Just like your Grandpa’s old turntable is now coveted goods, if you still have an old Walkman, or an early 90’s boom box kicking around your house, they might soon be worth something again, because cassette tapes are currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity.
How many of us remember hours of rewinding and forwarding cassettes to find just the song you were looking for? Or the horror of discovering your favourite tape was caught in the machine and delicate surgery was going to be required to extract it in a single piece? Cassette become popular over forty years ago as the more portable medium, and the first one to allowed users to easily produce their own recordings, but with the advent of CD’s and then IPods, by 2000 cassettes had dwindled to just 4% of total music sales.
While not yet as popular as vinyl, more and more record labels and bands are now choosing to release their music on cassette, breathing life into what had been presumed a dead format.
For this year’s Record Store Day, Dine Alone Records released several exclusive tapes, part of what they refer to as their ‘analog catalogue’. They started releasing tapes about a year ago and since then have sold out of a few presses.
These are not your standard black cassettes though. They’re released in limited quantities, and come in a variety of bright colours, with beautiful artwork on their covers. They’re marketed toward collectors; people who want something unique from their favourite bands.
But owing a pretty cassette is not the whole story behind the recent resurgence. Penelope Stevens of the band Motherhood, and Greville Tapes Music Club (a project dedicated to blind-date mash-ups between two bands that results in a collaborative cassette) says that for her, the recent popularity of cassettes is as much a rejection of the modern digital age as anything else. “Each tape has a unique character; they’re handed down from a DIY aesthetic rather than a corporate mentality. They’re often hand-dubbed with handmade art; they feel good to hold”.
Stevens tells the story of the first cassette she ever bought, purchased as a memento of a band she loved and a specific time in her life. She says that, “As this digital era progresses and disposability increases, it seems the reverence of physical objects has also increased”.
For small Indie bands, cassette tapes are also a matter of good financial sense. Halifax’s Beauts are releasing an album on cassette in June, and band member Darryl Smith explains that for value and ease of production, cassettes beat vinyl hands down. Cassettes are much cheaper to produce than vinyl and much easier, too. Because there are a limited number of remaining vinyl presses available these are often monopolized by large record labels, pushing out small bands. If Jack White wants to put out a million copies of his latest single/album/Conan O’Brien spoken-word performance, it doesn’t leave much opportunity for the fledgling band looking to do a 100 run release in time for Record Day. Cassettes are a good – and cheap – alternative.
One problem with all this old-school music media, however, is finding the equipment to play it on. While turntables can be found for sale just about anywhere now, you might have to shop a few yard sales to find something that will play your cassettes. This is where being a pack rat can really come in handy. If the resurgence continues to take off, new cassettes players are sure to become more widely available. In the meantime, bands tend to offer a digital download code included with the cassette. While there may be an inherent value in a physical medium, and the nostalgia for a format that reigned through the 70’s to the 90’s, there is something to be said for ease of access.
But if you think your CD collection is going to be worth a fortune soon, too, you might want to keep them in storage a little while longer. Says Smith, “It’s interesting that there is just an inherent uncoolness about CD’s that’s inexplicable, because they essentially serve the same function as a cassette but have just not come back with the same enthusiasm. Although, all this stuff is cyclical and I fully expect that CD’s will also see a resurgence at some point”.