On tape

Published December 29, 2020

Cassette tape

Browsing the news today and this post caught my eye describing the surge in purchases of physical cassette tapes.

Cassette tape sales are estimated to have doubled this year compared to 2019. The British Phonographic Industry, which represents record labels, projects 157,000 tapes will have been sold in the UK in 2020. That’s the highest number since 2003, when compilation Now 54 - featuring the likes of Busted, Girls Aloud and Oasis - was the biggest seller on tape. Now, the top sellers are Lady Gaga, 5 Seconds of Summer and Yungblud.

They make a point of saying that it’s still a tiny fraction of music sales that are happening on tape but my big question is WHY? I can understand the resurgence in vinyl even if I’m not on board with it personally. I get that some people prefer to have an actual physical object and I can see the romance in the vinyl and record player, the sleeve notes, the great artwork, all of that.

What is there to like about a cassette tape? The boxes are fiddly, the tape can get tangled, the rewind and fast-forward buttons are so laborious and… well, they’re just hideous, aren’t they? One of the things people argue for on vinyl is the increased quality of the sound but you can’t say that’s true of a cassette, surely?

In fact, the only thing I would think a cassette is better at than a vinyl is recording your own sounds onto and surely that wouldn’t be your go-to format for that? I suppose they take up marginally less space, too, but still. I can’t imagine anyone going to visit another person’s house (I mean, I’ve forgotten what that’s like anyway at this point…) and saying ‘oh, I love your cassette collection.’

I’ll always be digital first because I like the ease and the lack of clutter, but I can understand some areas where a physical object makes sense - the art of the vinyl, the heft of a coffee table book, the clatter of a physical board game. I don’t think you’ll ever convince me that a cassette has that same nostalgia or aesthetic to stand the test of time. This year is clearly not a time to be looking for trends, given how topsy-turvy the world is, so maybe I’ll wait and see how the sales go in 2021 before ordering a new tape player.

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