Finding and sharing music these days is easier than ever. There are countless digital platforms, each with their own particular benefits. Creating a mixtape, though, is a little more complicated. Sure, it's easy enough to put together a mix on Spotify or iTunes, but sharing that mix can lack the personal touch of a burned CD or cassette. What if you want a physical reminder of the music you love? What if you want to give someone a mixtape that's more than just a USB drive with files on it?
This physical mixtape is larger than life, and is meant to be a companion to a digital playlist. It's designed to mimic the look and inner workings of an actual Compact Cassette, with ribbon that advances by turning the tape's two spools. Instead of playing your music, this cassette tape displays lyrics from each song on your playlist, letting you highlight your favorite parts for the tape's recipient. It's a lot of fun to make, and a great way to share your musical taste in a tangible way with the folks you love the most.
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Step 1: Materials & Tools
Here are the materials and tools you'll need:
- A large cereal box
- The measurements of the box I used are 7.75"x11.75"x2.5"
- Construction paper (4 colors)
- Get creative with your colors! You can do a basic black, white and grey, or try a palette with more pop to it.
- 2" wide ribbon (several yards)
- Smooth fabrics like silk are best. Grosgrain or other ribbed fabrics will cause the fabric marker to bleed, and your writing won't be as clean as you'd like.
- The length you'll need depends on how long your playlist is. I used 8.5' for 9 songs and a bonus track.
- I was able to find black ones to match the look of the project.
- I reused the plastic covering from the sheaf of construction paper I bought. You want something with structure to it, so I wouldn't suggest plastic wrap.
- Fabric marker
- Look for something with a really fine tip, since we want to minimize ink bleeding. I had good results with the Sakura Identi-Pen.
- Permanent glue
- This will attach the fabric ribbon to the plastic boba straws - two tricky surfaces. I used One Stik Permanent Adhesive and it worked well.
- Sharp scissors
- X-ACTO knife or carpet blade
- Elmer's glue
- Scotch tape
- Masking tape
Step 2: Creating Your Playlist
You'll need to start with a playlist, of course! Build the perfect playlist in your favorite music platform, and think about the lyrics you want to highlight in your physical mixtape.
For my mixtape, I'm putting together the songs I've been playing on a loop this summer. I also love themed playlists; if you need inspiration, Rookie Mag is a really great place to start.
Now it's time to pick the lyrics from each song you want to highlight. You can pick something simple like the chorus, or something a bit more esoteric so the person receiving the tape will have to guess what the song is. If you're really dedicated, you could try to write a letter or story, using only song lyrics from your mix.
One to two lines of lyrics for each song should be enough. Remember, we have to fit these onto your ribbon in just a bit!
Step 3: Preparing the Box
Opening the Box
As carefully as you can, open the cereal box, taking care not to rip the tabs at the opening. Remove the cereal bag, saving for future breakfasts. We're going to leave this end open until we cut our viewing window in the top of the box; if we close it now, it'll be much more difficult to cut the windows in.
For best results, use a thin line of glue around the outer edge of each piece of paper, to ensure that all the edges stick down securely. Then, use squiggles or long lines of glue across the rest of the paper. Remember to score the paper down with your nails or a hard object, to make sure it sticks evenly. If any glue spills out, just wipe it away.
You could also apply the glue with a paint brush to get an even coating; just make sure to wash the brush afterward. Glue sticks would work equally well.
Covering Box in Base Color Paper
We want a clean, smooth look to the surface of our cassette, so you'll want to be strategic about how you cover your box in paper.
- Apply full sheets of paper to the widest sides of the box first. This will keep the paper coating as smooth as possible.
- Cut 2 sheets of paper in half lengthwise. Use 2 of them to cover the long edges of the box, creasing the paper hard around the edges of the box as you go.
- For the short ends of the box, we can only cover 1 now, since the other is still open. Apply as you did on the long sides. Cut a flap into the edge of paper hanging off the end, and then fold it over (see images.) Voila- clean corners!
This step may take a little time, to apply the paper in stages and allow it time to dry. You'll want to let all the glue dry completely before moving on to the next step.
Step 4: Cutting Out the Windows
We have to get inside our box if we're going to make it look like a cassette tape!
Here are the windows we're going to cut out:
- 1 large viewing window on a long side of the box, 4" wide
- 2 small, thin windows flanking the large window, 1" wide each
Protip: When choosing which long side of the box to cut windows into, look inside the box first. One of the sides will have the seam of the box itself on its inner edge, meaning you'll have to cut through an extra layer of cardboard if you put the windows on that side. Save yourself the headache and choose the other long side of the box.
On one long side of the box, measure out 1.75", 1", 1", 4", 1", 1", 1.75" and mark each measurement with vertical lines. Your measurements may vary depending on the size of your box.
The 4" block in the middle will be our big window. The 1" pieces next to the window will stay intact, and the next 1" pieces will be our smaller windows. Mark an X in the three windows in pencil before cutting, so you don't remove the wrong parts!
Cutting Short Edges of Windows
Using an X-ACTO knife or carpet blade, slowly and carefully begin cutting out the short, vertical edges of all the windows. I suggest dragging the blade along the line you're cutting in long, even strokes, until you pierce through to the inside of the box. This gives you more control, and helps to avoid mistakes or mishaps. Sawing or flicking motions can help if you get in a difficult spot.
If any of the paper's edges come loose in this step, simply glue them down and wait for them to dry again before moving on.
Cutting Long Edges of Windows
You'll want to switch from the carpet blade to your scissors now. If you try to use the same dragging motion to cut the long sides of the windows, you'll get a ragged edge.
Using your scissors, cut the windows' cardboard in half. Bend the two halves outward and cut along the long edges of the box, removing the cardboard from inside the windows.
The two smaller, flanking windows might feel more intimidating. Just work slowly and carefully, making sure you don't damage the delicate piece of the box in between the large and small windows.
Sealing the Box Opening
Now that we have our large window as a way to access the inside of the box, we can close up the box's opening. Glue this shut, and then cover it up with a final half sheet of your base color paper, as in the last step.
Step 5: Adding Paper Details
Now the cereal box is really going to start looking like a cassette tape.
Here are the paper elements you'll need:
- Large label: 9" x 3.5"
- Thin label for the tape's name: 8" x 1"
- Trapezoid: (b1 = 7.5", b2 = 8.5") x 2.5"
- Tiny circles to apply over the trapezoid (8)
- Trace the circumference of the boba straws
- Circles to surround the boba straws (4): 1" diameter
- I traced these from the cap of a paint bottle. We'll apply them in the next step.
As always, your dimensions may vary, depending on the size of box you're using.
Cutting Out Paper Details
Prepare all your paper elements by cutting them out ahead of time. This will make assembly go faster.
To cut out the trapezoid, start with an 8.5"x8.5" rectangle. Measure 1" in from each side on one long edge, and create the diagonals between those points and the rectangle's larger base (see photos).
Gluing Paper Details
It's easiest to keep all the paper elements centered if you apply them in a specific order.
- Glue down the trapezoid, centering it on the viewing windows on the bottom of the box.
- Add your large label, an inch above the trapezoid. There should naturally be about an inch between the label and the opposite edge of the box when you do this.
- Add your small label on top of your large label, eyeballing it to make sure it's centered.
- Add the tiny dots on the trapezoid, 4 to each side. (See photos, or google "cassette tape," for placement.)
Step 6: Cutting Side Windows & Straw Holes
Now we're going to add our side windows and holes for our boba straws.
- 2 windows on the large sides of the box: 4"x1"
- We'll cover these in plastic later on.
- 4 holes for the straws to fit through (2 on each side of the box), flanking the new windows
Cutting Out Side Windows
Mark out the windows before you cut them. Measure .5" down from the thin label, and 2" in from the thin label's length, to create the 4"x1" box we're going to cut out.
You'll use the same process for cutting out these windows that we already mastered for the large viewing window: cut one set of parallel edges first, and then the other set of parallel edges. I suggest keeping one hand inside the box, to stabilize the box as you cut into it. Just make sure to keep your fingers out of the way!
We'll add the final paper element, the 1" paper circles that border the straw holes, now. For placement, you'll want to have them in line with the windows we just cut out, so the straws are as perpendicular to the box as possible when we finally install them. .5" out from the edge of the side windows should do it.
Cutting Out Straw Holes
These holes will control our spool mechanism, for winding the tape ribbon. We want them to be nearly the same size as the boba straws, so they're held firmly in place but can still rotate. Poke a hole using your scissors, and then twist them in a circular motion to widen that hole. Do this slowly, checking the size of the hole against the straw often, so you don't accidentally make it too big.
The holes will have ragged edges when you're done. You can clean these up with your scissors.
You can test out the assembly now, by inserting the straws through one side of the box and out the other. (The pointy end of the straws comes in handy here.) We'll officially add them later.
Step 7: Preparing the Inner Workings
In order for the ribbon to feed properly in front of the windows you've cut, you'll need to give them a structure to be guided around. The extra 2 boba straws will come in handy here.
Installing the Inner Boba Straws
Cut the extra boba straws to fit snugly inside the width of the box; 2.5" long, in my case. I suggest starting slightly too large and slowly cutting them down, so you don't accidentally make your straws too short on the first try. If you trim it too much, just start over. Straws are cheap :).
Once your straws are short enough to fit inside the box, but long enough to still be stable, we're going to place them. We want them to hold the ribbon out beyond the 1" windows bordering the large viewing window - you can eyeball the placement inside the box. Secure them on all sides with masking tape, which can bend around the circular straws more easily than Scotch tape. This can be a little tricky, since you're working in a small space - just be patient, and start over if you need to.
Step 8: Preparing the Ribbon
The ends of our ribbon will be glued to the boba straws, which will act as spools for advancing it. A portion of the ribbon will always be hidden between the boba straw it's wrapped around and the viewing windows, so you'll want to leave extra blank ribbon before you start writing lyrics.
Leave 2' of extra blank ribbon at the beginning, to have enough to glue around the straw, and so your lyrics don't show when you first look at the viewing window.
Preparing the Ribbon
Mark out 4" rectangles, with 1" rectangles in between them, on your ribbon, using vertical lines. Each 4" rectangle will match up with the viewing window as you queue up a song, so its lyrics are viewable all at once, instead of having to shift the ribbon back and forth to read it.
You can even include a hidden track! Just give yourself a longer piece of blank ribbon at the end, before adding a final 4" rectangle. The tape's recipient will just have to keep winding to find the secret song. I put my hidden track 1.5' past the last track.
A few pointers:
- Mark as many 4" rectangles as you need, one for each song on your mixtape. Don't forget a 1" break in between each one.
- The ink will bleed! Use a light hand when marking.
- Hold the ribbon flat - don't pull on it or you'll get warped lines.
When you've marked out all your rectangles, it's time to write out the lyrics you've chosen! Pick a font (I love dafont for inspiration), or just use block lettering or your own handwriting. Simpler is better here, since fabric can be a tough surface to write on. For each set of lyrics, think about how long they are, and how small your writing needs to be to fit in the rectangles. I recommend practicing on paper before you begin.
A few pointers:
- Hold the ribbon as taut as possible, to avoid warping.
- Upward strokes of the pen are best.
- Err on the side of a small font, so as not to run out of space.
Cutting the Ribbon
Once you've marked out all your lyric rectangles, leave 1' of extra blank ribbon before cutting off any excess.
Protip: Fabric scissors are best here, if you have them.
Step 9: Putting It All Together
Now it's time to assemble everything!
Adding the Plastic Window
Cut out two rectangles of the plastic sheet, 4.25"x1.25", for the side windows of your box. Then, using Scotch tape, secure them to the inside of the box, covering the windows.
Labeling the Tape
Don't forget to label your mixtape! Do this now, before you install the spool straws, so you can write on a flat surface.
Preparing the Inner Workings
Insert the boba straws into the holes you've cut and out through the matching hole on the other side of the box; these will be our spool straws. Insert the ribbon into the box through the large viewing window, feeding it around the smaller support straws we installed earlier, and bringing it down to the two spool straws you just added. Make sure you don't twist the ribbon, and that the lyrics are facing outward.
Gluing the Ribbon
Position the spool straws so they're sticking out equally on both sides of the cassette. Once we glue down the ribbon, we won't be able to change the straws' position too much.
Spread your permanent glue on 1" of the end of the ribbon, and twist it around the boba straw to secure it. The ribbon is going to soak up a lot of glue. Never fear! Holding it down for a minute or two should secure it. It's best if you let this dry overnight; it'll take longer than you think to become secure. If the ribbon is slipping around a lot, just give it time to dry.
Protip: Test your glue on a scrap piece of ribbon and extra boba straw before assembling your final product, to make sure it dries well.
Cutting Boba Straws
When the ribbon is dried, trim down the two spool straws to be 2" long, sticking out from each side of the box.
Step 10: Using Your Mixtape
Now that your ribbon is dry and feels secure, wind it onto the spools by turning the boba straws carefully. You'll want to wind all the ribbon onto the spool holding the end of the tape, so the beginning of the ribbon will display first in the viewing window.
To "play" your cassette tape, you'll need to turn both straws at once to advance the ribbon; one straw doesn't have enough power to pull the other along behind it.
Congratulations! Not only do you have impeccable taste in music, but you've created a physical artifact to accompany your auditory experience. Go forth and share!