Annual Mix Albums
2004 was the first Annual Mix Album* I put together—though I didn’t think of it that way at the time.
About once a year previously, I had made some sort of carefully thought out compilation. These mixtapes (they were usually tapes) had parameters and rules which helped me keep the song selections focused and manageable. For "Life On A Chain," the title I gave this disc, my mandate was "The songs, sounds, albums, and artists that defined the year for me."
That was a pretty pivotal year for me. I turned 25 while living in my parents’ basement and headed for a divorce. There was definitely an autobiographical approach to the songs included. A lot of them were not on albums I thought I would listen to much as a whole and I wanted to have a place to hear more regularly. I didn’t make that disc with a mind to share it, but I was really happy with the way it came out and ended up including copies in the “orders” I sent out for the Dreaming Out Loud Christmas 2004 catalog.
2005 was the year I codified the conventions and deemed this an annual tradition. I mailed it out with holiday cards to friends and family, including a typewritten letter of explanation in which I also encouraged folks to reply with their own collections of music.
I'm not certain, but I believe the 2008 disc went out with mailings inviting members of that list a "Holiday Homecoming" gig at Akron's Musica concert club.
For the 2009 edition, I made the mix a reward for filling out a questionnaire about my audience's music consumption practices.
In 2010 I quoted the lines from High Fidelity I always think of when putting these compilations together and posted my own "rules."
I can't seem to find any context for the 2011 edition. I do remember that being a pretty hectic time. I got married in the summer, my wife moved to Minnesota to finish her Ph.D. work while I stayed in Ohio crowd-funding my Light The Dark LP. I like to think I mailed these out to the same folks I was hitting up for money as a freebee amidst the haranguing.
2012 was the first year I began offering a track-by-track commentary—though I did it in the form of a video. The disc came in a single sheet of folded up paper, and on the back right flap I'd written: “Go to www.tinyurl.com/2012mixCD.” By that point, I'd joined my wife in Minnesota and was trying to find ways to stay connected with the audience I'd built in Ohio—who were, themselves, spreading out across the country. These "snail mailings," as I often called them, were opportunities for me to both say "thanks for the support" and keep track of where my supporters lived for possible tour stops.
Anyhow, that year I sent folks CDs for their birthday—information provided either via the email list signup or find-able on Facebook.
For the 10th annual edition in 2013, I began writing extensive track-by-track commentary liner notes, a practice I think I may have borrowed from Kevin Conaway who had also started mailing out mix albums a couple of years prior. I also tried replicating the mix on Spotify, but that didn't work as well as I'd hoped—particularly because many of the songs weren’t available through that service.
I continued the track-by-track commentary and added videos via a Wordpress blog page for the 2014 collection. This is the only year (so far) to exceed the 80 minute capacity of a CD-R. I hosted an "Extended Mix" on Mixcloud, which is currently where the entire archive streams.
Initially, I skipped the commentary for 2015, but I ultimately came through for an audience of one.
By 2016, my music listening habits were beginning to change. In 2017 I almost didn't make a mix at all. Thankfully, a couple of the guys whom I'd helped get into the habit of making their own annual mixes inspired me to continue.
Each of the buttons below links to a page where you can stream that year's music mix as well as read whatever context or commentary has survived to be preserved here.
*I started using the term "mix album" in 2014, as they've always been designed to work as a whole and to flow as a long-form record should. Thanks to my friend Kevin Conaway for that distinction. His mix albums are truly fantastic!