Make Spotify Mix Tapes

Make Spotify Mix Tapes

Retro-hacking

Quick guide to recording digital music to cassette tapes

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Overview

Have been getting back into cassette tapes. I grew up with them, so there?s a nostalgia for sure. But the sound is different, and the feel. The action of how it?s all organized. How the devices operate. You can listen to them without the internet. They?re a physical thing.

So in addition to scouring flea markets for dollar tapes (considerably cheaper than a vinyl habit), I?ve been experimenting with making my own mix tapes using digital music sources?

This should work on Apple Music, Spotify, a YouTube playlist ? a ?smart? phone or really any other audio source with a headphone (line-out) jack. It?s not a complicated set-up, but there are a few key points to consider.

Requirements:

  • Audio source with a headphone jack
  • Male-to-male audio cable that fits headphone jack
  • Tape recorder with line in jack
  • Blank tape

Steps:

  1. Attach the line out on your computer to the line in jack on your tape recorder.
  2. Play a song on your computer and see if the audio comes through the tape player/recorder speakers. [Go to Trouble-shooting if you have a problem.]
  3. Go to the beginning of side A on your tape.
  4. Cue up your Spotify (or other) playlist on the computer.
  5. Press Play ? AND Record ? at the same time on your tape recorder.
  6. Wait about 1.5?2 seconds, and then press Play button on Spotify. (It takes a bit longer for the recordable/playable part of the tape to roll into position.)
  7. It?s probably a good idea to pause your playlist, and rewind your tape to make sure you didn?t clip the beginning of the song. Then go back to the beginning once you?re sure of the timing of the tape beginning, and record through.
  8. You could either just record until the tape side ends (I managed to get blank 60 min tapes on Amazon.ca), or you could plan it out so your last song on side A ends before the end of the tape on that side, so the song doesn?t get cut off. It?s a matter of preference, but I?d personally rather fill in so there are no blank spaces at the end of the tape. You might have to get creative with your playlists and go through the (fun) chore of manually adding up track lengths to calculate where the playlist will end and adjust it.
  9. Anyway, then do the same thing on side B. And that?s basically that. You now have a ?bona fide? tape.

Trouble-shooting:

NO AUDIO:

You?re not hearing anything come through your tape-player/recorder when you play songs on the computer. You need to hear the audio over the tape speakers in order to record onto that machine.

Possible causes:

  • Cable is not connected, or
  • Output on computer is not set to headphones:

Image for postClick headphones, if not already checked

  • Tape recorder is not set to play the Audio In (source). [On mine, there is a button you click and you hear the source over the speaker.]

HEARING SYSTEM NOISES:

You might find that while you?re recording a tape onto the cassette recorder that you get bored and start surfing the web or doing something else on your computer. If you do, you run the risk of capturing whatever other audio is playing on the computer to your tape. Which I?ve done and is sometimes funny, and oddly cool ? but can also be annoying.

To turn off system sound effects:

  • Click the audio icon ?(MacOS) > click Sound preferences > Uncheck ?Play user interface sound effects?

Image for postActually, uncheck both of those boxes at the bottom

  • You might also want to turn off auto-playback of videos in your browser, if that is an option.

Playback:

To listen to tapes on the go, I picked up a contemporary ?Walkman? clone hand-held cassette player recorder by Jensen on Amazon.ca. (It?s in original picture at top.)

I just connect the headphone jack on the Jensen to the AUX jack in my car. No, I don?t have a tape player in my car, so this seemed like a cheaper/easier way to retro-hack my car audio.

It was hard to find something better up here than this Jensen, so I just went with this. It?s audio playback quality is pretty weird (e.g., bad), but I?ve grown to kind of love it, not in spite of, but because of it?s flaws.

It?s part of the fun of cassette tapes really ? is how weird, organic, and variable they can be. It feels subversive and iconoclastic against the digital ?perfection? which has become so commonplace.

It feels like I?m beating the system.

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