art of the mixtape

The Art of the Mixtape: How to Make Your Own Analog Playlist

Long before the streaming playlist rose to power, the mixtape reigned supreme.

Curating the right songs, recording them to cassette, and lining them up just right was a true labor of love. For the more ambitious mixtape maker, the job was not complete until each cassette had cover art that matched the sonic brilliance within. Yes, it takes a few (or several) hours to make one, but it’s hard to argue with the humanity found in the tangible mixtape.

Like most creative endeavors, making a truly memorable mixtape is an art form that is refined over time. Every part of the process takes practice and patience, and every detail you incorporate elevates the listening experience to new sonic and visual heights. The blood, sweat, and tears that make a mixtape offer an alluring intimacy that almost feels like a secret language only spoken and understood by those who are exchanging them.

If it’s been years since you made a mixtape or you are looking for a new way to connect with people, you may want to consider making one for your crush, co-worker, close friend, or even swap with a complete stranger. Below, you’ll find a step-by-step guide for making your very own mixtape!

Here are a few things you’ll need to get started:

  • Sources to record from: This can include records, CDs, tapes, and digital files.
  • Stereo set-up: Once you select your sources, make sure you have a stereo system or electronic device that plays the format you are recording from.
  • Cassette recorder or integrated cassette deck: You can use a cassette recorder and plug it into your stereo or use a stereo system with a cassette deck that includes a record button.
  • Cord to connect cassette recorder (if applicable): Select a cable that is compatible with your computer or stereo system.
  • Blank cassette: A 60-minute or 90-minute cassette will do the trick, depending on how long your playlist is.

After you have everything you need, it’s time to make a mixtape!

mixtape step 1

Step 1. Write out your playlist and organize your source materials.

Make sure you consider how many minutes are on each side of your blank cassette when making your selections. Compile a stack of the records, CDs, or other tapes you are pulling songs from. If you are using digital files, burn them to a CD or organize an MP3 playlist to play through your stereo. Lining up all your tracks to match your mixtape order will help speed up the process.

Step 2. Plug your cassette recorder into your music player.

If your stereo system has an integrated cassette deck with recording capabilities, there is no need to plug anything in!

Step 3. Put your blank cassette in your recorder deck and push the play button.

Once you hear the sound change to a smooth hiss, press stop.

Step 4. Cue up the first song you want to record.

  • CDs: Hit the pause button and skip tracks until you reach the song you want.
  • Cassettes: Fast-forward the tape until you reach the right song and select stop or pause.
  • Vinyl records: Lift the dust cover up, place the record on your turntable, and wait a minute.
  • Digital playlist: Open your playlist on your electronic device and get ready to press play.

mixtape step 5

Step 5. Start recording!

For CDs, tapes, and digital playlists, hit record first. After a few seconds, play the desired track. This will help ensure that you capture the whole song. For records, place the needle at the tail end of the song that comes before it. Once you enter that silent groove between songs, press record on your cassette deck.

Step 6. Press stop and get ready for the next song.

Make sure you stay close and stop recording as soon as the song ends.

Step 7. Repeat Steps 4 through 6.

Repeat as you add each song to your mixtape and fill up both sides.

Step 8. Listen to your mixtape and edit as needed.

If a song didn’t come out quite right, you can record right over it! Find the beginning of the song in question and repeat the recording process until it sounds exactly the way you want it to. If you find your tape has something you’d like to remove completely, simply hit the record button with no music playing. This will create a silent space on your tape.

mixtape step 9

Step 9. Decorate your tape.

Write out the names of each artist and song title, include some personalized liner notes, and design a dazzling cover. You can use pens, markers, paint, or use cut and paste methods to create a collage. Whatever method you choose, just make sure that the cover properly communicates what you want to say to the recipient.

I know, nine steps is a lot. I also know that you could use Spotify to have access to millions of songs and create a playlist in just a few clicks. However, there truly is a magic to the mixtape. Tapes can travel to where no Wi-Fi signal has ever been and provide a playlist that you can touch, see, and hear. That is a feat that no streaming service can ever fully duplicate.


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