Mixed Tapes Make Way For Playlist Nation

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Remember days and weekends making mix tapes to express your feelings to the one you loved? Well, forget them.


If you spend hours or maybe days creating the perfect playlist to express your emotional state, our digital commentator David Kushner may be able to help you out.

DAVID KUSHNER: In college, my roommate was a big music geek. When he had his heart broken by a girl one semester, he expressed himself the only way he knew how - made her a mixed tape. At the time, in the '80s, this wasn't easy. It was meticulous and painstaking. I came back to find my roommate with his vinyl records spread out across the floor, cans of soda lined up on the cabinet, as he chose just the right songs and sequence to transfer to an audio cassette. It took an entire weekend.

(Soundbite of song, "Waiting For A Girl Like You")

FOREIGNER (Band): (Singing) I've been waiting for a girl like you to come into my life.

KUSHNER: Today, all he'd have to do is text her a link to his playlist. Playlists are the digital equivalent of the old mixed tape, and they're gaining in popularity and controversy. The popularity comes from the ease and variety of music. Playlist makers have signed thematic names to their mixes, such as heavy metal.

(Soundbite of heavy metal song)

Unidentified Man: (unintelligible)

KUSHNER: And visitors leave messages commending or ridiculing their choices. Other playlists are more science than art. On Pandora, songs are analyzed according to 400 attributes, from rhythm syncopation to key tonality.

(Soundbite of music)

KUSHNER: When you type in a song choice of your own, Pandora automatically generates a playlist of songs with similar qualities. iTunes has introduced a feature like this called Genius, which, if you let it, scans through your songs and then creates a playlist in that vein. If you don't like the results, you could always boot up a celebrity playlist chosen by, say, The Indigo Girls or Tom Jones.

(Soundbite of "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)"

Ms. ARETHA FRANKLIN (Singer): (Singing) You're a no good, heartbreaker. You're a liar and you're a cheat. And I don't know why…

KUSHNER: Some playlist sites have been sued or shutdown over copyright violation concerns. But others are building alliances with the music industry. The idea is to create a kind of iTunes for music sharing, and my guess is that there's no turning back now. Cueing up a sequence of songs is still among the most personal acts of expression a music fan can muster. All you need is a computer and some tunes, and a broken heart helps, too.

(Sound bite of song, "Nothing Compares 2 U")

Ms. SINEAD O'CONNOR (Singer): (Singing) It's been 7 hours and 15 days since you took your love away.

HANSEN: What a heartbreaker. Nothing compares to David Kushner, a writer who covers digital culture. This is NPR News.

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