What Are The Factors Affecting The Revival of The Cassette Tape?
The popularity of cassette tapes has noticeably risen in recent years. Both major and independent artists are releasing music on tape once again, despite the creation of CDs and streaming. According to the Official Charts Company, in 2021 cassette tapes reached their highest all-time sales since 2003, growing by a massive 19% from the previous year to a total of 185,000 sales (Spilsbury, 2022).
One could argue that these tapes are just a novelty, but reputable artists such as The Arctic Monkeys, 30 Seconds to Mars and George Ezra also released albums on cassette in recent years (Copsey, R. 2018).
Cassette tapes have experienced a resurgence among indie artists as well. Artists, such as Mac Demarco, Current Joys and Walter TV, have been releasing albums on tape (Mac Demarco, 2017; Current Joys, 2018; Walter TV, 2017). Mac Demarco’s first album, ‘Rock and Roll Night Club’, was recorded on a four-track cassette recorder. Although his latest album was recorded digitally, his earlier albums ‘2’, ‘Salad Days’, and ‘Another One’ were all also recorded on analogue tape. (DeMarco, 2017) This do-it-yourself analogue approach has given indie music a familiar, yet newly reimagined sound. Along with their saturated distortion and rugged look, cassettes seem to appeal to both artists and music fans.
Cassettes are also cheaper to produce compared to CD and vinyl. As many independent artists cannot afford to press vinyl or CD, cassettes are a good option for those who want to produce physical copies of their albums. In 2009, Bill Sprague started an independent cassette-only record label, Sanity Muffin, in Oakland, California. (Sanity Muffin, 2009) Sprague noticed that a lot of musicians “couldn’t afford CD or vinyl distribution” whereas “cassettes average two dollars and fifty cents to produce and sell for five to seven dollars” (Wall Street Journal, 2011). When artists sell merchandise at their gigs, tapes are often the cheapest item for sale. This, along with its unique sound and nostalgic format, attracts a lot of people to buy tape over vinyl or CD. Furthermore, cassette shares a lot of the same appeal that vinyl has. Both formats have an appealing physical design and unique sound quality. Some would also argue that tape sounds better than digital formats such as CD and MP3. This is due to the nature of how magnetic tape sounds and captures audio, creating what some describe as analog warmth (Wall Street Journal, 2011).
Overall, cassettes will likely continue to grow in popularity as vinyl has over the past few years. Today, many fans and artists choose tape over other music formats due to the distinctive and colourful sound, the cost-effective design, and the nostalgic element.
Copsey, R. (2018) The Official Top 20 Best Selling Cassettes of 2018 So Far. Available at: https://www.officialcharts.com/chart-news/the-official-top-20-best-selling-cassettes-of-2018- so-far__23407/ (19th March 2022).
Mac Demarco (2017) This Old Dog [Cassette]. Brooklyn: Captured Tracks.
Current Joys (2018) A Different Age [Cassette]. Los Angeles: Danger Collective.
Walter TV (2017) Carpe Diem [Cassette]. Brooklyn: Sinderlyn.
Demarco, M. (2017) ‘Mac DeMarco: Varispeed and beyond’. Interview with Mac DeMarco. Interviewed by Ben Berke and Jay Mamana for Tape Op Magazine, July/August 2017, p. 20
Sanity Muffin (2009) About Sanity Muffin. Available at: http://sanitymuffin.bigcartel.com/about-sanity-muffin (Accessed: 19th March 2022).
Spilsbury, J. (2022) ‘Cassette and vinyl sales in the UK continued to see huge increases in 2021’, Available at: https://weraveyou.com/2022/01/cassette-sales-sees-increase-of-almost-20-in-2021-in-the-united-kingdom/ (Accessed: 19th March 2022).
Wall Street Journal (2011) Will Cassette-Tapes Make a Comeback? Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9TccPAgvU0 (Accessed:19th March 2022).