How do we swap mixtapes without physical media and still be social?
September 27, 2018 9:25 AM   Subscribe

I've been organizing mixtape swaps to build community with the volunteers at my college radio station for a while. This past one was kind of a dud because nobody has access to CD burners or drives in general. (Thanks new laptops!) How do we still have swaps as social functions without physical media?

The great thing about CDs is that they were relatively easy to make multiple copies and people often have a digital music collection to pull from. They're also relatively platform agnostic, which is nice. They also allowed people to do fun things with artwork which was pretty cool. The best thing was probably that they require no infrastructure to share or trade, just showing up. But since nobody has optical drives anymore, a change is needed.

(Cassette tapes are still kind of niche and really labor intensive to make, though we usually get a couple each swap.)

So we need to come up with something new, but what would that be? Here are requirements limitations:
  • Minimal or no infrastructure for sharing. I don't want to have to try and set up and maintain a server for this.
  • Easy to use for people with varying degrees of skill. I don't want people to be excluded because they don't know how to FTP or something like that.
  • Platform agnostic, which eliminates streaming services. I don't want to lock people into Spotify or something else.
  • Something that can still be social. The whole reason these started was to get people hanging out in the same room at the same time and talking about music. I don't want to lose that.
  • Free or extremely cheap to manage. We have no resources from radio station to do this, but I am willing to kick some money in if it will make it possible.
  • Mixes shouldn't available in perpetuity, but only for the small duration of the swap. They also shouldn't be super publicly available, instead only for the community participating.
Help me MeFi! I'd like to host another one in November and have more people participate than a handful of regulars who still cling to their optical drives. (And the one person who gladly takes the tapes I make.) The whole point is to be inclusive and that clearly is busted now.
posted by kendrak to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If it were me, I'd go for budget SD cards or thumb drives. You're looking at as little as $5 / £5 / €5 for them these days. A bit more than an audio tape or blank CD, but they can be used over and over, and swapped easily. Pretty much all laptops and most desktop PCs have an SD slot.
posted by pipeski at 9:34 AM on September 27, 2018 [10 favorites]

Is there a reason USB/thumb drives wouldn't work? They're not free but they're pretty cheap, and you can reuse them?

Heck you can even get ones that look like cassette tapes.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:34 AM on September 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

Yeah I use USBs to share music with my pals.

To keep the "mix tape" sequencing magic alive, I use Acoustica Mixcraft to create one long MP3 mixdown file (ie so they're not just receiving a folder full of MP3 files in random/alphabetical order), and often include some kind of tracklist jpeg file as an additional bonus :D
posted by wats at 9:36 AM on September 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

My laptop only has USB-C ports, but I have a $10 USB-C to USB-A adapter that lets me use regular USB drives still. And as people have noted above, USB drives are super cheap these days.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 9:38 AM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

USB or SD cards seem the most "universal" format today, although I know an increasing number of people who only use streaming music services. (I think this is going to be a path of lamentation and sorrow later on, but whatevs.)

Maybe also put together a Spotify playlist of the same songs, assuming they are not so obscure as to not be on Spotify? You could make a QR code of the URL and print it on a card or piece of paper (so there would be a physical artifact to hand out, with artwork or a track list or whatever) and people could scan the code on their phone and—I haven't tested this but I think it should work—have the playlist open directly into the Spotify app.

Presumably you could also do something similar for other services, but I don't know anyone who uses Apple Music, my circle of friends is Spotify or bust.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:45 AM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

You could maintain a single Dropbox account to store zip files of each mix and only offer the share link to those in the group. A zip file can contain pictures and liner notes, if anyone wants to include those. If anyone can't do the zipping and uploading, they can give you a USB stick and you can perform those last two steps.
posted by soelo at 10:17 AM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

My friends and I do Dropbox; it’s not ideal and there’s always rumblings that people want to do Spotify or something but you can make albums of files that can be dropped into iTunes with art etc. it’s annoying to do and i feel like i have to re-learn it every time but it does work and some people make cover art and everything and some people just don’t bother.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 10:47 AM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the ideas!

We've had people do USB drives before, but not everybody has a laptop or brings their laptop to the event. I like the idea of Dropbox or something, but we'd still like the event to be kind of social and have people talk about their mixes. I'm not sure if that would change the social aspect too much,.
posted by kendrak at 10:54 AM on September 27, 2018

Ask people to bring pieces of paper with dropbox QR codes and mix descriptions, and encourage people to include art or "liner notes" on the papers? That way people can physically hand out items without spending almost any money, assuming people have printer access or the time and money to do ten-cents-a-page black and white printing at a print shop.
posted by bagel at 11:50 AM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

all the students at the college radio station i dj at these days use either apple music or spotify. i know you're worried about 'locking in' to a service but that's what they're using.

there are services that will transfer playlists between services like soundiiz although you'll need someone with an account on both services.
posted by noloveforned at 12:22 PM on September 27, 2018

You could have people create a word doc/whatever with a list of links to their songs, a cover image, liner notes, etc, and store them in a shared Dropbox or bring them on a thumb drive or whatever. Then everyone can use whatever service they want so long as it’s accessible without logging in.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:44 PM on September 27, 2018

It sounds like there is a meet-and-greet event that is integral to the social aspect of this thing. I support this! Back when I went to such events the media (CDs) was (were) given out to attendees at the listening party, but the mix was played (performed?) during the event proper. Maybe participants could submit their mixes in whatever format they prefer and get others' mixes back in their preferred format as well? Sounds like a huge amount of work, but maybe not if you constrain things to a few basic approaches?
posted by baseballpajamas at 4:55 PM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Kind of a crazy idea, but what if you encouraged people to bring a list of their music (and could drop it in a Dropbox), but I also encouraged one page zine like formats. Like, people could draw pics, experiment with type or lettering, whatever. Then you can make copies for everyone. People would be able to listen to the music however they wanted and get some cool artwork?
posted by itsamermaid at 5:05 PM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Dang, wats, that sounds very cool! Do you all turn in your thumb drives at future swaps? Or does someone foot the bill each time? Or bring one from home and load it from the host's laptop?

kendrak, it seems to me that who your friends are makes a difference. I am an Old, and I want to have my MP3s -- but my kids are yout's, and they are happy streaming everything (until they grow up and move out and pay their own damn bills, no doubt). Does considering this issue help you decide to abandon physical objects in favor of playlists or Dropbox folders -- or make you double-down on cheap thumb drives/microSD cards?
posted by wenestvedt at 10:59 AM on September 28, 2018

wats: To keep the "mix tape" sequencing magic alive, I use Acoustica Mixcraft to create one long MP3 mixdown file (ie so they're not just receiving a folder full of MP3 files in random/alphabetical order), and often include some kind of tracklist jpeg file as an additional bonus :D

You can then create a .cue file, which you can embed into the MP3 with CueMaster or similar tools. I've made them by hand before for mixed MP3s, which allows you to either burn the MP3 to a CD, split the track into parts, or just use it with foobar2000 or similar playback programs that support reading .cue tracks as a way to jump to the beginning of tracks.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:55 PM on September 28, 2018

Can everyone bring a thumb drive? You could use computers from the station to download people's mixes into a folder and they could copy other people's mixes onto their own drive.
posted by Margalo Epps at 7:20 PM on September 29, 2018

Youtube playlists?
posted by oceanjesse at 6:51 PM on September 30, 2018

YouTube playlists are not a bad idea, but you run the risk of YouTube's magic Copyright Robots taking the underlying videos down at any time, unless you can find official/legal versions of the songs posted by the band or label.

Still, it might be fine if you don't care too much about the long-term stability of the thing, and just want people to be able to listen to it more or less immediately.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:38 PM on October 1, 2018

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