Like so much of what modern life has given us, we’ve replaced the romance of music — its soul and spontaneity — with convenience and quantity.
When most of us jumped into the digital music revolution, we didn’t realize what we might lose. I only thought of how amazing it would be to have 1,000 songs on a device the size of a pack of cards. And that’s a legitimately great feature — when you’re on the go or traveling, it’s pretty awesome to take along a large chunk of your music collection. But the rest of it, from pouring over liner notes, to organizing your record/tape/CD collection, to shuffling through a box of old music and discovering a gem — is gone. (Not to mention lending a friend a beloved album, though I lost four copies of Rage Against the Machine’s first album that way!)
Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Record sales have recently bypassed music downloads, and now, cassettes are regaining popularity, too.
National Audio is just one of the companies churning out cassettes these days: “Most people would probably think there aren’t 100,000 cassettes left in the world,” National Audio owner Steve Stepp told Rolling Stone. “I’ve got an order of 87,000 going out today.” The company is printing up copies of old favorites, like Green Day’s 1994 hit album “Dookie,” as well as newer indie bands.
Cassettes can take a beating
I’m excited about cassettes because they have something no other music format has, near-indestructibility, long with great sound. CDs and records are notorious for getting scratched, and both these formats snap and bend easily. Digital downloads are wholly dependent on your device working, as well as being charged up. Whereas I’ve played tapes with chunks of their plastic frame missing, and I spent my teenage-hood basically throwing tapes from one bag to another (sans covers) — and they’re still perfectly listenable 20 years later. I’ve even scotch-taped broken tape ribbon back together, and gently fed it back into the tape and voila! Fixed.
I love records for sound quality, but the truth is they aren’t convenient to carry around; I’d argue that of all the music formats in existence, cassettes are the ideal combination of durability, fidelity, small size and repairability. (I’m not even going to go into the joys of giving and receiving mixtapes, because that’s an entire article unto itself.)
Too much of a good thing?
Yes, tapes are bulkier than digital music, but there’s something to be said for too much of a good thing. Can you appreciate music the same way when you have access to all of it? I know I spend far less time listening to music these days, even though I can hear everything I want to on Apple Music at the touch of a button.
“The quality and the appreciation of music isn’t the same when you just have this infinite catalog on your computer, compared to having a stack of tapes, or records, or CDs, or whatever that you collect,” Cory Giordano, the founder of Inner Ocean Records, a Canadian cassette-dubbing service, told the Global News. “I think that people just end up appreciating that much more now. I’m just trying to facilitate that.”
Maybe it was the fact that at some point four years ago, when I bought a new computer, most of my music files disappeared — only those that I had specifically bought from Apple made the changeover. Or maybe it’s because I used to spend hours looking over record covers, and later tape inserts, and CD liner notes, where I could read the lyrics to the songs I was hearing; gaze at cool/weird/glamour photos of my favorite musicians; and decode hidden meanings in album art (Beatles to Tool fans will know what I mean). Whatever the reason, I’ve been missing the corporeal aspect of music.
There’s nobody happier than me to hear that I can buy new (and old) music again on cassettes. And I’m even happier I saved a big box of my favorite mixtapes and originals — I couldn’t bear to throw them out.
Now I just need to find some vintage cassette holders so I can display my tapes proudly!