I was at my local music store earlier this week, and noticed that there were a few relatively recent album releases available on cassette tapes.
I know vinyl has had a resurgence in the last decade, but I understand that there’s a group of people that think that music sounds better on vinyl (and I’m not interested in arguing that point).
But cassette tapes? People bought them because they were portable and more durable than records. No one actually thought they sounded any better. Then CDs came along and were just as portable and just as durable, and actually did sound better than cassettes.
So why buy cassette tapes now? Is it just a nostalgia thing for the Gen Xers, or is there something else behind it?
The one aesthetic distinction of cassettes that I see is that they kind of reclaim the album concept, from the freer shuffling of CDs and MP3s. When you put in a tape, you’re pretty much going to listen to all the songs straight through in order. At least a side. You can listen to digital music similarly, but the form doesn’t tell you to.
Yes, back in the day, we had to listen to our albums all the way through, even the crappy songs. Having random access is BETTER! We would have loved having it in the 70s. Remember mix tapes? They weren’t just for girlfriends.
I hope these hipsters listen all the way through their cassettes. Especially when one side of the album is shorter, and there’s five minutes of silence. Better get the full experience.
What’s next - 8 tracks? 78s? I think I have a vacuum tubed B&W TV somewhere in storage I could sell to a hipster. I bet they could get into watching the dot fade away. Blow their minds!
Well, as someone who has produced the physical things you can listen to music on, there’s a definite cost advantage in cassette tape for someone who’s putting our a recording.
500 Vinyl LPs with white sleeves (you’ll still need covers) = around $1500
300 CDs with color covers = around $750
500 Cassettes with color covers = around $700
So, at low volumes of production, and in a world where there are actually folks out there that might not even have a CD player, the media you’re producing it in becomes of shrinking relevance. It’s mainly a container to transfer a download card in. Tapes are usually the cheapest traditional box to do that within.
I know of one band that issued its latest album on vinyl or cassette exclusively (they also came with a download code), and it was basically a kind of retro gimmick in keeping with the album’s theme (a collection of '80s rock covers).
I got one of the limited edition cassettes that came with a vintage Walkman autographed by the band.
Even if your numbers are correct, cassettes still suck in just about every way they can. The sound quality is inferior to everything but a Victrola, they wear out, the actual tape breaks and may even take your player out with it on a suicide mission and you have to rewind them.
I am a child of the 80’s and the one thing that I will never miss is cassette tapes. Do you know how many hours I spent pulling out literally dozens or hundreds of feet of tape so that I could try to cut and splice the non-damaged parts back together with Scotch tape? I don’t either but it was way too many. I ended up with many handicapped cassettes that only had random snippets of hit songs on them.
I still loved them anyway because that was all we had but cassette nostalgia is like longing to use an outhouse rather than a real bathroom or taking a bath in a tub of used water in the kitchen in front of your family every week or so. It is definitely retro but retro isn’t a synonym for “good”.
I hate hipsters as much as anyone and I am thrilled they learned to make their own life harder by embracing one of the worst technologies ever invented but let’s not take that to mean it is anything but pointless posturing.
These “resurgences” are largely illusory. They are brief and tiny fads that get reported and/or noticed precisely because they are weird. Meanwhile, more modern forms of sound recording are and will remain 99.99% of the market, and the fad will be gone once people are bored of it.
Oddly enough, I think one of the reasons for cassette tapes becoming more popular is because the vinyl resurgence turned out to be way larger than the popular wisdom. Vinyl plants are dealing with a huge backlog and there is no rush to bring more online because they are worried about people suddenly not wanting new vinyl. So some releases for people who do not want CDs are pushed to tapes because you can’t press an unlimited amount of vinyl.
One of the recent albums released on cassette tape (and possibly the one that spearheaded the resurgence) was the soundtrack for Guardians of the Galaxy, where it makes sense. The soundtrack for the movie is, within the movie, all songs that the main character plays from a mix tape, and he keeps it in that format because that particular cassette itself has extreme sentimental value to him.
Until 3 years ago drove a crappy old car that had a cassette player. I could usually pick up a fine handful of cassettes from a garage sale for a buck or two. Played them on the way home. If they sounded warbly or Peter Frampton hadn’t improved with the passage of time, out the window they went in a big long brown plastic ribbon of displeasure.
Total catharsis. Try doing that with your new-fangled CDs and IThings!
Just my luck! I finally have a new enough car that it DOESN’T have a tape player. And, double just my luck: It’s my first car with a CD player but I don’t ever listen to CD’s anymore.
Someone above mentioned spending hours mending tapes. I grew up in the tape era and owned hundreds. I wore out a ton (mainly by leaving in a hot car) but I rarely had them break. What brand of tape player did you own that came with teeth?