Punk Rock, Playlists, and Product Polish: The Latest from Mixtape Social Music
Founded as Mix-Tape (hyphenated) in 2019 and re-founded as Mixtape in 2020, Mixtape Social Music (Lehi, Utah) is a playlist-first streaming platform—a “future nostalgia” blend of old-school music curation and 21st-century functionality. Unlike major music and social apps available for download, Mixtape is not built on number of streams or gaming the algorithm; curated playlists and artist-centric collaborations are where the platform truly shines.
Last month, TechBuzz sat down with founder Isaac Ellsworth and co-founder and Senior Vice President Rob Duffin to discuss Mixtape’s latest updates. (Also part of the founding team is Dave Williams.) Since TechBuzz’s first Mixtape article published December 1st, 2021, the app has been going through a high-growth period, including new sponsorships and continued product enhancement. The team is also developing more of the app’s “vital social features” and distribution, all while collaborating with grassroots organizations in art, music, and fashion.
A quick recap of Mixtape’s functionality: the platform prompts users to sync their Apple Music library, add tracks to create personalized playlists, and post and distribute the content on the native feed and surrounding social network. Listeners and Remixers can share, comment, and collaborate on curated tracks, and account owners have the ability to monitor, delete, and report comments. Those without Apple Music accounts can still participate in the social piece; Mixtape serves up a 30-second teaser for each song included on a playlist.
“Mixtape has been this project for years in the making—strides of progress and breakthroughs here and there—but lately it’s just been on rocket fuel,” says Ellsworth. “We’ve brought on Rob to manage the marketing and creative side, plus a project manager and QA engineer. We’ve raised new funds, built out new app features, and spearheaded new partnerships. It’s been an incredible paradigm shift.”
This includes two new industry collaborators: Novak’s House and Punk Rock and Paintbrushes. Founded in 2020 by professional skateboarder and MTV celebrity Brandon Novak, Novak’s House is an addiction recovery residence headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, with locations around the United States. The organization has been part of various art and music projects, including the latest CKY Chronicles graphic novel and Baltimore’s Addiction & Recovery Awareness MusicFest.
Punk Rock and Paintbrushes is a production management company and artist collective. They’ve produced dozens of art and music tours around the country, including collaborations with Brandon Novak, Green Day, and Riot Fest. With Mixtape, they’ll be working on various projects for the platform’s digital art tools, stickers, and playlist displays.
“This has been such a cool addition to Mixtape: the ability for real artists to add original content to the interface,” says Ellsworth. “There's that crossover of art and music, an all-encompassing presentation of visual and auditory creatives. That collaborative, DIY element is so integral to Mixtape’s story.”
“Agreed,” says Duffin, “It’s been truly exciting. Everyone from users to industry icons are talking about the app… watching them get into the platform and their eyes light up. What we’re hearing and talking about all the time is, ‘Wow, not only does the industry need this—the whole world needs this right now.’ There's this power of music and the connection it’s been over the decades. It's been even more powerful to riff in the digital age, when everything feels a bit more lost and intangible—the best you can do is maybe share a playlist or text a link to a song. Mixtape summons those connections we used to have.”
Duffin further explains the art angle. “Mixtape is nostalgia-heavy, and the visual presentation is no different,” he explains. “Think back to when you used to buy a CD or tape; you open up the artwork, read the poetry, and browse the band photos—we’re trying to summon that with a digital interface. As Isaac mentioned with the Mixtape gallery, we're adding in getting original artwork from musicians and other visual artists. It enhances those little ways musicians connect with their audience, both tactile and abstract.”
A recent artist to collaborate is Mike Gallo (also of Punk Rock and Paintbrushes), who created original artwork for Mixtape display. The platform connects that artwork with contributors’ websites, accounts, or galleries, allowing artists to directly or indirectly monetize their work. “You’re able to click on the menu, go to a site directly, and buy art without Mixtape having hands in the money pot,” says Duffin. “These kinds of partnerships are what keeps the integrity of Mixtape. We’re not out to create another extractionary social-media platform.”
“Same goes for its A & R [artists and repertoire] potential,” says Ellsworth. “Mixtape is becoming a promotional avenue for endorsements, getting new bands in front of the labels—similar to how platforms like SoundCloud and TikTok produce work virally, but artist-centric. So many independent bands could use that exposure boost, especially with a platform that’s affordable, easy to use, and relevant to their industry.”
Ellsworth and Duffin refer back to the catalyzing effects of Napster, a major influence in the formation of Mix-Tape 1.0. “Napster was this complete paradigm shift,” Duffin recalls. “I for one love how this entire world of music opened up because of it, but I also know how it wreaked havoc on the industry. Now that things have settled down and online music streaming is here to stay, I’m excited to be part of a platform that works to honor the power of music and treat real-world musicians fairly. We can’t steal music, we can’t steal art, we can’t sell off other people’s artwork. Mixtape is meant to support, not exploit.”
Even as new features and integrations are added, these ideals continue to prevail in the platform’s branding and functionality. More than trolldom and monetization, Mixtape is about stories.
“That's what music is really meant to do: lift us up and help articulate our experiences,” Duffin continues. “It connects you with others and fortifies your memories and relationships. I think of every single one of the relationships that's important to me in my life, and music played an essential role in it. Mixtape serves as a medium for those connections.”
“Right, there’s no room for the chaos and venom of other social media channels,” Ellsworth concludes. “Mixtape is built for music fans, by music fans, and the social features follow suit. I want to see people's passion for music, their stories and memories, and their love of discovery—no Twitter wars or ‘Internet Tough Guys’ allowed. Mixtape is the place for real humans to just gather around the music.”
Mixtape is now available for download in the Apple App Store.