After the vinyl made a revival, you can now no longer escape the tape
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
The month of January is named after the two-faced Roman god, Janus. As we move into the new year, the Romans believed that we should replicate their deity, with one face looking into the past and the other looking ahead. Humans are a nostalgic bunch, glancing backwards as they progress. We turn to historians to tell stories of our predecessors, and rose-tinted reminiscences can affect our decision-making for our successors.
Everything was better in the not-so-distant past: the television programmes, the movies at the cinema, and the music we listened to. In fact, the classic Doctor Who you loved and adored is now dated, with the wobbly sets and dodgy monsters more noticeable on a second viewing; the CGI in your favourite films has not aged gracefully, and neither has the wooden acting; and the music - actually the music is still great, it's just a shame about the format they are playing from.
The vinyl has made a revival, even when music shifts from the physical to the digital. Get your pencils at the ready, to wind back the tape, because another seemingly defunct method of listening to your favourite tunes is making a comeback: the cassette tape.
Justin Bieber, Eminem and Metallica have all published music on cassettes recently, Market Place reports. The resurgence of the format has been helped by their appearance in popular culture, including Stranger Things, Better Call Saul, 13 Reasons Why, and the Guardians of the Galaxy films. In the latter, protagonist Peter Quill listens to "Awesome Mix, Vol. 1 and 2" on his Sony Walkman. The soundtrack for the Marvel superhero films sold 11,000 cassette tapes.
While they are slowly making a comeback, tapes have not yet hit the mainstream again. A majority of cassette sales come from small batches being bought by hardcore fans online, according to the Verge. Direct-to-consumer operations, such as bands' personal websites or online shops for independent record labels, made up 43 per cent of all cassette sales in 2016.
The surge in popularity is actually causing a shortage of magnetic tape used to create cassettes. National Audio, an American company still producing cassette tapes, says it has less than a year's supply left. The company's co-owner and president Steve Stepp says he is planning to build the first high-grade tape manufacturing line in decades to help meet demand.
The New Scientist notes that music recorded on tape has its own unique and vital sound, adding that tapes can still have "astonishing clarity and presence". They write: "Encoding sound as varying magnetic fields, as tape does, is bound to give a different quality than other methods, such as the deviations in a vinyl groove or digital information read by a laser on a CD."
Cassette sales peaked in 1990, with pre-recorded tapes selling 442 million copies around the world - blank cassette tapes reached a peak of 2 billion sales in 1996. Nowadays, the figure for pre-recorded cassettes is around the 174,000 mark in the United States, increasing by 35 per cent in 2017.
The progression to the digital leaves a nostalgic feeling for the physical, as cassettes join vinyl as the hipster method of listening to music. Vinyl made the revival, and you can no longer escape the tape.