We’ve all heard plenty about the big comeback of the vinyl record, in all its warm, scratchy, retro glory. But the record’s revival is old news by now. These days, it’s all about the cassette tape.
Better load up your portable boombox with D batteries, because tapes are making a serious comeback. The US’s biggest manufacturer of cassette tapes, National Audio Company, reported a growth in sales over the last few years. According to Engadget, an estimated 129,000 cassettes were sold in 2016 — an incredible 74% increase over the previous year.
One would expect sales trends to be exactly the opposite. Older cars with cassette tape players were one of the few places that this antiquated music technology was still in use, but they’re steadily disappearing from the market. Even most used cars for sale these days still come from the era of CD players.
So what’s going on with the sudden cassette tape boom? The answer is a mixture of nostalgia, cost-effectiveness and, weirdly enough, Justin Bieber.
History of the cassette tape
Despite commonly being associated with the 1980s, the use of magnetic tape recording technology began much earlier in 1935. At this point, the tape was wound on large reels. To play this type of recording, it was necessary to manually feed the tape into the player deck and spool it onto the receiving reel. Though these tapes were commonly used in recording studios and radio stations, they were just too bulky and inconvenient for home use.
The gamechanger for tapes came along in 1962 when, after a number of failed efforts, Philips introduced the “compact cassette.” Other manufacturers were able to pick up the design as Philips licensed it free of charge, and the design quickly became the standard on the market. The first pre-recorded music tapes were sold in 1965, though it would still take another decade or so for the tape to truly catch on.
That happened in 1979 with the introduction of Sony’s Walkman — the first portable music player. Cassette tapes exploded in popularity, even allowing the spread of Western music and culture into isolated societies like Soviet Russia. From 1979 on, the tape enjoyed its heyday as the music industry standard until the 1990s, when it was finally usurped by the CD.
Modern day tape culture
By 2010, the CD era was fading fast as people took to listening strictly to digital files. In 2017, most Americans get the majority of their music from streaming services like Spotify, delivering a massive catalog of music without requiring a tangible device or even a file download. But many music lovers felt nostalgic about the days of sharing mixtapes and enjoying the liner notes of their favorite albums.
Tapes quietly began creeping back onto the market. They’re cheaper to produce than vinyl records, and underground bands found that they could make a mark by releasing their music on a cassette. Plus, while not everyone owns a record player, most people have a dusty boombox sitting somewhere in their basement.
Justin Bieber officially brought tapes back into the mainstream in 2016 by releasing his album Purpose in tape form. Trendy stores like Urban Outfitters began stocking albums on tape as well.
It remains to be seen whether the tape is back for good or just a passing fad, but new bands can definitely get in on the latest analog craze by releasing their music in this trendy and low-cost medium.
Cassette Duplication & Custom Cassettes for Bands
Looking to get into cassette duplication for your bands next release. Using tapes can be a great way to attract attention and stand out from the crowd. If you’re concerned no one has a tape player anymore, you can always use stickers to include your website on the tape where people can listen to your music, or even a special bandcamp download link. Here’s a few of the top recommended places for custom cassettes and duplication, for both large and small runs: