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Mix tapes

05/23/07 | by Adam | Categories: Music, Copyright

Alas, what with all those copyright and intellectual property issues these days, the mix "tape" is basically dead. That's too bad -- I always thought it was a great way of introducing friends to a selection of music. Get those tunes wandering through their heads and spread the word, so to speak.

Some companies have made a good effort to fill this void with things like the "iMixes" in Apple's iTunes store. The "iMixes" concept allows one to upload a playlist or give a licensed CD with the contents to someone but it is limited to tracks that exist on iTunes. For more esoteric collections iTunes has a lot of gaps and, to be honest, that's precisely what goes onto these collections. Everyone knows the common stuff; it's the rarities and unusual stuff that's worthwhile.

Take this lot for example. Playlist #1:

Barenaked Ladies - Easy (2006)
Fun Boy Three - Our Lips Are Sealed (1983)
Suggs - I Am (1998)
Coldplay - Clocks (2002)
Daniel Powter - Bad Day (2005)
Icicle Works - Little Girl Lost (1988)
Jacksoul - Can't Stop (2000)
Killing Joke - Love Like Blood (1985)
Jesus Jones - We Are So Fragile (1997)
Poe - Today (1998)
White Town - Your Woman (1997)
St Etienne - Stormtrooper In Drag (1997)
Pop Will Eat Itself - Everything's Cool (1994)
Smithereens - Behind The Wall Of Sleep (1993)
Killers - Somebody Told Me (2004)
Concrete Blonde - Violent (2002)
Barry Adamson - First Light (2002)
Trans Siberian Orchestra - Wizards In Winter (2004)

To be fair, this isn't a bad result. iTunes has the following available: Easy", "Clocks", "Bad Day", "Little Girl Lost", "Can't Stop", "We Are So Fragile", "Your Woman", "Stormtrooper In Drag", "Everything's Cool", "Somebody Told Me", "Violent" and "Wizards In Winter (Instrumental)". Some of those are gimmes being popular tracks from the last five years, but I'm impressed that iTunes actually has the Gary Numan cover tracks from "Random" as that was a royal pain to find on CD. As for Concrete Blonde's "Group Therapy"? I thought that there were only about 100 copies pressed and that no online store would have it. Still, it's missing the Poe track which came off a popular British movie soundtrack ("Sliding Doors") and the Smithereens who can't be *that* hard to license given they're signed to a major label and haven't hopped around.

Ok, now for playlist #2:

Todd Rundgren - The Surf Talks (2000)
Alan Parsons - We Play The Game (2004)
Melanie C - Goin' Down (1999)
Dar Williams - Are You Out There (1997)
Tori Amos - Cornflake Girl (1994)
Annie Lennox - Pavement Cracks (2003)
Warren Zevon - Run Straight Down (1989)
Trevor Hurst - Take Me Out To The Ballgame (1998)
Robbie Robertson - Sweet Fire Of Love (1987)
Wil Seabrook - Bocelli (2001)
Joey Deluxe - Undercover (1998)
Propellerheads - History Repeating (1998)
US3 - Cantaloop (1994)
Neneh Cherry - Manchild (1988)
Everclear - AM Radio (2000)
Eleanor McEvoy - Territory Of Poets (1999)
Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy (1991)

iTunes matches fewer tracks from the uploaded playlist this time through: "We Play the Game", "Goin' Down", "Are You Out There", "Cornflake Girl", "Pavement Cracks", "Sweet Fire of Love", "A.M. Radio", "Territory of Poets" and "Unfinished Sympathy". Again, I'm not too surprised the movie soundtracks are missed (for example, Econoline Crush's Trevor Hurst's track came off the "Due South" TV series soundtrack) but US3 made quite a splash when it was released and the Propellerheads aren't minor league either.

Playlist #3:

Michael Brook - Diffusing (1994)
Air - Talisman (1998)
Russ Ballard - Voices (1984)
Jamiroquai - Deeper Underground (1998)
Luscious Jackson - Naked Eye (1996)
Franke Potente - Believe (1999)
Wolfgang Press - One (1994)
Gary Moore - Out In The Fields (1985)
Tomoyasu Hotei - Battle Without Honour Or Humanity (2003)
James - Born Of Frustration (1992)
Chameleons UK - Swamp Thing (1986)
Steve Harley - Make Me Smile (1975)
Toyah - Brave New World (1982)
Colin Blunstone - Andorra (1972)
Jeff Lynne - Let It Run (1984)
Dave Edmunds - Information (1983)
Intaferon - Get Out Of London (1994)
Devo - Workin' In A Coal Mine (1981)
Nancy Sinatra - Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) (1966)

For this go around, iTunes has only four items: "Talisman", "Deeper Underground", "Out In the Fields" and "Born of Frustration". Not so good. To be honest, with the large proportion of second-string 80's material in this one, I thought it might be well covered rather than the worst of the lot. Heck, that Nancy Sinatra track came off "Kill Bill Volume 1" which I'm certain is in iTunes somewhere (Nope; "Kill Bill Volume 2" only although the track itself can be found on a different compilation in the store.)

While I'm using iTunes as the example since it's the most established online music store out there, the catalogue problem is not unique to it. Between licensing, (mis)identification of music, sheer obscurity of the course material and the ever-present issue of different cuts of common tracks, I'm not sure how any online store could put together a collection of anything but the most common music. Perhaps if it was all bought from that one store in the first place it might work but I'll pass on that option. In my case, all the tracks are properly tagged and ripped from the original media, typically using iTunes to do so. There's no reason for iTunes not to match them up in the store if the recording is actually present, but it frequently doesn't.

Canadian copyright has an interesting exemption: if you copy from the original media and are the final person the copy resides with, it's considered legitimate copy and no laws are infringed. From that point on you cannot distribute the copy nor duplicate it further. The only legal way that I'm aware of now to give away mix tapes is to give the play list to the appropriate person along with the stack of original CDs and say "Have at it". That just seems awkward. There has to be a better way but I don't know what it is.


1 comment

Comment from: Nimble [Member]  

I miss the mix tape as well, though I must say that in my poorer student days, much of the content was pulled off the radio as soon as I realized what song was playing.

Of course, mix tapes were a great way to put together a set of music without all the crap in it (I’m sure you wouldn’t include Mother, for example) - making another copy for yourself was often not a bad idea.

They were also a good yet awkward item in the post-adolescent wooing phases :)

iMixes are a cute feature and all, but the gaps in licensed content are quite spectacular, at least on the Canadian side, and often with Canadian bands, but plenty of others as well. You expect music to be missing on a digital jukebox, yes, but you don’t expect that many searches to come up empty.

There may be a Canada-side element to some of that. As some of the titles and comments in the iMixes section would seem to indicate, there’s quite a bit more licensed content state-side. Perhaps our by-comparison incredibly fairterroristic copyright system made many content providers just say no.

It took them a little while to get their ’suggested music’ feature on iTunes going. It’s not too shabby, in that it often points me to music I own on CD elsewhere, but it hasn’t provided any big epiphanies or bands I would never have otherwise tried.

The only legal way that I’m aware of now to give away mix tapes is to give the play list to the appropriate person along with the stack of original CDs and say “Have at it".

Perhaps something to consider if your foundation ever starts sinking :)

05/25/07 @ 11:15
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