Are cassette tapes the new vinyl? Statistics from the Official Charts company state that cassette tape sales have sky-rocked – up 103% since January of this year! They may be “the unlikely comeback kid of music formats.” But what might be the reason for this jump in sales?
Glass Animals drummer Joe Seaward told NME, “People are watching old TV shows, films and listening to old music. I think that might be partly to do with why the cassette is having a bit of a resurgence […] We’ll have to wait and see.” Nostalgia might be partly at play. "Musical hipsters" may be another. With an almost complete takeover of the music world by digital streaming platforms in recent years, some individuals crave the once taken-for-granted element of physical collections. There is just something about holding a cassette tape in one's hand that cannot be matched by the giants known as Spotify and Apple Music. There is a sense of personalization that presents itself in physical memorabilia. People dig this collective trend and are seeking it out once again.
Also known as Compact Cassettes, Musicassettes (MC), or tapes, audio cassettes were first introduced in the year 1963. Produced by Philips, they became one of the most popular musical listening formats throughout the 70's and 80's - even continuing into the 90's. One of the pros that Compact Cassettes held over 12-inch vinyl LP's was the re-recordable feature. They are also (clearly) much more portable and convenient than vinyl. Boom boxes were highly sought after for these reasons and the sale of Sony Walkmans increased rapidly after their introduction. By the 1990's, however, CDs began to overtake cassettes. Cassette sales declined throughout the decade and fell into discontinued production.
Why the resurgence, then? Well, for one thing, many artists now realize how cost effective cassette tapes really are. They are easy to use, as well as significantly less expensive to produce than CDs and vinyl. Many "diy" and underground music scenes prefer this format as a part of their unique musical culture.
Guardians of the Galaxy's "Awesome Mix Vol. 1" added to the cassette revival. National Audio Company (based out of Missouri) headed up mass production of 10 million audio cassette tapes of this popular mix. Sales then rose by 20% the following year, marking their best sales to date since 1969.
United States cassette sales rose by 74% in 2016 and have continued to increase ever since. Even the well-known Urban Outfitters chain began to carry new and vintage cassette albums in their stores.
Some of the top-selling cassettes of 2020 include Lady Gaga, Selena Gomez, Ozzy Osbourne, The Strokes, Tame Impala, and Dua Lipa. Vinyl and CD sales have also surged since the re-opening of record stores (post lockdown). “Overall, physical sales accounted for 19.1% of the overall albums market across the past week, a three-month high” (nme.com). This is great news for musicians, who make more money off of physical sales than through streaming royalties.
All in all, cassette tapes seem to be following a similar trend to that of the recent vinyl resurgence. They're cool, they're hip, they're nostalgic, they're cheap, and they're fun. What more could you want?
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