Nostalgic for those over 40 years old and unique to those under 30 years old, mixtapes have come into fashion revived from the 1980s by a new generation eager to get their hands on something different and fun to share with friends. What better way to share then with a mixtape vending machine!
Artist and tinkerer, Jason Turgeon, created a mixtape vending machine that dispenses handmade mixtapes through a 1980s snack vending machine he re-configured. He supports local musicians by creating mixtapes and dispensing them through the vending machine in Boston, MA as part of FIGMENT, a public arts event held once a year. Jason tells us about his concept to completion, struggle to create the mixtape vending machine and the corporation who stole his idea. As a way to engage and support fellow music lovers, Jason invites people to participate in making their own mixtapes.
LMC: Why did you decide to create the mixtape vending machine?
Jason: I’m and artist and I make odd-ball public art in a variety of sculptural elements. Most of the stuff I do has some connection to music or written/spoken word.
A while ago, I was out at Brimfield which is a huge antiques show in Central Massachusetts and we saw a couple of cool old cigarette machines. My wife and I thought we should get one.
Earlier this year I finished another project where I built a giant typewriter and was coming down off that. I needed something to keep me busy. I missed being in the shop every night and got to thinking about those old cigarette machines we had seen.
There’s an art event called FIGMENT that I started about 10 years ago and for a weekend you can bring any cool things you want to the park. I was thinking I should do something for FIGMENT and it had to be somewhat small.
I started thinking about what I could do with an old cigarette machine, and it just sort of clicked; I could stick a tape in it.
I started shopping around on craigslist and ebay. An old gentleman, who had died in his 90s, had passed away and his daughter sold off his entire business of vending machines. The guy who had bought a business lived in Connecticut. He was piecing out the machines so I bought a cigarette machine from him but without a key. Came home and spent hours drilling out the lock and found out that tapes won’t fit into a cigarette vending machine.
I also found out that there’s a company called Art-o-mat that decided they own the idea of dispensing art in cigarette machines. They’re super unfriendly and big on it’s their idea and if you take it you’re stealing it so…I abandoned that concept.
The guy had a snack machine for sale. Same manufacturer, similar style. I called him up and asked if I could trade and he said no. So I went back and bought another machine with a key.
Snacks are bigger than cigarettes and I could fit these mixtapes in there. I thought I was done. I thought I’ll just go get a few different old tape machines and start making some mixtapes. That turned out to be way harder than I thought.
There are working cassette machines out there but it turned out to be a real challenge. (laughing) I went way down the Internet research rabbit hole and learned all sorts of stuff about how cassette machines work. I ended up buying about 15 different decks of which I got eight working. Then, I was able to get two or three different working ones from friends. I ended up with a total of 10 working decks and I was able to procure 150 cassettes.
I started making mixes and was sort of cheating because I wasn’t doing it the right way where you do cassette to cassette where you get all the artifacts of starting it and stopping it.
LMC: So you didn’t do digital to cassette?
Jason: I did. I generated playlists and recorded them through a pretty nice amplifier that went into a 1-in to 4-out power amplifier splitter and daisy chained cassettes after those first four.
To try and make individual cassette-to-cassette recordings was just going to take a certain amount of time. This was supposed to be a fun weekend throw-away project.
Once I figured out how to do it, I had 10 decks going at a time.
I was also looking at a vending machine that has eight column of snacks that it would dispense. I figured I could have as many as eight different recordings. I shouldn’t have the same recording in every column. If you went to a vending machine and all it had was M&Ms you’d be disappointed.
I have a box of cassettes from the 80s and 90s. There wasn’t enough stuff from that small box of cassettes to make a mixtape so I cheated and I assembled playlists and I wanted to have some specific music on there.
I put out a call to friends and asked if they had mixtapes and they wanted to dispense them they could. One guy gave me his old mixtapes from the 90s that he had recorded off the radio. I kind of wish I dubbed a bunch of copies of those and given those out ’cause that’s the real mixtape experience. So two lucky people are walking around with this guys teenage year memories.
There’s a band [named Goh] who had albums worth of material that they hadn’t figured out how to release.
This is the thing I’m most gratified about. They had to figure out how to get a cassette player too. They made one copy on cassette. So there is one copy of their tape in the world and they stuck it in this vending machine and somebody took it. They may release it some day but now it’s edition one of one, handwritten. Somebody doesn’t know what a valuable thing they have (laughing) they probably stuck it in a drawer somewhere.
WINNING AND LOOSING SIDE OF THE MIXTAPE
LMC: I looked at the lists you made and saw a lot of local artists from the Boston area and then artists like Tom Petty. Why did you choose the certain artist?
Jason: You think back to what it was like to make a mixtape. It’s different from a playlist in subtle ways. The name of the project is called “Someone Else’s Poetry”, and that name is stolen from Hi-Fidelity, the movie with John Kusack. There’s a scene where he’s sitting down in an armchair making a mixtape for his new girlfriend and he’s talking about how difficult it is to communicate on a mixtape using somebody else poetry. There’s a whole scene of him lining up the tracks and scratching them out and making that mixtape for a specific girl.
Watch the scene here: Clip of Hi-Fidility and making a mixtape!
I was thinking about that. I’m giving this away to the general public so I’m not making a playlist for one person the way you used to.
I’m giving the mixtape away to one person in the general public but what kind of story do I want to tell. I started going through my songs I’d been listening to a lot recently and I tossed them all together in a big playlist. I tried to figure out what went well together. The original concept was I was going to have a winning side and a loosing side of the mixtape but there were too many songs to widdle it down so I had a winning mixtape and a loosing mixtape.
I had to go out and create a playlist for side A and side B of each tape. Because I was doing this manually I would push play on my device and then I would have to have all 10 decks paused and I’d have to manually un-pause all 10 of them so I’d have to have enough of a delay. Some of the tapes have almost a minute of blank space while I’m like pause, pause, pause, pause.
It’s a challenge but it’s part of what made mixtapes so much fun to make when you were a kid.
LMC: One’s childhood engineering experience with mixtapes development.
Jason: Yeah, you’re actually making something. It was a lot more thoughtful and active than throwing songs into a playlist that can be unlimited lengths.
It felt more creative. When you are making something you get that buzz or glow or whatever that feeling, that joy. I got that from making these mixtapes.
THE LOCAL MUSIC CHOICES
LMC: Why did you choose local artists from the Boston area to be on your mixtape project?
Jason: I have a lot of friends who are musicians and a lot who are DJs. It turned out so many are DJs I was going to put their mixes on the tapes but it turns out non of them had 60-90 minute sets that could split at the right spot. I axed all my DJ friends. Sorry all my DJ friends. None of you made the cut. (laughing)
I have a lot of friends who make music and several of them are artists who have done stuff at FIGMENT over the years. This was the 10th year so I wanted to feature some of them. I made five different tapes.
One of the artists is a woman named Rebecca Kopycinski who goes by her band name Nedta Veritas, a one woman band. She’s amazing. She’s a videographer, singer, she does a lot of live looping. She showed up from Burlington, VT at FIGMENT and exploded onto the Boston art scene. I wanted to have some of her stuff on these tapes so that was the beginning of it.
Some of the artists are a big deal like Zebbler Encanti Experience who tour every year. Very dubstep/techno-y. There’s a guy locally called Walter Sickert who runs a band called the The Army or Broken Toys. Just an amazing musician. Sort of somewhere between Klezmer or punk and circus. There’s Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band, which is the house band for the Boston burner art scene. This band has as many as 20 people if they can get them to all show up that day.
In creating the music for the mixtapes, I was trying to tell stories and have emotional responses from the song changes.
I ended up making one that was just for my friends called “My Friends are Awesome”. I have a lot of friends who make music and I wanted to put them all on a mixtape. Christian McNeil, who isn’t my closest friend, is Andy Goldman’s best friends. Andy is also one of my best friends (he made the graphics that says “Mixtapes” on the machine). I wanted something for Andy. Even though Andy doesn’t play music he’s the guy who sees the most shows and has the best musical taste of anyone I ever met.
I can’t put Andy on because he doesn’t make music but I’ll put your friend on here.
It’s all people I know [on the tapes]. It was really fun to put together.
LMC: It’s great for local musicians in the Boston area. That you developed an outlet to put the people you really care on the tape, friends of friends.
Jason: Friends of friends, I made 30 copies of that tape so 30 people out there get to listen to it. Several I made sure got into the hands of people who were on the tape. There’s some level of scarcity to it and it’s a tape and if people are really into to it, “Ah man, this is a sweet mix”, if they have a working two bin tape deck out there they can dub it and give it to their friends.
LMC: When all was done and you put this on the street, what was the reaction that you saw?
Jason: It was varied. People like stuff for free and there were people who were taking stuff for free. I put out a little box where people could think, “I actually don’t need this,” and put the tape back in so I could reuse it. I had a high number of people take a tape out and think “What the hell am I going to do with this, I haven’t had a working cassette player in 15 years”. I was able to recirculate those.
Some of the younger 20-something year olds, who thought they kind of remember my parents having tapes, maybe mom has a tape deck somewhere or maybe I’m poor and driving a 20-year old car with a tape deck that I’ve never used. I think some of those people grabbed one.
Then there are the people in thier 40s who have this strong emotional reaction to it. Those were the people who were most excited about this. They got it and jumped in.
The response has been limited. People listen to it if they have a cassette player that still works. Because they listen to it much later, I don’t get to see their reaction.
Last night was like an artists home run. It was a complete and utter gratification. Andy had taken a few tapes and he gave one to the door guy at Toad [nightclub] who is a door guy at a number of music clubs. He’s one of these guys who loves music. He Facebook friended me and said, “Your mix is awesome”. To have somebody to reach out, who I don’t know, and tell me that, that’s an art home run. Your friends will always be nice to you but when strangers come back and tell you they liked it that’s when you’re winning.
THE FUTURE FOR THE MIXTAPE & VENDING MACHINE
LMC: Is there any longevity to the mixtape vending machine?
Jason: I have this snack machine, which is sitting, in my barn taking up space. It suffered a bit in the project. One of the knobs got ripped out, I replaced it but I have to see if I can get it to be fully functional again.
I have 8-9 of my own cassette recorders. I have all the stuff and I have the technique down so I feel like I should try to figure out another place to do it again.
You can’t just stick it on the street. The machine’s 40-years old and finicky. I have to be standing by to check on it.
This is something I do as a hobby. I have a day job. I’ve offered it to people who are in Boston that if you want to use it – fine. Go to duplication.ca and buy your box of tapes and come hang out in my barn for a day or two and go make your own mixtapes.
I’d like to see it have more of a life since the response was good but it will probably be fairly short lived. Not everything needs to live forever. There will be a couple more appearances and then it’ll get put back on eBay to sell candy to somebody else.
I think part of why this is successful is it gives people a double hit of nostalgia in one dose. It’s the confluence of two very different pieces of nostalgia that work well together. You not only get the cassette but it’s the old style of vending machine that my generation and older grew up with in the back corner of bars and places where teens would hang out that weren’t bars.
You used to see vending machines a lot more than you do now. There’s just a very different experience since sleek glass box and seeing the items drop and not get stuck.
THE FUTURE SPINS LARGE
LMC: Are you making some big record player?
Jason: I want to. Fucking Mountiain Dew ripped me off. I put the idea on my web site with a bunch of graphics as a project I’m going to do and Mountain Dew earlier this year created a shockingly similar ad that features a random white bearded guy in the desert making a giant record player of the same model of people sitting in the same place.
After I spent a few thousand dollars on lawyers saying hey you guys owe me some money, they were like no, this is an obvious idea that anyone would have thought of. My lawyer was like they are wrong but it would cost you at least a half a million dollars to get them to court. Since I could build a lot more record players for a half a million dollars I had to let it die.
I’ve been noodling on this idea going on five years. I need at least $100,000 to build it.
LMC: Where would it live?
Jason: I built the giant typewriter out of wood and we burned it. People liked it and I was commissioned to build a second one for somebody who said it was going to live in their art yard.
When you build something like the record player, the concept was it would live on a trailer, like a portable stage. The scale would be 24:1 same as the typewriter.
LMC: In regard to the typewriter, I saw people were stepping on the keys. Were those stairs or did they actually press down?
Jason: They do not press down. The first typewriter we installed electronics into it. You could type at night with a projector.
LMC: With the record player, would there be a record that spins?
Jason: The projects work because they have multiple levels. A giant record player is fun but sort of meaningless. It’s the selection of the record that makes it meaningful. Sort of the same with the mixtape. A mixtape dispenser is fun but so what. If you get a mixtape that you love out of it then it’s meaningful.
I consulted with some of my DJ friends and askes does this idea have legs?
One of my friends said it should be the DJ turn table, the Panasonic or the technic turn table, the 1200MK2 that all the DJs still use from the 80s and the 90s. I started doing research and thought here is a cult device. I asked my friend if we were going to play a record what would it be and he said it can only be the [The Winstons’ 1969 song] “Amen, Brother”, side B, 45, because that’s where the 6-second “Amen, Brother” drum break came from that is the most sampled piece of music in history.
There’s a project with level on level on level that’s exciting. The idea was you can climb it, it will play and the record on the back would be the “Amen, Brother” 45, but because you’d have to spin it at such a large size, people would be flying off of it and launched into nearby buildings, (laughing), it’s not practical to do that.
LMC: Some people might enjoy that.
Jason: Some people might be into it. We’d slow it down to something ridiculous to 1 RPM, really slow. The idea was there’s thousands of hours of drum and bass music that’s based off of this and other stuff so we can play songs that have the “Amen, Brothers” break in it.
I think the idea still has legs even though Mountain Dew ripped me off. I would still like to build it. If you like old technology you’d be into it. If you like Dj music you’d be into it, if you are into old soul music you’d be into the “Amen, Brothers” side of it, if you’re knowledgeable about DJ music culture in particular you would be really really excited about this project because it’s a project that goes into the specifics of this one break.
LMC: I still have an old tape deck I’ve had for 20 years and it works perfect.
Jason: I have enough broken tape decks that i’m going to do a tape deck repair clinic in the fall.
There is a very short video of me doing a dry run of it in my barn up on YouTube. I would tell people if they are into it, local to Boston, and want to use my stuff I’m happy to see it get another life if they are willing to do the work.
Learn more about the mixtape clinic, make a mixtape at Jason’s barn or learn about Jason’s large scale art projects:
Watch the live music video at https://localmusicchannel.com
©2019 Local Music Channel, Inc.