Website Review: 8tracks.com

The mix tape is by nature an intimate and personal undertaking. It’s not just a matter of tossing together a lot of your favorite songs; you have to think about order of presentation, chemistry between the various songs and artists, even the amount of space between tracks. Whether you’re making a mix for a friend, a lover or just for your own enjoyment, a well thought-out mix says a lot about you as a music fan and a person.

With all that in mind, a site like 8tracks seems almost counter-intuitive, as it essentially turns those previously private mix tapes into public property. The concept is pretty basic: users can upload tracks to the site directly from their at-home music libraries, get everything properly ordered and gussied up with titles and album covers, and then publish the finished mix for other users to enjoy. The rules of the site are similarly simple. Mixes must contain at least eight songs, with no more than two from the same artist or album. Other than that, the possibilities are fairly limitless.

Finding a mix that meets your needs is simple. You can select a genre, search for a favorite artist or just browse the recently posted mixes. And don’t worry about the library being bogged down with obvious artists like some other sites. Sure, you can find plenty of Katy Perry- and Bruno Mars-centric high school mixes, but stumping the search engine is no easy task. Even relative obscurities like Willie West, Black Randy and the Metrosquad and Joe Byrd and the Field Hippies yield a few results each. A big part of the site’s beauty is how frequently undiscovered artists turn up in the playlists. Anyone who can spend a few hours on 8tracks without getting turned on to at least a few new and exciting bands isn’t trying hard enough.

For all the much-ballyhooed algorithms of sites like Pandora and Last.FM, 8tracks may actually do a better job of catering to individual users’ tastes. There’s a certain inimitable flow to a good, human-curated mix tape that just can’t be replicated by electronic impulses. Sure, it’s not quite the same experience as popping a Memorex cassette of your buddy’s hand-selected road trip tunes into the tape deck, but there’s a different kind of appeal in discovering that some unknown crate-digger from Tacoma thinks Dexy’s Midnight Runners and Destiny’s Child songs belong on the same mix. It’s a graceful blend of intimacy and openness that pulls an age-old musical medium into the age of social media.

The author couldn’t resist trying his hand at an 8tracks mix of his own. Listen to the results here.

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