For those of us who grew up in the cassette era, “mixtape” isn’t just a backronym; we can actually remember listening to music that was encoded on a spool of tape inside a plastic case. And all the tactile sensations, hissing analog sound textures, and technological limitations that went along with it stay with us—even as we drag-and-drop song titles into a playlist. But it’s been a long time since the music industry lost the “home taping is killing music” battle, and recordable media readily available to the public has exploded in the decades since then.

From blank tapes to CD-Rs to zip files of MP3s to Spotify playlists, the ability to mix and match songs for your own purposes has kept on getting easier, while getting more popular and taking a wider variety of shapes. The more choices there are, the fewer logistical constraints there are; which means that while it’d be ridiculous to impose any unbendable rules on what should be a fun process, there are many ways to impose some order on the chaos, and make it something more than a data dump of sound files. If you follow these tips, you might not make the perfect mixtape, but you should be able to make a damn good one.

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