How to Make a Mix Tape, by Deb Molly


1. Choose your theme. For years, I made an Autumn Mix (melancholy, good for driving down country roads just before dusk) and a Spring Mix (poppy, good for spring cleaning & dance parties) every year. Road Trips require their own mixes. So do best friends.



2. Get a yellow legal pad and a good pen. Flip through your music collection & jot down any song that matches your theme. If you’re not satisfied, go raid your friends’ music collections (this is why college is the best time for mix-tape making). Anchor with classics and introduce new songs slowly.


3. Make a tentative running order. Remember to save some good songs for the second side. Start strong — the first song on each side sets the tone for the whole album.



4. Start taping. Change your mind as you go. Choose songs off your list according to your instinct in the moment. Think twice before adding gag songs — are you really prepared to hear the theme song from “Mork & Mindy” every. single. time. you listen to this tape? (On the other hand, guilty pleasure songs? Always a plus.)


5. Find weird little snippets of things to fill up the space at the end of the tape. I recommend “Sounds I Hear at Night” from the United States of Poetry, “Spider” by They Might Be Giants, and “Her Majesty,” by The Beatles.


6. When you’re finished, make copies for your friends. These you can dub on high speed, but listen to the whole thing if you have time. Appreciate your own art.


7. Design a cover for your tape.



8. In the tiniest handwriting possible, cram all the songs & artists onto the paper sleeve.



9. Add a secret message inside the fold.



10. Listen on constant repeat for the next six weeks or until your roommates start yelling at you.


11. Keep your tape in a safe place. Find it again every six months or so, whenever you’re feeling melancholy enough for an autumn tape, or cheerful enough for spring. Pull out the roadtrip tapes next time you go on a roadtrip.


12. Stubbornly refuse to throw your mix tapes away. When you pack everything you own into the back of your pickup truck, selling everything leftover to your best friend for a hundred bucks, bring the tapes. Listen to them as you’re falling asleep at night, lying on your deflating air mattress with your old dog muttering in his sleep beside you. Listen to them as you teach yourself to write short stories, and as you learn to kill cockroaches without flinching. Listen to them when your best friends call you from a bar on the other side of the country, drunkenly asking why you’re not there playing darts and drinking pitchers of cheap beer with the people who love you the best.


13. Listen to your mix tapes when you start your first novel, alone in your small mountain house with no TV, nointernet, and no radio except a clock radio that inexplicably only gets the Delilah station. Let the loneliness of your mix tapes seep into your story. Let your characters sing along to songs only you know.


14. Keep them long after your last tape player breaks. Pull them out of a box, dust them off, and use your painstakingly written liner notes to reconstruct a playlist on grooveshark or youtube. Spend an evening listening to your twenties and writing a love letter to mix tapes.


15. Repeat.

10 Replies to “How to Make a Mix Tape, by Deb Molly”

  1. Great minds, Molly!

    Does it make me lame (don’t answer that!) that my kids’ generation will never know the joy (and agony!) of making a mixed tape. The EVENT that it was. And your how-to nails it all. Let’s face it: no life-changing event was truly real until you made a mixed tape to commemorate it. And if you were like me, you loved to make sure the songs added up so nicely that you used almost every last second of tape.

    1. It does not make you lame! I still love getting mix CDs from friends, but they’re not as personal as tapes were. On tapes, you could hear the maker in the pauses, in the scratches, in the transitions. On a mix CD, it’s like “here’s the first 15 songs that caught my eye on my itunes list.”

  2. Love this! I held on to a few of my mix tapes for those very reasons. It transports me back in time. I make mix CDs now but there was something about waiting breathlessly by your stereo and trying to hit record as soon as the desired song came on the radio.

    1. That too! Back in the days when you couldn’t instantly download a song to your computer, when your only choices were waiting for the DJ to play your song (or calling into the radio to request it, remember that?) or going to the record store & buying it.

      In other news, how to sound old: begin a sentence with “Back in the day…” 🙂

    1. I think it takes a certain kind of personality, one that combines extreme love of music with extreme willingness to spend an entire afternoon doing craft projects (and or slavish commitment to procrastination techniques!).

      I don’t have the first mix a boy ever made me, but I remember it almost perfectly, all these years later. (I probably don’t have it because I listened to it on constant repeat for like a year until the machine grabbed all the tape and ripped it out. Or maybe it’s still in the tape deck of my 1987 Renault, hanging out in a junkyard somewhere. A girl can dream.)

  3. Ohmygosh, #8. So many of those were on my BFF mixes back in the day, just looking at that small handwritten flap brings me back. Wildflowers reminds me of Party of Five so much that it is now 1 hour later than I started writing this comment because of course I had to go watch old clips on YouTube. What is wrong with me?

  4. That cover is kind of surreal and creepy, but also brilliant. My mix tapes were very obscure and actually, to this day, my mixes have titles like “stuff I like” which means funk to grunge to Prince.

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