Archive for December, 2014

A Mixtape Story

It all started as a project to keep myself occupied. I was insanely stressed about my mother’s cancer, and as it turned out, she had under six months to live. I needed as many distractions as possible.

I met Dave the year before and started contributing to Holiday Matinee. I always enjoyed the music he was into. I mean, the guy had worked with Connor Oberst, Jimmy Eat World and Death Cab for Cutie in their early days. He appreciated old-school hip-hop the way I did. I figured we would be as good as anyone at making mixtapes. And if no one liked them, it didn’t matter. It was fucking fun and that was reason enough to make them. After our first tape received some mild praise from a couple friends, we kept it going. Every month I’d ask Dave to suggest some songs, add my own and put together the mixtape. We kept it simple. We weren’t the kind of guys that wrote lengthy dissertations on albums. There was just music that we dug and felt like deserved to be shared.

Our first mixtape in June 2009 : If you don’t see the tape, listen here.

It wasn’t very long before I became obsessed. I’d listen to the transitions between songs so they made sense. Was the next song too abrupt of a change or is that what I wanted? I’d cut the silence at the end of tracks if it was too long. I had to pick the perfect handwriting typeface that made our tapes look like something someone recorded off the radio. Eventually we started hosting these files on a CDN so it didn’t kill our bandwidth. I learned a ton about file permissions and had frustrating experiences getting files to play or making typos in the playlist file that would render the whole tape useless. Nonetheless, it was a routine I grew to love. If one other person enjoyed them, I considered it a success.

When we added more contributors we brought them in on the mixtapes. There was Hannah, editor of Indie Shuffle, who turned us on to some great tunes. Her brother David would submit obscure tracks that I really looked forward to. Catrina shared my love of Voxtrot, Gregory of dream pop, and I could always count on Monique to send me Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin songs. Meanwhile, we experimented with adding standup comedy and movie quotes on our tapes. Sometimes I spent way too much time agonizing over what tracks made the cut. It had to have a final seal of approval from one person, but I worried there could be music a lot of people loved that I just wasn’t that into. I’m sure some of the team got fed up of me using Neon Indian and Toro Y Moi every chance I got. Not Hall and Oates though, because let’s be honest, you can never have enough of that. After years of putting together these mixtapes, I could tell who submitted which track just from becoming so familiar with their tastes. I instinctively know if we’ve used a song before without even looking.

We were ushered into the era of online streaming services. It would have been much easier to only use tracks on Rdio or Spotify, but that wasn’t good enough. We wanted to be able to put rough tracks with alternate lyrics that Donald Glover sent us via Direct Message on Twitter or ridiculous Kenny Powers rants. We wanted to include songs that hadn’t officially been released and old TV theme songs. We were proud to have something uniquely us — something born out of getting to dive bars early to listen to openers, late nights listening to bands play in our friends’ living rooms, basements and attics. Even the girls we’ve dated and the music they turned us on to had an influence.

Along the journey, we’ve earned a little recogntion. Sometimes it’s a college freshman telling us they look forward to those posts every month and other times it’s a creative we really admire. Either way, kind comments can carry you when you think about taking a break. That’s the real reason it’s been 5 1/2 years and we haven’t missed a month. Maybe they are just mixtapes that a few people listen to, but somehow that really matters to me.

Make Your Mark [review]

Part of what bothers me about startup culture is the number of products and services created that don’t seem particularly important. As a friend of mine once lamented during a space launch, “We rarely do anything ambitious anymore, we just make websites.” What I enjoy about 99U’s latest release is that it’s helping to spread of the stories of people building businesses that matter. It’s a business book written for makers.


Make Your Mark: The Creative’s Guide To Building A Business With Impact is a solid read for anyone thinking about starting a business or whose existing one needs some work (hint: you can always improve and evolve). Just like the last two 99U volumes, this book is divided into sections of essays. The four main chapters are Defining Your Purpose, Building Your Product, Serving Your Customers and Leading Your Team. Contributors are of diverse backgrounds, from seasoned authors on creativity to a submarine commander.

While I won’t recap every section, I did want to mention some that stuck with me. Warren Berger’s essay on asking the right questions struck me as particularly actionable and useful. In it, he details the types of questions you may want to consider grilling yourself over – things like why your business exists and if you disappeared, who would miss you. A few different contributors touch on finding a purpose greater than profit and how focusing on others is not only just good business, it’s being a better person. The Leading Your Team chapter was also particularly thought-provoking. These essays explain how many creatives have an aversion to lead, but how we can overcome that, and why leadership roles are in desperate need of creatives. It made me reimagine the role as less Wall Street and Silicon Valley, and more makers that are in touch with the people they are serving.

I cannot limit this book as just for people starting businesses because there a number of handy exercises, whether it’s finding your personal purpose in life or a kick in ass the pep talk from Seth Godin to close out the book. At around $10 (paperback or digital) I know I found it to be a better investment than my third Old Fashioned of the evening.

Make Your Mark is available primarily on Amazon. But if you see it lounging around at your local indie bookseller, pick it up right there and then.

Previous 99U reviews from us:

Manage Your Day-To-Day
Maximize Your Potential

Our 2014 Holiday Gift Guide

Everyone’s doing it (makin’ a gift guide). But we’re going for a different approach. You won’t find any affiliate links or slideshow widgets that take you an hour to browse through, just some stuff we dig and people/companies worth supporting. If there’s a rad person in your life, maybe one of these gifts is right for them. Spending time with them, Face-Time or snail mail works great too.

Curated Coffee & Vinyl Pairing – Our pals at Turntable Kitchen are partnering with Sightglass Coffee on coffee + vinyl subscriptions. Set a morning routine you actually look forward to.


Monbento Bento Box – Because who doesn’t love leftovers? Clean and simple food storage that’ll last for years.


Quirky Pivot Power – Plugging in your shit, made easy.


U-Turn Orbit Turntable – A beautiful turntable for your vinyl obsession. You might just find yourself inviting friends over for record nights once you have this.


Paintings and drawings by Jaime Derringer  – Paintings and drawing from Design Milk’s Jaime Derringer. It makes us wish that plaid shirts would come in color combinations that are just as awesome as hers.


Ursa Major Traveler’s Skin Care Kit – Natural skin care that’ll keep you looking fly no matter how long that layover is (pun strangely not intended).


Makeshift – Not only a field guide to hidden creativity, but proof that beautifully designed print magazines are far from dead.


Stack Magazines – Discover a different independent magazine every month. Kiran gifted me a subscription and I look forward to it every month.


Do More Fun Stuff – Temporary tattoos never go out of style. Neither does having fun.


Just Keep Making Print – The only thing a creative can do.


Dot Grid Book: Ghostly Edition – A beautiful place for all your notes and sketches.


Minnesota North Stars Vintage Hoodie – Forget normcore, keep it old-school with this sweet hockey throwback.


Nike Roshe Run – Nike is killing it with new designs and smart technology. Kicks never looked so good.


The Indie Rock Coloring Book – An oldie, but still great for kids. Features MGMT, The Shins, Bon Iver and more.


Flic – a quarter-sized piece of rubber that’s about to completely change how we use our smartphones.


Kimber Modern Boutique Hotel Austin, Texas –  Be sure to go when it’s not SXSW and you’ll experience everything this colorful city has to offer. Kimber Modern is hands down our favorite booking and stay experience on the planet.


The Sill – Because plants make people happy.


Personalized Mixtape Pillow – As if we weren’t already obsessed with making mixtapes!


Ticket Stub Diary – Don’t just chuck ticket stubs in a shoebox. Give your favorite memories some dignity by putting them an album that will make you wax nostalgic every time.


Paper Later – A new service that takes the stuff you want to read online and print it as a newspaper. This sheer brilliance is currently available only in UK.


Cork Globe – Our obsession with globes continues.


Parcel – Gone are the days of missed packages and endless post office lines.


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