The Rise of Cassettes

By Cain Hernandez
Blog Content Contributor

Recently, I’ve begun to notice this recurring trend of artist and musicians releasing their music on cassettes. I’ve seen cassettes being sold at merch tables and all over Bandcamp, and can’t help but wonder why this outdated medium is seeing the light of day again.

Of course, this isn’t something entirely new. Around the same time last year, I remember reading some articles on various websites talking about Urban Outfitters and how they are trying to revive the cassette. It’s easy to write this trend off as some sort of nostalgic cash grab, which is very likely to be the case since it involves Urban Outfitters, but is releasing albums on cassette actually worth it? Is this purely for nostalgia or is there a legitimate reason for releasing on cassette? For the most part, I’d say a lot of the appeal does come from nostalgia. However, there are some practical reasons current bands are releasing on cassette.

Cassettes were popular from the 1970s through the 1990s, but they seem to be making a rise again in the 2010s. Photo by Cain Hernandez.
Cassettes were popular from the 1970s through the 1990s, but they seem to be making a rise again in the 2010s. Photo by Cain Hernandez.

During my time researching cassettes, I noticed how intimate the form of media actually was. The reason I feel that way is simply because of the history behind the cassette, which lasted through the late 70s into the early 90s. Around that time, cassette recording hardware became much more accessible. This gave smaller bands, mostly punk bands, an outlet to get their music to the public without having to go through an expensive recording studio. It might be a stretch to say this, but without the cassette, some bands might have never seen the light of day. Since many of these bands were self-recording, a lot of the time they even made their own cover art. Everything was done by the band themselves, which gave cassettes a much more personal feel.

My mother grew up during the cassette era, soI decided to ask her how she felt about this cassettes resurgence. In short, she thought it was great. She told me about the times she and her friends used to wait for hours just to record their favorite songs from the radio, which is kind of the equivalent of illegally downloading music today; but hey, they were only kids.

Of course, she also remembered the annoyances that came with cassettes too. Like how siblings or family members would ruin their illegal recordings by make noise in the background. Or how she would spend hours with a pencil, pen or some other gadget trying to reel out a tangle only to wind it all back into the cassette. She would even mend the torn film with a piece of tape that would forever warp the song. She spoke with fondness and annoyance at the same time, but overall thought it was amazing how cassettes haven’t died out yet.

But why are current bands releasing on cassette? Face it, if you are buying cassettes with the sole intention of listening to music, then you are either in your late 70s, an overly pretentious hipster or you have an old car with a cassette player installed. Truthfully, the audio quality of cassettes is horrendous.

With that being said, I do feel that cassettes are a perfectly viable way for a band to market themselves. For one thing, cassettes are very small. You can fit them in your front or back pocket and they weigh next to nothing. The high portability of the cassette means that you can get your music into people’s hands cheaply and easily. Pair that up with a download code and a link to your Bandcamp page and your fans get the best of both worlds, a physical release of your music and an option to download. Cassettes give current artists a cheap and unique way for their fans to support them.

Personally, I have no qualms with the resurgence of cassettes. It’s easy to dismiss it as the next ironic hipster trend, but I think cassettes are actually a pretty cool form of media that played an important part in music, punk and independent music especially.

Holly Henrichsen

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