How to make a mix
Like others, this low-tech guide shows how to inexpensively bring your old cassette tapes into a new world of digital audio.  

Bypass unreliable CD burners, hiccuping CD players, disintegrating burned CD-Rs and CD-RWs, as well as unnecessary in-computer tape drives like the sucky PlusDeck.  This page shows how to find and aquire music from the Internet, how to use just a couple of cables and some free software to save your aging cassette tapes from muffled doom, how to explore the mysteries of mixing, how to store your mixes in the right format (MP3 for listening, WAV for future editing), and how to play your new mixes on most existing equipment or on a short list of tried-and-true digital music players.  (See a list of my mixes here.) 

Dude, I'm making a mix tape.
This custom-made cassette picture courtesy of the Says-It Cassette Generator.

With a few things you probably already have,


an Internet connection,

a computer with a sound card,

a tape deck,

a pile of aging cassette tapes,

and a few additional things that should cost less than $20,


a 3.5-mm- to-RCA
Y-cable,

a 3.5 mm female-to-male
Y-cable extender (if your stereo is farther away than the length of the Y-cable)

and the free, open-source
Audacity software application,

and, if you want to record streaming audio, 


a 3.5-mm male-to-2-female Y splitter cable

and a 3.5-mm male-to-male cable

you're ready to make a mix.

So, gather some audio files...


find audio on the Internet
by listening to music, buying MP3s, or recording in Audacity
  • Or if you can't find the song any other way, record from streaming audio.
  detailed instructions for finding audio on the Internet

from old tapes, CDs, radio, even TV...


record audio
by running a Y cable from your home equipment to record old tapes and more to your computer's sound card
  • Run the Y-cable from the audio output of your tape deck, TV, VCR, DVD player, or stereo receiver to your computer sound card's (blue) line input.
  • Run the Y-splitter cable from your sound card's light green speaker output to your computer speakers and also  to the 3.5-mm male-to-male cable, and connect the other end of the male-to-male cable to your sound card's light blue Line-In input. 
  • Set Audacity's input to Line-In.
  • Record.
  detailed instructions for recording audio from your home tape deck (or TV or whatever)

mix them...


mixing
use Audacity to make a single mix
"Wait, that's your project? A mix tape? No, a mix tape is not a project. It's something you do between bong hits."
- Will & Grace
  • Cut and paste your audio files into an Audacity file, saving your work often.
  • Use Audacity's Amplify on to raise—or lower— volume to keep it relatively uniform between different selections.
  detailed instructions on mixing

save them intelligently...


save your mix 
save as an MP3 for listening, save as a WAV for editing in the future

  • Save your mixtape file for for listening by exporting it as an MP3, which saves space. 
  • But if you think you might want to edit the file later (and if it's a mixtape, you will), save a copy as a WAV, because WAV files do not degrade when re-imported into Audacity for future editing.
  detailed instructions on saving

...and listen to your music anywhere you go.


listen to your music
a short list of recommended listening devices 

  • Digital files are so much more convenient than tapes, it's worth it, I think, to get an MP3 player and use it either to connect your existing equipment or a short list of new digital playing devices.   
  more detail on music listening devices

Hope this guide helps.

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