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Friday Flashback – Mixtapes

by Sarah MacDiarmid

Those of us of a certain age will remember the blood, sweat and tears that went into making a good mixtape.

Whether you were compiling the perfect playlist to accompany you on a family holiday, profess your feelings to a crush, or share your favourite songs with your pen pal – a mixtape took a lot of consideration.


What is a mixtape?

If you were born after 1986, you’d be forgiven for not having a clue what a mixtape actually is. Put simply, it was a homemade compilation of songs recorded in a specific order onto an audio cassette. The songs would be recorded from the radio, a vinyl record player or a CD player.

The term is now often used to describe a playlist of songs in mp3 format. However, it should be noted that dragging and dropping some tunes into a playlist doesn’t take half as much concentration as a compiling an original mixtape. And here’s why…

The makings of a perfect mixtape

Recording from the radio – Arguably, the most tricky part of mixtape compilation was getting your timing right. To succeed in stopping the recording before the DJ started talking over the end of the song was a true, but rare, victory.

Kill the clicks – Slight of hand came into play once more when trying to keep the clicks between songs as quiet as possible. The joint use of the PLAY and RECORD button on the cassette player meant a loud click after each song could really interrupt the listening experience but, as mixtape aficionados will know, this is where the pause button became your best friend.

Song selection – Due to the nature of the mixtape, skipping songs wasn’t as easy as it is now and people tended to listen to a mixtape from start to finish – so every song counted. One of the main rules was: start and end the tape with a bang. The aim was to hook the listener with the first track and leave them with a lasting impression with your final choice. After all, you didn’t just run out of space, these were very deliberate selections!

Cover art – For some, the cover art of a mixtape was almost as important as the playlist itself. It was a chance to give the recipient a glimpse of what their ears were about to experience, what the ‘meaning’ behind the tape was and to add even more of your personality to your creation.


Author Rob Sheffield spoke for all mixtape enthusiasts in his book Love is a Mixtape when he said:

“There are all kinds of mix tapes. There is always a reason to make one.”


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