In the ’90s, there were few better gifts that I could receive than a fresh brick of blank cassette tapes. These 90-minutes canvases held such potential, waiting for me to put together my themed compilations made for road trips, studying and, most importantly, as gifts for friends. But with the prevalence of CD burners, and most listeners relying on digital files, MP3 players and streaming, the craft of making a true mixtape has all but died.
Enter MiTapes, a nostalgia-inducing app. With MiTapes, users can create their own playlists that can be “played back” on a cassette — at least visually, as your iPhone screen becomes a tape deck with two spools winding away. Can this throwback novelty re-ignite your love for the original form of peer-to-peer file sharing? Find out more about it after the jump.
Mastering the Mix
To get started, MiTapes will have you choose the length of your forthcoming masterpiece. Three options are available here for your playlists, clocking in at 60, 90 and 120 minutes. That equals out to 30, 45 and 60 minutes per “side” of each tape, respectively. It looks like the app adds an extra second to the duration of a song, so if a tune measures in at 4:59, the space used will be 5 minutes.
After choosing the playing time of your tape, you will then choose a name for it. Names can be as creative as you want, though given the display of playlists, you may want to keep them relatively basic. After your mixtape has a name, you’ll see it displayed on the tape’s “case,” looking as though it has been written by hand. The same effect will also show itself on the track list, as well as on the cassette itself, which scrolls the name of the track currently being played.
Playing, Skipping and Sequencing
MiTapes instantly reminds users of the importance of planning ahead. When using the app, it mimics the craft of making a mixtape in that the creators should theoretically know the order of the songs they want to put into the mix. This may be a challenge for those used to making tracklists and shuffling them around to suit their fancy. Thankfully, there is a way to go in later and either delete or rearrange the order of the tunes, just so long as they collectively fit within the time constraints of the cassette. Naturally, songs used in MiTapes are sourced from your device’s library.
While compiling your mix, you will be able to tap the plus sign next to a song to have it included. While making these selections, you can concurrently add tracks to side A and B of your cassette’s playlist, but should you want to include a song in your playlist twice, you won’t be able to, so make sure the one place you want it satisfies your musical needs.
Reel to Reel, Beat to Beat
As mentioned before, while in playback mode, the app becomes a full-screen cassette deck, with one reel winding into the next. Touch the bottom of the tape and a few buttons will appear, including those that let you skip forward or backward to the next or previous songs (where was this feature back in the day?), pause, flip the tape to its other side and one that will take you to the main menu. Pressing some of the buttons for these functions will create a plastic-on-plastic noise or clicks reminiscent of using a boom box and adding to the retro vibe.
As a tape plays, its transition from song to song is padded by a little bit of air, but that’s the only awkward change between tracks. Unlike real cassettes, you won’t have to wait for any unfilled time on a side to run out before you can listen to your next jam. The mixtape also plays continuously until you make it stop.
What Doesn’t Stick on Tape
Say you update your phone’s music library. How will this alter your playlists? Unlike a cassette where a song is stored until it’s recorded over, taking a song out of your library will remove it from your playlist, marking its title in red. Mixtapes won’t play if even one song is missing. In order to fix this, you’ll have to delete the red songs and should you choose to, can add more available songs from your library to fill in the gaps. Otherwise, you can just have a smaller playlist for a particular mix.
A word of warning if most of the music on your iPhone was downloaded from iTunes: those songs will not play on MiTapes. Yes, those songs can still be included within the playlists that you create, but you will hear nothing but dead silence as your tape plays until the next non-iTunes track queues up. To fully utilize MiTapes, songs will have to be re-imported as MP3s, or you can rely on your selection of songs that are CD rips, or were purchased from Amazon and other download sites.
MiTapes is a fun throwback in that it will take those familiar with tape-to-tape dubbing back to their younger days and the archaic methods we once used to share music and make playlists. What might hinder users is not being able to use iTunes-downloaded content within the app, as well as the time limitations on the playlists and not being able to share your creations with friends. Creating a list of songs to play is very simple on the iPhone’s version of iTunes and comes standard with the device, so it might be a harder sell to get folks to cough up the asking price. But with the iPod and other iOS devices doing so much to change the way we listened to music, this might be one of the few apps that takes listeners to a time when their listening habits were more distinctive.