Will cassettes never die?

25 July 2016

Blame the superheroes. As music formats go, the cassette tape was never beloved even in its heyday – the early 1970s – with musicians and producers infuriated by the fact that 99.9% of cassette decks weren’t aligned properly and ran at the wrong speed. Yet the humble cassette re-entered the zeitgeist in 2014 after Pete, the lead character in the blockbuster Guardians Of The Galaxy, was shown cherishing a tape given to him by his late mum.

Disney’s brief release of the superhero film’s soundtrack on cassette seemed like a gimmick but London-based label Tapeworm has 84 titles on cassette and makes its mission pretty clear on its website: “The cassette will never die! Long live the cassette.” Each title is released in a limited edition of 150 copies but many have sold out. Since 2013, the cassette format has had its own annual day of celebration.

A new London label Post/Pop is issuing tapes, viewing them as a kind of merchandise for enthusiasts – founder Jed Shepherd says CDs are “good for makeshift frisbees and low-cost ninja stars” – and Eminem is re-releasing classic albums such as The Slim Shady on tape this year.

Cassettes do offer a cheap, convenient medium for bands trying to break into the music business. Yet their major virtue for listeners – convenience – has long since been usurped by digital streaming. One industry analyst insisted that the only thing driving this trend was nostalgia yet National Audio Company, a cassette making business in Springfield, Missouri, has deals with such major labels as Sony and Universal and made 12m tapes in 2015, its best year since the company was founded in 1969.

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