Cassette Tapes: Hot or Not?

Ahhh the revival of physical music. First it was vinyl and now it’s cassette tapes. What’s next, 8 tracks? In this post, I weigh in on the revival of the cassette tape: that portable and in some people’s opinion, an iconic and classic music format.

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A scene from BoJack Horseman: Peep the Walkman shop.

In the News:

A Louder article headline reads “Forget the vinyl revival: the cassette tape revival is in full flow, honest.”

I’ve known about this cassette revival for a while and I’d have to talk about it at some point. Last year when I saw Temples, I saw that they had copies of Volcano on cassette. Now, Rosalie Cunningham is releasing her upcoming album on cassette too.

Let’s see what the article has to say:

Cassette sales more than doubled in the UK last year and although their share of the music market is still tiny (less than 1%), there were still 22,000 new cassettes sold in 2017.

In July this year, the Official Charts Company revealed that sales for the first half of 2018 were up 90% year-on-year. Cassette Store Day, the tape collector’s version of Record Store Day, was last month.

Not surprising it’s a tiny share of the market. I don’t see giant cassette sections of music stores. Vinyl’s still king and CD is just below that. More often I see books, magazines, and merch at record stores than cassette tapes.

Cassette Store Day though, isn’t that redundant? Is there that much of a market for it? Never understood Record Store Day either though. It’s just inflated prices for a bunch of “limited edition” stuff that is all manufactured rarity anyway. Companies creating FOMO.

DJ magazine, meanwhile, has already claimed that the cassette revival has become an essential and exciting part of the electronic music scene, allowing smaller artists the chance to do sought-after limited releases: “The tape revival also allowed music that may have never reached a global audience to do so in physical format.”

No wonder I don’t get it, I’m into the rock scene, not the electronic scene. It must be cheaper to release music on cassette than vinyl. That’s my understanding from my various chats with musicians. Cassette packaging, from my understanding is minimalist: just the tape, the plastic packaging, and a small printout of the album artwork.

Even releasing music on CD costs quite a bit: packaging, printing the booklets, the CDs themselves, and printing some design on the CD. And that’s not including the costs of producing the music.

At the bottom of the article is a bunch of offers on Amazon and eBay for new and used cassettes. Nothing interests me here.

What do I think of cassettes?

I’m 24, so I’m not going to have as many memories about the format, but I have some. I remember my parents having a cassette player in their car and a bunch of stereos with cassette players. We didn’t use them often (unless we were in the car), since my dad preferred CDs or vinyl.

My parents don’t have any official cassette releases (maybe a couple of things, I don’t know), just stuff they recorded from old records or CDs. My dad made mixtapes for the various driving trips from music on CD and vinyl (because why buy it all over again in another format?) and we had a shoebox in the car full of mixtapes.

I associated cassettes with the car. It’s a portable music format and I didn’t really see CD players in cars until the early 2000s. My parents were still driving cars from the 90s until the middle of the noughties. So the options were radio or cassette, unless you had one of those nifty cassette to 3.5mm adapters so you can use your Discman or iPod in the car. My parents had one but I don’t think we used it much.

Cassettes aren’t my cup of tea. Aesthetically, it’s not as pleasing to me as a shelf full of records or CDs. CDs are slim, records are classic. Cassettes? Meh. Where’s the cool presentation? The gatefolds, the lyric sheets, posters, stickers? It’s bare bones. It’s redundant.

If I want bare bones, I have Spotify. I have one cassette tape, Dreamboat Annie, bought at a thrift shop in Toronto for maybe $1 or 2. My husband has Led Zeppelin I, but it’s a hand me down from his mum.

Sound quality isn’t great and tapes degrade over time. If you’re unlucky, the tape comes out. At the same time, CDs and vinyl scratch or warp if you’re not careful.

My real pet peeve here is skipping tracks, which you can’t do – only fast forward and rewind. I remember my dad having to press rewind, stop, and play and cycle through those just to replay the last track.

On vinyl, you can see where a track begins and ends and place the needle accordingly. On CD, it’s a simple push of the button to change the track, and you don’t even have to flip it. With cassettes, good luck.

Cassettes are redundant, especially today. The Walkman was the iPod of the 80s and (maybe) 90s. Except it’s way less convenient. Next. There are many other things from the past I’d rather see brought back: Biba, bell bottoms, platform shoes, roller discos, concept albums, music videos on MTV, old Nickelodeon cartoons, something good please.

Mike Ladano says it pretty well in this funny video:

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