By Nolan Siegler
It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 25 years since compact cassettes were the most popular form of listening to music. With the success of compact discs in the 1990’s and the more recent internet-based method of music distribution, it can be difficult to remember a time it was mandatory to fast-forward or rewind through a cassette to play a favorite song. Considering the annoyances that go hand-in-hand with outdated technology, why are cassettes starting to surface in record stores again? More importantly, why are cassettes making a comeback?
The nuisances of older technology were a key factor in why people welcomed the digitalization and mass distribution of music with open arms. Digital music minimized the amount of effort to discover and purchase songs, and the idea of carrying an entire music collection in your pocket became a quick selling point for many music fans. With the perks of up-to-date technology, why would anyone want to travel back to more primitive styles of music consumption? The recent success of vinyl records may provide clues to why cassettes are gaining popularity again.
Many senior music fans rejoiced when vinyl started making a comeback a few years back. Record stores began to carry vinyl again, and a younger generation of listeners where able to experience the special crackles and pops that were only described to them by their parents beforehand. In fact, younger listeners began to care more about sound quality than ever before. “I buy vinyl because it gives a rich, textural sound that is completely absent when listening to CDs,” said Columbia student Jon Stone. “A lot of sound is lost when music goes digital, so I try and buy vinyl whenever I can; even if it’s a little more expensive.”
Nostalgia also played a key role in the recent resurgence of the vinyl format. The cherished routine of carefully taking a record out of its sleeve, blowing off dust and placing it on a turntable brought back memories of music as an experience. As vinyl fans will attest, the more time and thought put into an experience, the more rewarding and personable it becomes. These notions served as a reintroduction of listening to records in their entirety. “I like listening to vinyl because it’s harder to skip through tracks. I feel more inclined to listen through an entire album, which is great because I don’t want to miss out on any songs that might become my favorites,” said Aurora University student Liz Steele. “It’s cool that kids are listening to albums in full; something that people stopped doing for a while.”
Although the second coming of vinyl brought back the idea of discovering obscure album gems, cassettes seem to be taking it a step further. Cassettes don’t pressure the user to listen through an entire album as much as vinyl does; it’s much easier to fast-forward through a cassette than it is to reposition a needle on a turntable. This allows more flexibility for listening, but still pushes users to discover songs they would otherwise be oblivious to. While the combination of both methods of listening is a likely contributor to the newfound popularity of cassettes, it may only be the tip of the iceberg.
When searching for used cassettes, a typical selection scenario might include the following artists: Springsteen, Prince, Talking Heads, and U2. Finding used cassettes from any artists who emerged after 1995 is a sizable challenge, but with a new-found interest of 1980’s music, young listeners might not care. “I only own one vinyl album, and that’s Thriller by Michael Jackson,” said college student Matteo Lazazzera. “Although I like my record, I listen to cassettes more often. My father owns many cassettes by my favorite artists, so I have access to many great albums from bands like the Smiths.” With a recent crop of bands taking influence from 1980’s artists, young fans have unknowingly developed an ear for 80’s sounds. The fact that most of these albums are sitting on shelves with low price tags only adds to the interest of the college student demographic.
Even though vinyl has many perks, they usually come at a high price. When bought new, a vinyl recording costs considerably more than their CD alternatives; which aren’t being sold at door busting prices either. Used cassettes are currently available for extremely affordable prices, which might explain their recent popularity. “I found a bunch of albums from my favorite artists on cassettes a couple months ago,” said Aurora University student Chase Buehler. “I was shopping in a thrift store and found albums by Morrissey, New Order, the Cure, James and the B-52’s. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw their price tags; they were so cheap. I ended up walking out with about 10 cassettes for under five dollars. To me, owning a cassette is like owning a little piece of history. The fact that they don’t drain my bank account is awesome.”
There are probably many reasons why cassettes are currently making a comeback, but some are in plain sight. It might take a little effort and some luck to find a great album on a cassette, but music fans who are up for the challenge are being rewarded by discovering lost songs for dirt cheap. Although many are fully embracing the digital and internet infused age of music, some might find their personal niche by trying out something old. With the music industry currently in a state of confusion, maybe looking to the past holds the key to the future.