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Winding back the tape

How cassettes are helping indie bands

Cassette tapes are making a comeback.

BuzzAngle released a report called “2018 year-end report of U.S. Music Industry Consumption” that found that cassette sales grew from 99,400 to 118,200 units in The United States. Part of this comeback has to do with recent music being put out on cassettes as well such as Guardians of the Galaxy: Mix Vol. 1, Nevermind by Nirvana, and Pray for The Wicked by Panic! at the Disco. So, it isn’t so much the music that was produced when the cassette tapes were popular but rather the mode in which the music is listened. 

Using this format is also good for young, independent artists because they are rather cheap to produce. As Performer Mag mentioned, “cassettes can be made professionally in super small runs as low as 50 or 100 units for one to two  dollars per unit, depending on length and artwork options,” which is ultimately much cheaper than trying to press vinyl. This helps in a couple of ways: fans don’t have to pay much for the music, and it isn’t as big of a deal if the album flops.

Cassette tapes offer faster, simpler production times in comparison to vinyl and even CDs. Blake Hickman, owner of the Portland DIY label Good Cheer Records, told UpRoxx that one of his albums wasn’t released until six months after the original date because it kept getting delayed. “If you’re a small label without a big distribution company behind you, these sorts of problems happen more often and can really damage you. With cassettes, there’s just fewer steps with manufacturing, lower up-front costs, and faster turnaround times,” Hickman said. 

The image of a cassette has become iconic. Photo: Madison Daley · The Sentry

Collector items from a band with good artwork often come in the form of clothing and other merchandise, but cassette tapes have been making a comeback on merch tables. Some cassette players are rather inexpensive as well. Fifteen  dollars is all it takes to be able to listen to cassettes. Even if the owner never listens to their tape, they have an inexpensive and aesthetically pleasing memento from their favorite indie band. CDs, by comparison, are more expensive and rarely used. Most modern computers, besides some desktops, don’t have optical drives anymore. Thus, making compact discs an impractical option.

Cassette tapes are also a departure from the digital age of music. Like vinyl, cassettes deliver an irreplaceable sound that only analog devices can produce. This age-old technology offers a warmer way to listen to bands by using lower frequencies that match the human body. Analog music also sounds closer to when the songs were recorded. Analog sound waves are also continuous while those of digital are not, thus making the experience different than it would be listening to a CD or anything on Spotify, making for an altogether incomparable experience.

These benefits mixed with the power of nostalgia create a tool with which up-and-coming artists can navigate the music world and make a splash.

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