Cassette tape sales are rising

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“Hiss is bliss”It became a mantra among music hipsters around a decade ago. I was running a small music magazine and we started receiving new albums from local bands with a strong DIY aesthetic—on cassette. I was initially confused. Why were bands formed of people who were born in the 1990s suddenly promoting their music via cassette? This medium had almost disappeared long before they were born. These bands were not behind the curve. 

Cassettes: A History

The cassette was introduced in the middle of 1960s. However, it took a while for cassettes to gain popularity. The cassettes’ sound quality was terrible, and it took some time before the benefits of portability began to emerge. By the mid 1970s, cassettes had taken over 8-track players. Finally, there was a better way than the cumbersome and bulky 8-track to listen to music on the move. You could also record music from the radio using a cassette recorder. The mix tape was thus born.  

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Cassette sales soared by the 1980s, in no small part because of the proliferation of the Sony Walkman and similar small, portable cassette players—not to mention boomboxes and other personal stereos you could take with you. Of course, there was the mix tape. You could create a mix from all your favourite songs and then pop it into your car stereo with dual cassette decks. Nothing was more romantic for teenagers in the ’80s and ’90s than carefully crafting a mix tape to present to a boyfriend or girlfriend in an attempt to reveal honest feelings.

Cassettes Died A Slow Death

By the late ’80s, compact discs had arrived on the scene in a big way and they spelled the beginning of the end of the cassette. Compact discs quickly became the most preferred medium for music-buyers. Cassettes held on for a while, both because you could still make those awesome mix tapes (CD-Rs were still at least a decade away), and because cassettes didn’t skip in cars and while walking around like CDs did in early portable devices. 

Two factors were the reason cassettes died. The first was the introduction of CDs-Rs, which allowed us to quickly copy music to CDs from one CD to another without losing any of the digital quality. This avoided the degradations inherent in copying to analog cassettes. The iPod, Napster, mp3s and Napster are the second reasons. The emergence of the MP3 player provided everyone with everything they could need: portability and reliability as well as an endless supply of music. The rest is history. 

Hiss, Hipsters and Starlord

Vinyl sales, which had all but completely dried up in the ’90s, came back with a vengeance in the ’00s. Audiophiles were awed by the warmth of analog recordings, which many felt was lost in the digital age and the CD. Tapes, however, didn’t experience the same renaissance. Over 30 years, cassettes outsold CDs. Cassettes are now outpacing CDs for the first-time in decades. They still trail far behind vinyl and most people still prefer to stream their music than any of the older mediums, but there is no question that tapes are coming back into vogue 10 years after I first started seeing them appear in our magazine’s mailbox.

They are inferior in sound quality to virtually everything, including mp3s, which, let’s face it, have never been all that great either. As to the portability, well, that hasn’t changed, but lugging around a Caselogic carrier full of 90-minute tapes seems ridiculous when you have millions of hours of music at your fingertips with Spotify or Apple Music. What is the attraction? Pure nostalgia.

The “hiss is bliss”It is becoming increasingly popular to use the mantra. It makes Generation X feel young again and gives younger generations a glimpse into the dark ages of the internet before we can listen to anything, anywhere, anytime. Oh, and it probably doesn’t hurt that Peter Quill, aka Starlord, treats his Walkman as his most prized possession in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy series. 

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