from the mixtape.

While a YouTube playlist is an inventive way of capturing the contents of your mixtape so that others can partake of your bespoke musical tastes, even that method has its limitations. The most obvious of which is the fact that not all the music you want to share will necessarily be available on YouTube. Admittedly, though, YouTube does have a lot of even obscure music. Search for something like celebrated Chinese blink-and-they’re-gone shoegazers Baby Formula, and their limited output is available in full.

However, it can be difficult when the songs are taken off a full album stream and divided into chapters. Additionally, you are relying on the kindness of strangers with names like MrTurboExteme to upload your favorite stuff. Otherwise, you’re out of luck.

If you have purchased music outright, ironically, it’s even more difficult to allow others to partake. I can share a playlist with my wife on our Qobuz plan, but I can’t include songs that I’ve bought through Bandcamp that aren’t found on the streaming services.

It seems, that even with the ease of embeds and streaming music, we are missing something with the switch from physical media. It’s not dissimilar from books. We used to be able to share a book with a friend after we had read it to spread the love. Now, we’re DRMed into keeping things to ourselves (at least some of us — I have to admit to preferring ebooks on my Kindle). I’m immensely grateful for the ease at which I can access just about anything in the history of recorded music, but we are definitely making some tradeoffs in our embrace of bits and bytes to carry art.


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