mix tapes

#437: So You Want to Make a Mix Tape?

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GETTING MORE TALE #437: So You Want to Make a Mix Tape?

So you’ve decided to hop into your time machine and make a mix tape?  Good for you!  In the 80’s, making a mix tape was a rite of passage.  Today it is a fading art.  Congratulations for wanting to keep that art alive!  Here are some tips.

First of all, who are you making the tape for?  What do you want on it?  Prep all your recording materials in advance.  Get out the CDs and records you want to tape.  Are you doing a straight hits tape?  A mixture of artists?  Roughly plot out your track list, but only roughly, because you will probably have to make changes on the fly.

Get your tape ready.  What length are you using?  I recommend 90 – 100 minute tapes.  Anything longer than 100 minutes and you risk stretching the tape.  This length range gives you more room to play with than a standard 60 minute tape.

Clean your equipment.  Get your tape head demagnetized, and clean those pinch rollers with isopropyl alcohol or something similar.  Use lint-free cloth.  Since you’re making a mix tape, I assume you want it to sound as good as you can make it.  Use a decent quality blank tape.

Now, using a pencil or just your finger, carefully wind the tape so that the clear tape lead is no longer visible.  When you see brown magnetic tape, you are ready to hit “record”.

I used to add the little test frequencies that they put on the start of cassettes to open my mix tapes.  Don’t have one of those?  That’s OK.  Just download one from Youtube!

My recording technique involved having as short a gap between songs as possible.  I viewed a long gap as an amateur move, unless it was intentional, for effect.   To get a short gap, hit “pause” on your recorder immediately after the song stops, but don’t pause for too long.  Leaving that pause button depressed isn’t good for the tape, because on most machines, the tape head is still making contact with the recording tape.  Still, it’s better than hitting “stop” which tends to leave an annoying clunky sound between songs.

Now, the one irritating thing that amateur tapers do is let a song be cut off at the end of a side.  Don’t do that!  It’s very difficult to get exactly a side of music, so leave some space after the last song.  In fact, I suggest having a bunch of “standby” short tracks handy, to fill up any undesired blank space.  It’s also fun to end a side with a brief movie quote or skit.  It’s up to you, how you decide to end a side, but don’t cut a song off.  That’s annoying!  You may have to improvise, select some shorter songs, and re-do some things, but cutting off a song is just a rookie mistake.  You will have to be flexible with your track list when it comes to where the sides end.  Tape speed is anything but consistent, so even if you’ve clocked your side at exactly 45 minutes, if your tape is running fast then you’ll be out of space.

The beauty of cassette is the opportunity to use the two sides to your advantage.  Each side can be its own journey, with opening and closing tracks.  Yet it’s still part of a whole.  Perhaps you’d like to make a Led Zeppelin hits tape.  Why not make side one all electric, and side two acoustic?  You can have a killer electric opening for side one (“Good Times Bad Times” perhaps), and close it with a corker too (like “Kashmir”).  Then you can kick off side two with an acoustic opener, such as “Gallows Pole” and end it with “Stairway”.  The possibilities are endless, but the ability to create distinct sides is so much fun.

Finally, write those songs down on the J-card, or make some custom cover art.  If you’re artistically inclined, the cover art can be the most fun.

Making a mix tape is a time consuming process since you need to do it in real time.  It can also be a taxing job, if you’re a perfectionist trying to make your mix tape flawless.  The main thing is keeping it fun.  Have a good time with it!

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