Geoffrey O'Brian once said that "the mixtape was the most widely practiced American art form".
Though it has fallen out of favor compared to easily created iTunes playlists and CD-Rs, the gift of a mixtape meant that someone actually spent several hours waiting for a particular song on the radio or cuing up a record and hoping you didn't write over the end of the previous song.
The limitations of the cassette meant you couldn't easily skip over songs. So hours were spent, painstakingly poring over the track list and re-recording because you made a mistake. Each song signified something, juxtaposed with the order that it was in. Though the artists and styles may have varied widely, each tape had a unique theme.
With the overwhelming public reception to Guardians of the Galaxy and its unmistakable 70s (and 60s) soundtrack, perhaps it's time to bring back the art of the mixtape.
However, I want to go farther than what most people would imagine to do. This instructable is intended to recreate how Meredith Quill would have made the mixtape, combining 70s music with 80s tech.
I have also listed other common methods to record onto a cassette tape from easiest to more involved.
Method 1: Dubbing with a Microphone Attached to a Tape Recorder
Method 2: Dubbing with a Cassette Deck with Digital Files as the Source
Method 2: Dubbing with a Cassette Deck with Records as the Source
You can listen to the entire tape here:
Step 1: Choosing the Music / Tracklisting
Most cassette tapes are 60 or 90 minutes which makes 30/45 minutes per side
The official soundtrack clocks in at 44 minutes and 34 seconds. Right away there are some problems over having blank tape at the end of each side no matter how it is divided up. Nobody envies the task of fast-forwarding to the end to ensure that the opposite side doesn't start in the middle.
There are 12 songs included on the soundtrack (plus 4 more related songs that I will explain). To minimize the amount of tape needed to fast-forward, I have chosen to spread the songs equally on each side.
Some things to consider over the official tracklist:
Step 2: The Records
As other have commented, you may not know the artists, but you know the songs. Here are their original records.
Hooked on a Feeling
EMI Records 3627
B-side: Gotta Have Your Love
Go All the Way
Capitol Records 3348
B-side: With You in my Life
Spirit in the Sky
Reprise Records 0885
B-side: Milk Cow
from the LP "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars"
RCA Victor Records LSP-4702
Fooled Around and Fell in Love*
Capricorn Records CPS 0252
B-side: Have a Good Time
I'm Not in Love*
Mercury Records (Phonogram) 73678
I Want You Back
The Jackson 5
Motown Records M1157
B-side: Who's Lovin You
Come and Get Your Love
Epic Records 5-11035
B-side: Day to Day Life
Mercury Records (Phonogram) SFL-2121 (Japanese pressing)
Escape (The Pina Colada Song)*
Infinity Records INF 50,035
B-side: Drop It
The 5 Stairsteps
Buddha Records BDA 165
B-side: Dear Prudence
Ain't No Mountain High Enough
Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
Tamla Records (Motown) T-54149
B-side: Give a Little Love
Step 3: Choosing the Cassette
After a bit of searching, the cassette used in the film and the soundtrack cover is identified as a TDK CDing2 (not to be confused with CDing-II).
The identifying features are the loops visible from the top, the black C-clamps on the reels, and the pattern of dots along the center. However, the tape seems to alter throughout the movie indicating the use of multiple tapes.
As previously mentioned, 90-minute cassette tapes exist, but it would be odd for 44 minute soundtrack, basically leaving one side entirely blank and just barely fitting it all on one side or having a lot of blank tape on both sides.
I used the 60 minute tape which allows me to spread out the songs more evenly and include the bonus songs.
However, the movie states that Meredith Quill died in 1988, but the tape was first manufactured in 2001 for European release.
What was more common in the US in 1988 was the TDK D60 which is still manufactured today. If you don't have any spare tapes lying around, Best Buy, Radio Shack, and Fry's Electronics should still sell tapes.
The TDK CDing2 uses a Chromium Oxide (CrO2) for its emulsion as opposed to the more frequently used Ferric Oxide (Fe2O3). Something to keep in mind if your recording device has a Tape Select option.
You can learn more about different tape types in this instructable:
Step 4: Labels and Templates
Printing the Label
There are two known labels used in the film. Of course there's the famous album cover featuring Awesome Mix Vol. 1. It has two notched upper corners and rounded bottom corners.
Later in the film, Peter Quill discovers Awesome Mix Vol. 2 which has its own label. However, since the Blu-Ray release has not arrived, there are few extant pictures floating around. Thanks to this forum thread, I color-corrected the label and squared it up. It clearly shows lowercase handwriting and square bottom corners.
Oddly we never see the backside of each tape as Quill never seems to flip the tape over. Theoretically, there would be two tapes and four labels.
For me it's convenient to use one tape with the entire known soundtrack and put the labels from Vol. 1 and 2 on both sides. Not quite movie-accurate, but makes more practical sense.
For the labels I used Avery 5444 which should be available in most office supply stores. Basically whatever label paper that can comfortably hold a 2" x 4" rectangle should suffice.
I traced the label in Photoshop from the album cover. However the cover looks like it was cast with a strong yellow incandescent light which would look very dark and yellow if I directly cut it out. The label was probably originally white at some point, but slightly yellowed with age. So between white and yellow, I chose a beige or off-white background and a more saturated red as opposed to red-orange.
The files provided have been calibrated for size as if on a standard 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper. The image position is meant for the Avery 5444 label, but can easily be edited in Photoshop or Gimp for different arrangements. I have also attached the Photoshop file that I used.
I have not been able to find the Avery 5444 templates for Photoshop on the website (as advertised), but they are included in most editions of Microsoft Word. However, they do not let you exceed the "maximum allowable area".
Probably the most difficult part. The labels are meant to be die-cut, so lines have to be perfectly straight. I used an Xacto-type blade and a steel ruler. I recommend a lot of practice to make sure you're not cutting off colored parts or making wobbly lines. I usually tackled the longer cuts, paying especially close attention to the center cut-out.
I've provided the image in black and white to make it easier to trace.
There's two ways of going about this.
1) Tracing the handwriting in Photoshop and printing it with the label
2) Copying the handwriting with a pen
Since I like a little bit of verisimilitude, I went with the latter.
I picked up a lightbox from a toy store for cheap several years ago. It's proven invaluable for projects like these.
If you don't have one, there's plenty of easy instructables or you can lean against a window.
The pen color for both labels appears to be a shade of darkish blue.
I experimented with several fine point pen types on a "mistake label" to see how the shades turned out.
1) Ultra Fine Point Sharpie (Navy)
Not as commonly found as the Blue variant. Color is OK, but a bit too blobby if you're tracing slowly
2) Marvy Uchida LePen (Oriental Blue)
Color is slightly off, but the lines are consistent
3) Ultra Fine Point Sharpie (Blue)
Probably the most likely blue pen to find in an office supply store. Works in a pinch, but color is a bit too bright and the linework gets blobby if you move too slow.
4) Stabilo Point 88 Fineliner Pen (0.4mm) Night Blue Art No. 88/22
Color matches well and the linework is consistent. This is the pen I used.
Step 5: Method 1: Dubbing using a Microphone Attached to a Tape Recorder
This method recalls memories of calling in to the radio station and requesting to play a song and feverishly hoping the DJ wouldn't talk over the last few seconds and that your parent wouldn't call in the background.
As you might expect, results may be a bit lo-fi, but this method is readily accessible to most people with little effort.
Most tape recorders have a built-in microphone and record function.
Simply play the soundtrack through speakers and hold up the microphone and hit Record. Depending on the model you may have to depress Record and Play at the same time.
If your tape recorder has a Line-In port, you can hook up your computer or CD player to that.
I currently use a Realistic Minisette 19 Model No. 14-1054A manufactured in 1991 for Radio Shack.
The movie uses a Sony Walkman TPS-L2, manufactured in 1979, which does have a built-in microphone. Unfortunately, they were already collector's items and have skyrocketed in price as a result of the film.
Step 6: Method 2: Dubbing with a Cassette Deck with Digital Files as the Source
If you don't have either a cassette deck or a record player, try raiding your parents' disused stereo/hifi cabinet or scour nearby thrift shops.
For this example, I will be going over the JVC TD-W10 Stereo Double Cassette Deck manufactured in 1985, just a few years before Meredith's death.
This technique is a little more involved but will give you a good quality transfer from your digital files to tape.
You can readily identify cassette decks by their viewing windows. Most only have one cassette loader for recording and playback.
The basic features are:
It may also have a
Also known as Type IV, Type II, and Type I respectively. See this instructable for more detail.
noise. See this page for more information.
If you've managed to acquire a cassette deck, you should also have:
First read the manual for the cassette deck or look for it online. Otherwise you'll have to make decisions over which buttons are the logical equivalents.
Look on the back of the cassette deck. There should be RCA outlets for Input (Recording) and Output (Playback).
We will be using Input for Recording. Put the RCA plugs of the adapter into the outlets matching the left and right sockets (Red = Right).
For playback to a speaker that takes 3.5mm input, connect the RCA plugs to the Output (Playback) sockets.
Load a blank cassette into the deck. Press Play and wait until the clear leader tape on the takeup reel turns into black magnetic tape. Press Pause, this will hold the tape at the current position without ejecting it.
Queue up the playlist on your computer or CD player and connect the 3.5mm plug. If need adjust the volume on either the computer or the cassette deck.
Press Record (some models require pressing Play and Record) and quickly press Play on your computer or CD player.
It's good practice to record for a couple seconds and then play the tape back to see if the volume/input level needs to be adjusted.
If you've organized your tracklist effectively, the playlist will end just before the cassette runs out of tape. Repeat for the other side.
If you don't have access to a car's tape deck, a Walkman, or just want to use the cassette deck for playback you can connect RCA cables from the deck to powered speakers. If the speakers require a receiver or amplifier see the next step.
Step 7: Method 3: Dubbing with a Cassette Deck with Records as the Source
If you're lucky, that stereo cabinet also had a record player.
For this example, I will be going over the JVC AX-44 Stereo Integrated Amplifier manufactured in 1986, just a couple years before Meredith's death.
For the record player, I will go over the JVC AL-A10 Auto-Return Turntable System and a more modern turntable, the Numark PT-01 USB.
For the basics of a Cassette Deck use see the previous step.
You will also need:
RCA cables can easily be found in older home theater setups or readily bought in electronics stores. In a pinch, old CRT TVs use RCA inputs, stereo sets having 3 plugs and mono having 2. If you have 3 plugs, you can ignore the extra (typically yellow, the other being red and white).
If you've followed the previous step, you should have the tape wound up in the correct position.
Read the manual for the record player or look for it online. Otherwise you'll have to make decisions over which buttons are the logical equivalents.
Check if your record player has a built in pre-amplifier. A pre-amplifier boosts the weak electrical signal coming from the needle and raises it to line level. It also adds RIAA equalization.
Record players with built-in pre-amplifiers typically have a USB output for recording directly to the computer. If it does have a pre-amplifier, you can directly run RCA cables from the record player to the cassette deck.
If the record player does not have a built-in pre-amplifier, you'll need a receiver or a separate preamp. A receiver is able to take inputs from a Tuner, Phono(graph), Tape, and Aux(ilary) and route them through to power up speakers. It also contains the pre-amplifier needed to amplify the record player signal. You should be able to connect the record player's RCA cables to the appropriate RCA outlets on the back of the receiver (usually marked PHONO). Then connect another pair of RCA cables from TAPE (REC) on the receiver to INPUT (RECORD) of the cassette deck. Be careful not to connect it to TAPE (PLAY). Select PHONO on the front of the receiver.
Cue up the record on the record player. The cassette tape should be in record mode, but paused. Gently drop the needle on the lead-in groove of the record and release the pause button.
When the track has finished playing, press pause again lift the needle from the record.
It's good practice to record for a couple seconds and then play the tape back to see if the volume/input level needs to be adjusted.
Repeat for the next track until the end of the tape.
Note: If you want to playback from tape to digitize on the computer, the easiest way is to take the output from the headphone jack (usually 1/4") to the sound card via the microphone jack (3.5mm).
There may exist a 3.5mm Stereo Male to 1/4" Stereo Male Adapter Cable, but they're either uncommon or are only available in mono.
The following is a rather convoluted workaround, but it works.
Plug the Adapter plug into the RCA cables and you can connect directly from 1/4" headphone jack to the 3.5mm microphone soundcard.
Step 8: Finishing Touches
Congratulations! You're done!
All that rewinding and recording over is finished.
Write Protect Tabs
You just finished an entire mixtape. But what if you accidentally hit Record instead of Play? You'll record nonsense over parts of the song.
Prevent this by taking out the tabs on the top of the cassette (not the side with the tape). Remove the write-protect tabs with a small blunt instrument. For reference, look at the commercially produced tape on the bottom of Figure 3. It has indentations where on the mixtape, there are small, thin plastic overhangs. Remove those to ensure write-protection.
In case you decide that the entire mixtape needs a do-over, you can simply place scotch tape over the indentations in order to able to record on the tape again.
The announcement of official Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy cassette tape of Awesome Mix Vol. 1 may make all of this work a moot point, but at least you learned how to operate a cassette deck, a record player, and a receiver, all this in addition to learning the lost art of the mixtape. Plus it shows a great rendition of a J-Card.
Oddly in, the movie we never see the tape being placed in its protective case. Since the label is occupied by the title of the mixtape, how else are we supposed to know what's on it?
Enter the J-card, named for the shape of the paper when view on its side. Using the same techniques for the label, we can copy the handwriting over so that you'll always knows exactly what's on this mixtape.
Want to listen to this mixtape to see how it turned out?
You can listen to the entire tape here (Youtube's copyright system prevents embedding the video)