Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s Cassette Mixtapes

Crowdsourced playlists for an exhibition, played on vintage cassette walkmans.

Project Description

This project, which accompanied the travelling exhibition Come As You Are: Art of the 1990s, was designed to provide musical context for the exhibition in an unusual way. Visitors to the exhibition were encouraged to check out vintage Sony Walkmans and pick out mixtapes of 90s music submitted by other Blanton visitors and friends. The line was “listen to the music of the 90s while you see the art of the 90s on the technology of the 90s.”

Process

The process involved encouraging visitors to submit playlists via social media and other channels, dubbing those playlists onto cassette tapes, having visitors decorate those tapes at a special event, and then making the resulting mixtape cassettes available to visitors during the run of the exhibition. To streamline the production process, I created multiple automation routines using Zapier in conjunction with the Spotify, Google Docs, and Trello APIs to ensure Blanton staff were notified when new playlists were submitted and that they were properly tasked with all the information necessary to create the mixtapes. As a part of this automation, the playlists were also automatically added to the Blanton’s “1990s Mixtapes” Tumblr (it was 2016, after all).

Response

The response to the mixtape project was wildly positive, with a takeup rate of well over 40%. We found that, during the run of the exhibition, the word of mouth on the mixtapes was surprisingly specific: not only were arriving visitors asking for the mixtapes, but many of them were asking for specific mixtapes by name. As a means of evaluating response, we monitored the check in/check out times for the Walkmans and found that over 90% of visitors were using the Walkmans for either 45 minutes (the length of one side of a cassette) or 90 minutes (both sides). This was significant, given that an average visit to the Blanton at that time was generally around 60 minutes. The earned media on the project was also significant, particularly after UT’s alternative station picked up on the project and asked all of their DJs to submit mixtapes.

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