How do you like to listen to your music? iPod and mp3’s? CD? Mobile streaming sites like Pandora or Last FM? Or how about something more analog? Like vinyls or even…. cassette tapes?
Cassette tapes gained popularity in the 1980s when they allowed music to become portable. No longer did people have to use phonographs for their musical entertainment purposes. They were wildly popular with the launch of the Sony Walkman, one of the most successful consumer products of all time. I can remember tape players being sold until the early 2000’s once the revolutionary Napster, iPods, and iTunes came around and digitized today’s music industry. As we move forward into the 21st century, cassette tapes have become a cult product. Their product life cycle has ended many years ago, where the mainstream populace wanted cleaner sounding productions and more convenient way to play music. They also wanted a way to play songs that didn’t skip or warble while they were busy working out, running, or what have you. A lot of music industry professionals totally laugh at the idea of cassette tapes being pressed today, and most of them will say it’s a joke novelty which would never be a lucrative business opportunity. However, people are taking to the power of the internet to get their fix of this otherwise extinct product of the past.
Today’s counterculture says the opposite. As I have gotten deeper and deeper into the independent world of the music business, I have discovered the fans of “indie” subcultures are avid fans of nostalgia and forgotten products of yesteryear, often involving things that were popular before their lifetimes. Myself being a fan of the neo-retro movement, have whole heartedly embraced this idea of the cassette tape fad which is more apparent in 2011. With cassette tapes, there is a sense of non-disposability that you can’t get with an mp3 or a burned CD. It’s an analog format that does not understand the zeroes and ones embraced into today’s compact discs and digital audio files. With websites like eBay, people are buying tape recorders, tape duplicators, 4 track tape recorders, cassette tape to mp3 converters, and even boom boxes with the cassette record feature on the website for extremely cheap prices. A lot of people drive older cars which have a tape deck in them too. Websites like Pitchfork.com report hundreds of emerging cassette tape labels in the United States alone. More and more established indie bands are starting to release albums out on cassette tape. Some bands even go as far to make cassette tape exclusive releases that cannot be obtained in any other way.
In a recent article on NPR it discusses how the culture movement has started to blossom in urban environments like Los Angeles and New York City. Even here in the Orlando area, our local independent music store, “Park Ave CD’s” sells cassette tapes of local musicians. The cassette tape form is truly an art form, bringing a “Do It Yourself” approach to releasing music. It becomes a genuine arts and crafts project where it is very common to have individually packaged tapes personalized to each one of it’s customers and listeners. I have seen tapes being sold at Park Ave CD’s with sticker book stickers on them, and even hand made inserts that come with the tapes. I have even heard of people performing live DJ sets off cassette decks and mixers. I have yet to hear a mix uploaded online, but I will be sure to post a link to it here when i find one.
The sound of today’s cassette tapes are very broad, expansive, and textured. Often times, you may never know what is on a tape, it could be somebody’s home recordings, a spoken word diary, foley sounds, experimentalist noise patterns, obscure international world music, freak folk, or anything else that is avant garde in nature. It doesn’t even have to be experimental or weird, it could be anything. The cassette tape is becoming a bigger and more popular medium for those who enjoy underground music. It really is a medium for all the freaks and weirdos out there who like those ratty sounds covered in gunk and fuzzed out with blissful distortion. The warbles and fluctuations in a tape add a natural sense of appeal and authenticity to it’s listeners. I’ll even present this list I made up explaining the ideology behind today’s cassette tape culture.
- The sound of cassette tapes degrade over time, meaning that each listen is always slightly different than the previous one.
- Tapes take a long time to make, because you have to actually let the songs play and record onto tape.
- You can’t skip songs on a tape unless you fast forward over them.
- People love nostalgia. It is a great selling tool, and it often appeals to those people who want to remember the days of old.
- A majority of tapes are of older genre’s and time periods in music, which enables a young person to listen to music which was popular before their lifetime, which I think is super cool.
- Often times, mixtapes are compiled together to bring our favorite songs onto one 90 minute cassette tape.
- The analog sounds of tape and vinyl are very warm, the ugly gunk and hiss can enhance the appeal of certain types of music, particularly older albums or music recorded at home or on tape.
- The music typically released on cassette today is usually from underground independent artists that are usually very exclusive releases of otherwise rare material.
- There is a cult following with cassette tape listeners, they often like to exchange tapes with one another which revives a very personal form of musical exchange.
- With any kind of cult product, people who indulge into them are usually people who have invested interest in similar forms of entertainment. Cassette tape people will eagerly seek out those tapes from those small independent artists.
- At thrift stores, tapes are in abundance right now, I scored a JWin portable tape player for $1, and I got tapes for $1 a piece. That’s a whole album of music for one dollar! One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.
- I have to stress the authenticity behind cassette culture. People take pride in the fact that there was no digital manipulation on a cassette tape. A lot of indie musicians now are using antiquated analog equipment to make their noise.
- People find it intriguing to see someone going back to the “good old days,” especially in today’s fast paced cluttered advertising killing field.
To conclude, this is only just a start to what cassette culture is moving up to be. Obviously this is written from a consumer level stand point, although I have done some research in this particular subject. I am also seeking cassette tape distribution on some of my musical releases where I see it would be a fun venture to get into. This is merely a fun thing to do, giving a fan more options to listen to and enjoy your music. The cassette tape counter culture is one that embraces artistic diversity and is one that warmly accepts new ideas and new melodies, which is great for any musician, especially one that is less experienced, or is just starting out. Luckily for this generation, the cult status our cassette tapes have attained may actually help our future generations understand things like past tradition and history in today’s entertainment world.
Some fun links to check out.
The list goes on. Hopefully these links are a good place to start.
-Chris Big Money