As far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved mixtapes.

In fact, one of my earliest musical memories involves me pestering my parents to rewind the cassette in our car’s player just so I could scream the words to Skyhooks’ ‘Women In Uniform’ for the 20th time in a row.

Needless to say, I got started early on my musical fascination.

As I grew older and technology subsequently evolved, so did my love of a good mix. When burning CDs became the norm, I gave my friends countless collections of tunes that I loved at the time, hoping to share my new findings. As iPods became commonplace, I focused on playlists, though I never abandoned its physical predecessors.

While playlists have largely replaced the humble mixtape or compilation CD these days, I still have a certain fondness for the somewhat archaic methods of sharing my favourite tunes.

Maybe this love stems from the fact that these mixes are a musical snapshot of a certain point in time, while the very nature of a playlist means it’s able to be altered and changed on a whim. As embarrassing as it is, I want my past love of 2006’s cheesiest hits to live on forever.

A collection of my old mixes
A small collection of my old mixes

With mixtapes being such an integral part of my personality, it would come as no surprise that my love of making musical compilations soon extended to my love life as well.

To me, a mix was one of the most personal gifts you could give, and despite my obsessive compiling of tracks, they often went unappreciated by girlfriends who thought that I was more in love with music than them.

In 2014 though, I found myself in a long-distance relationship with an American girl named Brittany. Having first met as pen pals back in 2010, we initially bonded over music, sharing our favourite tunes from our favourite artists from our home cities.

While I shared tracks by the Hilltop Hoods and The Shiny Brights, I received tracks by Shiny Toy Guns and The Flaming Lips. Soon, I had become something of an armchair expert on the music of Oklahoma, and Brittany a budding fan of the music from South Australia.

Fast-forward a few years, Brittany visited Australia, took in a few local gigs, and before long, our friendship had turned into a relationship, with distance cruelly forcing us to be apart for an extended period of time.

To compensate for this distance, I attempted to bridge the gap with sound, and I went about creating a handful of compilation CDs that consisted of nothing Australian music.

Within a matter of weeks, I had put together roughly 50 CDs that helped to share my taste of Australian music. With tunes that stretched from the 1960s to the 2010s, I even included a number of themed compilations, including tracks that were a bit on the harder side, some on the softer side, covers of Australian songs, and even tracks by our Kiwi neighbours, just to name a few.

Housed in hand-made sleeves, these compilations contained an eclectic mix of Australian tunes, and provided Brittany with a pretty thorough lesson on the history of this country’s storied music scene.

Image of the original, hand-made compilations I created
The original, hand-made compilations I created

By late 2015, the distance had closed, and we found ourselves living together in Melbourne. In a house filled with music, our love of musical compilations continued, and I would make it something of a habit to constantly burn a new CD featuring my favourite tracks of the month.

In mid-2016, a two-disc compilation accompanied my proposal to Brittany, and our 2017 wedding featured a CD given out to our guests that featured the music important to our relationship.

All throughout these major events, the original CDs I had gifted at the start of our relationship were given frequent airings. Despite this, I always felt that this original effort was somewhat lacking. Sure, it was an impressive collection of tunes, but it felt too mass-produced and bland, as if there was nothing personal to set each mix apart.

So, after years of referring to these CDs as ‘mixtapes’, I decided that 2019 would be the year they would finally become just that.

Listen to (most of) Mixtape #1

In May of 2018, Brittany and I were discussing my collection of cassettes. Jokingly, I noted that it would have been great had I been able to give her the original 50 compilations as archaic, hand-dubbed cassette mixtapes. While she joked that it would have made for a great idea, the notion stuck with me more than it should have.

That night, an idea began to form; “what if these compilations were put onto cassette?” What followed was a sleepless night that was accompanied by feverish note-taking on my phone. Ideas were toyed with, timeframes were noted, and costs were calculated. By morning, I had determined that Brittany’s birthday in November would see her showered with these mixtapes.

That same morning, I found myself on my laptop, looking up information on purchasing cassettes in bulk, and how to design cassette covers. After finding a supplier by way of the folks at Dupeshop, this plan began to take shape.

To be honest though, with every major movement I made, I expected to be met with a roadblock that derailed my plan. With a relatively limited amount of alone time at my disposal, I expected to suddenly discover at any moment that I would have nowhere near enough time to actually complete any of this ambitious plan.

Nevertheless, I persisted, and went headfirst into a months-long musical journey.

Listen to (most of) Mixtape #4

While I had the vast majority of the music sorted for this project, there were two obstacles I was left with; designing sleeves, and the actual dubbing of the tunes to the tapes. While the latter was something I figured would have to be done last, I got to brainstorming ideas for these covers.

Back when I had created these compilations as CDs, my plan included little more than just hand-drawn sleeves. Now – armed with a pretty average grasp of Photoshop – I knew I had an obligation to make them much better this time around.

However, lacking any sort of originality, I turned my attention to one of the cornerstones of any good design; parody.

After finding numerous album covers, posters, and designs that were as recognisable as they were striking, I set about trying to recreate them all from scratch.

Before long, I had crafted a series of sleeves that parodied band logos, famous album artworks, book covers, tape sleeves, posters, and even the Coca-Cola logo. With almost every aspect remade from the ground up, I was left with an immense respect for the tireless hard work that designers do.

As time went on though, I found myself creating a few original designs but ultimately, creating too many designs for the mixtapes I had on hand. As a result, I ended up extending putting together an additional 30 mixes to cover my excess amount of sleeves.

Image of the mixtapes in action
It was much harder work than I could ever have expected

After starting this endeavour back at the end of May, I had finished this excessive amount of designing and planning by the end of August. By now, I was ready to dub the cassettes to tape – a lengthy process that had to be done in real time.

Having acquired the blank cassettes the previous month, I spent every moment of my time alone dubbing these mixes thanks to a laptop and a surprisingly good tape deck I had acquired from eBay for all of $1.

Due to the benefits of working from home (while Brittany works outside the house), these mixes began to take shape faster than expected, and by the middle of October, almost all of them were ready for a November debut.

In the spare time that I had now, I decided to make much more accessible versions of these new mixes, designing sleeves for CD versions, and soon burning them to disc as well.

All told, I was left with an immense gift of 80 mixtapes that featured 48 individual mixes, 31 themed compilations, and one tape of my own personal musical project.

Listen to Mixtape #10

While this was undoubtedly a project done out of a love of music and a clear love for my wife, I’m now left with one clear question; how on Earth do I top this in the future?

My next plan is to go back and use these cassette designs to make new CD sleeves for the original mixes, but unfortunately, I’ve also found myself burdened with an unescapable habit of designing new cassette sleeves in my spare time.

Sure, I’ve already got about ten more cassettes in the pipeline for Christmas, but take it from me, next year’s birthday might consist of nothing more than a pair of service station sunglasses and a pack of Twisties.

Check out all the images of the full mixtape project:

Cassette Mixtapes

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine