THEY’RE BACK! Just when you thought music was going 100% digital – Return of the Tape Cassette!
Oh the good old days. We listened to radio and bought records and made our own with the little invention called the tape cassette. They were available to buy so cheaply and readily and so we sat in our bedroom’s with the ghettoblaster in front of us and we taped all our favourite songs from the radio, we taped from our record collection, we taped ourselves singing, in fact we taped anything and everything!
The tape is a wiley little invention that turned up in 1962. It consisted of two sides, an A and a B side, so full album’s could be recorded on them, often one on each side with a large capacity cassette. Tapes saw increased popularity from the end of the 1960’s and into the 1970’s, but it was the 1980’s that would see cassette tape sales reach their zenith. The years 1985-1992 were especially prolific as tapes outsold all other media, particularly with black cassettes used by us all to record, well anything!
As with everything, progress leads to decline and by the mid-1990’s the CD had claimed the top spot for music media and tapes began to decline. Sales of pre-recorded music cassettes in the US dropped from 442 million in 1990 to 274,000 by 2007 and whilst most albums and singles were bought on CD, record companies generally stopped producing a cassette format from the end of the 1990’s.
However, sales of blank tapes continued and in 2012 over two million were sold globally! And with all things retro, it’s recently become accustomed by many artists and groups to release their latest recording via a limited number of cassettes. And they are being laped up within seconds. Indeed, since 2016, cassette tape sales have seen a modest resurgence, with 2016, 2017 and 2018 all showing increased sales year on year, with sales so far in 2018 on par with those at the beginning of this century!
Perhaps the best example of this has been the issue (in two batches) of Kylie Minogue’s number one album “Golden“, which is by far the biggest selling cassette album of 2018. Copies of the album have been snapped up in seconds of their availability being made on line through the artist’s website, and has contributed to two swift ascents of album charts everywhere they have been bought.
So perhaps we’re not going totally digital just yet. Maybe ‘streaming’ won’t rule the world just yet. Because if tapes are on the increase, you need something to play them on, and modern music systems, particularly those with a record deck are now being produced with a tape deck as well! So if like me, you have drawers or boxes full of thirty and forty year old cassettes, perhaps it’s time to bring them out, stack them in artist and chronological order and pay homage to a medium that in times past was the only one we had total control over what side we played, where we fast forwarded to, paused and more importantly, what we recorded to make the albums we wanted to hear and share. Amen.