How-To: Make a Mix Tape, ’88-’93

I was recently involved in a spirited text conversation with fellow Long Islander and Life of Dad co-founder Patrick Quinn after reading his article titled 5 Awesome Inconveniences Our Kids Will Miss Out On. Pat also does a recurring column for LoD called Playlist Elevated, where he shines light on bands you might not know but should.

The “who” is not as important a the “what.”

The short text exchange included two things that were huge in every kid’s life – music and movies. More specifically, 1) Blockbuster Video and 2) immediately forgetting every band you wanted to buy the second you walked into the record store. And the fifth bullet point in the article (Buying/Obtaining Music) got me thinking…

dreams.metroeve_cassette-tapes-dreams-meaning…about growing up in the late 80’s, early 90’s and the struggle being very real as we attempted to make our own playlists, if you will.

Today, there’s pretty much two ways you’re  growing your music “collection”: subscription streaming music services (Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, Pandora) and physically purchasing CD’s and/or vinyl records. And creating and editing playlists, making new playlists. Anyone is capable of this. It’s literally clicking a button on your phone or the trackpad on your laptop.

But back in my day, creating a playlist – known then as a mix tape – wasn’t so simple. But you only needed a few things:

  • cassette tapes
  • a single or dual cassette deck
  • time; lots and lots of time
  • patience
  • artistic ability/penmanship

220px-Old_Hot97_logoI listened to the radio at nights…a lot. For hip-hop, it was Hot 97 and for rock, 92.3 K-Rock (who also had Howard Stern), 92.7 WLIR, “The Cutting Edge of Rock,” and Q104.3 fit the bill. And just to mix it up, 103.5 was basically a hodgepodge of dance as well as featuring New York’s Hot Tracks, a show dedicated to the top ten singles of the week. It consisted of a wide array of artists from Beastie Boys to Tina Turner to David Bowie to Janet Jackson. Like NYHT, my musical inclination back then was as random as it is now.

Here’s a list of some of the bands/artists I listened to during my preteen years. I first heard some on the radio, others from my dad’s record collection, and some from friends.

  • Green Day (the opening chords of Kerplunk!’s “Welcome to Paradise” bring me back)
  • Wu-Tang Clan (Enter the Wu-Tang still one of the best records ever made)
  • Michael Jackson (I knew every word to “Black or White”)
  • Naughty By Nature (you down with O.P.P.?)
  • Genesis (but only the We Can’t Dance album)
  • Das EFX (only Dead Serious and Straight Up Sewaside)
  • Collective Soul (wore out their first album)
  • Vanilla Ice (I probably still know all the words to Ice, Ice, Baby”)
  • Everclear (loved World of Noise)
  • Pennywise (Pennywise still one of the best punk albums)
  • Billy Idol (his debut album is a year older than me)
  • Steve Winwood (basically Roll With It)
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers (Blood Sugar Sex Magik was my intro to RHCP)
  • Tom Petty (first concert ever, with my old man, at Jones Beach)

Anyway, I digress. Here’s the ingredients of making a mix tape:

  • CASSETTE TAPES
    • You had a plethora of brands to choose from – Magnavox, TDK, Phillips, Maxell, Sony among them.
  • CASSETTE DECK
    • I had a single cassette deck in my room but my dad had a dual deck downstairs, but seeing how I listened mostly upstairs in my room, a single deck was my weapon of choice.
  • TIME/TIMING
    • You had to record nothing for a few seconds because you couldn’t record at the very beginning or end of a cassette tape. And, I LISTENED TO COMMERCIALS because I had to be ready to simultaneously hit that red RECORD and the PLAY button to start capturing the magic. And if you weren’t careful at the end of each side, you’d run outta space and cut off part of the song.
  • PATIENCE
    • Then and now, I struggle with this from time to time. I was always so pissed if I mistimed or accidentally bumped the buttons while recording. User error was always in the back of my mind. It had to be perfect.
  • ARTISTIC ABILITY/LEGIBLE HANDWRITING
    • I definitely lacked the former back then (and now) and have gradually gotten better in the latter. You only had maybe a 1/4″ by 1.5″ space to write both the song name and artist, so you had to be precise. As for the artistic aspect, I don’t think I ever tried designing the cover of a mix tape with anything other than words.

And here’s the recipe for making a mix tape, back in my day:

  1. Turn on the radio
  2. Insert cassette tape into recorder
  3. Patiently wait for a song you liked to come on; immediately press RECORD and PLAY
  4. Listen to the song in its entirety
  5. Press STOP
  6. Repeat

Seems pretty easy but making the perfect mix tape was no small feat and rarely successfully accomplished on the first try.

As you were.

Who were your favorite bands/artists growing up? What were your favorite songs?

6 thoughts on “How-To: Make a Mix Tape, ’88-’93

  1. Its only been a few years since I finally threw away the boxes and boxes of cassette tapes that were lyintg around my basement for no reason. Columbia House used to suck up most of my allowance back in the day

  2. This post made me smile – memories. I remember making tapes and you had to be quiet and make sure it was quiet around where you are taping so it wouldn’t get picked up on the tape.

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