Updated: Nov 21, 2018
This week’s entry is the second of two posts looking at the compact music cassette. The first part explored the history of cassettes whilst this part will discuss the recent resurgence in the popularity of the compact music cassette.
In a similar fashion to vinyl, the 2010’s have seen cassettes enjoy a reversal fortune. The numbers are in no way what they once were, but sales have shown a steady growth. This can in part be attributed to modern artists and productions introducing the cassette to a new generation fans who were never witness to the medium’s original dominance. In 2014 the soundtrack to the blockbuster film ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ was released on cassette, whilst Justin Bieber’s 2015 album ‘Purpose’ also saw a release.
Some music industry commentators have dismissed the resurgence of the cassette as only appealing to hipster culture, whereas others have pointed to the accessibility of the cassette as a route back into analogue media. Whilst there are means for independent artists to have their music distributed on vinyl, it still remains a lengthy and costly process. Even with progressive companies like Qrates, who effectively operate as the equivalent of kickstarter for vinyl, an artist still has to have the buying power of a couple of thousand fans for the record to even be pressed.
On the contrary cassettes are comparatively very cheap, only costing the consumer an average of £5.00 - £8.00 with production lead times of as little as a few weeks. In today’s digital streaming music industry consumers have shown that there is still a desire for a tangible asset, something physical they can hold. In 2018 the cassette provides an affordable route into the analogue domain for both consumer and artist.
Finally, the ease with which independent artists are able to publish their music digitally has resulted in it becoming increasingly difficult to be heard above the noise. The transient nature and overt accessibility of digital media, in particular music streaming services, have part circumvented the previously dominant curation of the record labels. In many regards, this can be viewed as a very positive and liberating development for creators and consumers. However, in this new paradigm it could be argued that some artists continue to value physical media as representing an abstracted layer of legitimisation, and in that respect the cassette can be seen as an attractive proposition.
Despite this reversal in the fortunes of the cassette, National Audio Company would still encounter a major potential problem. In 2014 their last remaining magnetic tape supplier ceased trading, they were forced to purchase all remaining surplus stock and rely on that until another solution could be found. By 2017 the stocks were close to being completely depleted. National Audio Company consequently announced that they were in the process of developing the capability to manufacture tape in their own factory, thus ensuring that the compact cassette would enjoy longevity for many years to come.
Andriessen, W. (1999). ‘THE WINNER’; compact cassette. A commercial and technical look back at the greatest success story in the history of AUDIO up to now. Journal of Magnetism and Magnetic Materials, 193(1999), 11-16.
Bloomberb (Producer). (2015, 4 September). The Last Audio Cassette Factory [Multimedia]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMTpvr9HXeI
Dezember, R., & Steele, A. (2017, 3 November). A Global Shortage of Magnetic Tape Leaves Cassette Fans Reeling. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/cassettes-are-making-a-comeback-but-there-s-a-kink-nobody-makes-tape-1509723435
National Audio Company. (2017). History of National Audio Company, Retrieved from https://www.nationalaudiocompany.com/history-national-audio-company/
Olivarez-Giles, N. (2017, 9 March). Why Cassette Tapes Are Making a Comeback. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-cassette-tapes-are-making-a-comeback-1489080349