by: Erica M. Medrano
Brian Dishon is the host of The Old Weird America (currently on hiatus) and creator of the Mixtape Preservation Society, a mixtape exchange collective made up of die-hard music lovers and all-around creative folk.
What brought you to the mixtape movement? What inspired you to create the Mixtape Preservation Society?
A few years ago, I was fascinated and kind of repulsed by the ease with which we’re able to access information over the Internet. We have easier access to more information than at any other time in human history and I don’t believe we have the capacity to really process all the information we consume. It’s changed the way we discover and listen to music and that’s a change that was kind of uncomfortable to me at the time. I still find it a little irritating when someone is trying to share their new favorite music on their iPod and they only play ¼ of each twenty songs they’d like to share with you. It’s like they’re overcome by the temptation to instantly access their entire music library. At that time, I felt like I was ten years behind the curve—still making mixtapes and CDs for friends rather than sharing music I was enjoying or thought they would enjoy over the Internet, still discovering great new music on college radio, rather than Pandora! I felt like I may as well have been boiling water to bathe with. In a certain sense, the Mixtape Preservation Society began as a way to find out how many people like me were still out there—people that still went to record stores and responded to flyers and owned tape decks. That was the spirit I wrote the first flyers in: “Who’s still out there? Who’s as backwards and out of it as I am? Who’s okay with that?”
There were a number of books that I read at that time that in some way inspired me to start the Mixtape Preservation Society. Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget was influential—particularly the idea that human creativity and expression is valuable and has the potential to be devalued in a predominantly web 2.0 Internet age. Also, the idea that music can be a catalyst of community in Michael Azzerad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life and Kim Cooper’s biography of Neutral Milk Hotel in her 33 1/3 series book In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and everything I had been reading about the Amish and their deliberate non-participation in a society in which communities of people are being driven further and further apart by technology—their choice to live differently, to be purposefully backwards. There were a lot of “big” ideas like those that were influential as well as a lot of “small” ones, like how fun it is to get packages in the mail or how meaningful it is when someone takes the time to make something by hand for you. Things like that were equally inspirational.
Do you remember the first mixtape you either created or received? If so, what was on it?
In high school, my best friend and I made a concentrated effort to learn about punk rock by asking punk friends of ours for tapes of their favorite albums. Those weren’t exactly mixtapes per se, but they were compilations of a few albums or EPs or 7 inches that we weren’t real sure we wanted to spend our money on or have our parents find. Neither of our folks would have been real excited to see a copy of Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death lying around our rooms. I’ve always made mixtapes for myself, but the kind of mixtape that I make for people now I started making in 2004. I was just playing around with documenting what I was listening to, creating a mood, and expressing things I was feeling during a particular time. They were mixtapes that were beyond a collection of songs or weird records from my collection-- they were mixtapes that really meant something to me. A few years later, a friend of mine made me a mix CD as a gift and I was surprised to find that there were songs on the mix by artists I would have never voluntarily listened to, but I ended up enjoying all the same; “Hear Me Out” by Ben Kweller was the one on that mix that I didn’t expect to like. I learned that I was willing to listen beyond my own musical taste prejudices because of the value of our friendship and I gained a new appreciation for something, even as small as a song, I would have never had before.
What makes a great mixtape (for you)?
A great mixtape to me is one that someone has really put some time and thought into. A great mixtape can simply be a great collection of songs or it can express something about the person who made it. One that I got a few months ago featured songs that brought a specific memory to mind for the maker of the mix. As a collection of songs, it wasn’t all that great, but when placed in the context of the memories he included in the notes, it became something else—a snapshot of someone else’s experience and perspective, truly a little window into his soul. It inspired me to respond with a similar mix. In the deepest sense, I feel like the best mixtape communicates something about the person who made it. That’s somehow more satisfying than listening to a mix made by an algorithm. In that exchange, we learned a little something about each other. The music was secondary, a means rather than an end.
Where can people go to find out more info and start sharing through MTPS?
When I started the Mixtape Preservation Society, I wanted to keep it as far off the Internet as possible-- a bit of a fear-driven Luddite reaction that I’ve since rethought. It could be said, that I’ve gone from Amish to Mennonite, in terms of online involvement. There is a website now and you can visit it at mixtapepreservationsociety.com to get the basic information about how to join. You can also e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org you’re sold on the idea and want to provide the Society with your name and address so you can begin exchanging mixes through the mail with another member. The thing is, the Mixtape Preservation Society is so autonomous that you don’t really have to be a member. You and some friends can start trading mixtapes and mix CDs. I just created the MTPS so that I could connect people together who may not have friends dedicated enough to make mixes on a regular basis.