The Cassette Tape Revival – And Cassette Tape Prints
The vinyl LP revival has been going on for several years now. You can buy vinyl in supermarkets, so it’s not something that’s just for specialists, it’s a mass-market phenomenon. You can sometimes buy all sorts of heavyweight coloured vinyl special releases (if you’re quick, that is – some of them sell out even before they’re available!).
But what of the vinyl LP’s companion (or arch enemy, depending on your point of view), the compact cassette tape? Is there a revival of compact cassettes? If you Google ‘cassette tape revival’ you’ll find numerous articles asking this question.
I’m not qualified to answer the question because I haven’t studied the market research data on cassette tapes, but I do think that most of the reasons why cassettes originally became popular have a lot to do with the limitations of vinyl. And I think that if cassettes are to become really popular again, it’ll be for a very different set of reasons.
What Are The Advantages Of Cassettes Versus LPs?
- Recording – You can record on a cassette tape! Not so easy with vinyl! You can make a mix tape on a cassette, or record your favourite album and miss out all the duff tracks. You can make your own ‘best of’ tapes (if you’re a bit weird you can make ‘worst of’ tapes as well).
- Playing Time – You can get two full albums on one cassette tape. So you don’t have to get up and change the music so often.
- Portability – You can carry a cassette tape in your pocket! That’s quite a big deal when music at home has been tied to the living room for decades. It wasn’t just Sony’s Walkman that made portable music a reality – before that ‘boom boxes’ (as they’re now called) or cheap mono cassette players could be carried from one room in the home to another, or outside into the streets, or inside to your car.
- Cheap Music Distribution – Cassettes enabled thousands of bands and musicians to release their own music to the public. I remember buying cassette tapes from numerous bands – it was a cheap and easy way to discover and listen to new music that never had a chance of making it on to the radio.
What Are The Disadvantages Of Cassettes Versus Vinyl LPs?
- Sound quality – the cassette format can’t really compete with vinyl LPs. You’ll find a lot of information about this by Googling ‘cassette versus vinyl LP’. For those primarily interested in sound quality, it has to be vinyl. But is a brilliant-sounding LP with a scratch on it more or less enjoyable than a cassette tape of the same music? Those constant clicks on LP are never less than VERY irritating.
- Longevity – Cassette tapes degrade over time, which means that if you find a pile of cassette tapes in your attic, they won’t sound as good now as they did in the 1980s.
- Track Selection – for those skilled in the art of needle placement, you can play a particular song on an LP with relative ease. To achieve the same thing on a cassette, you might need to flip the cassette over and do a lot of rewinding or fast forwarding. And even then, then chance that you stop the tape right at the beginning of the song you want are pretty slim.
- Damage – Cassette tapes can get damaged easily. Something gets stuck, the tape spews out of the shell. The tape gets stretched. Trying to patch up a broken cassette tape with sticky tape works (just about!) but it’s hardly ideal.
Check out our blog post ‘Record collection music print – the fine art of browsing vinyl LP albums‘.
The Revival Of Vinyl
Vinyl has had a successful revival for several years now. Perhaps originally the vinyl revival had an element of nostalgia to help it, but vinyl definitely has a sense of ‘cool’ about it. You get something for your money; a beautiful package with a bit of weight and a bit of size to it.
A new vinyl LP always had, and presumably still has, that wonderful moment when you tip the sleeve and slip the record out; the light glistens off the grooves, the balance of weight changes as you tip it over, the feeling of care (perhaps even reverence) that you need when handling it is something special. A new vinyl LP is like a valuable piece of delicate treasure (which for some people, I guess, is exactly what it is).
Because of a vinyl LP’s size, there’s a lot of scope for special editions and the artwork has significant prominence. Artwork is very important in the visual word we live in. You only have to look on Instagram to see how visual vinyl has become – and it’s not just the cover, now it’s the LP itself, especially with the emergence of multicolour patterned vinyl releases.
There’s been a long-running ongoing debate about the sound of vinyl versus the sound of digital music formats (like CD, mp3 and streaming).
So vinyl always had its supporters and its believers.
Can There Be A Big Cassette Tape Revival?
Have cassettes always had their supporters and believers? I don’t think so.
Cassettes are too small for the artwork to be prominent.
Cassettes never really had that feeling of quality. They always rattled a bit and a lot of them were made from very cheap looking (and feeling) plastic, with bad (or smudged) printed text that was sometimes hard to read.
Would multicolour tape make a difference? I don’t know if it’s even possible, but cassette tape isn’t visible when you’re playing it so you don’t get the ‘WOW’ experience you get from a large multicoloured disc spinning at thirty three and a third.
The sound quality of a cassette isn’t going to help a revival.
The big two advantages of cassette tape over vinyl – that you can record on it and you can take it anywhere – have been roundly trumped by digital music. Recordable CDs had better sound quality, a similar playing time and they were a lot more robust (though a CD Discman was a lot more awkward than a Walkman). The iPod’s success started because you could carry 1000 songs on a single device that was much the same size as a cassette.
So, what do cassettes have left to woo us with?
- Memories of mix tapes and the wonderful feeling of control that gave us.
- Handwritten labels in tiny writing.
Cassettes have novelty on their side. They have familiarity, at least for some of us. They have publicity – lots of people are writing about the possibility of a cassette revival and lots of people are writing it off as a flash-in-the-pan fad. Maybe that’s reason enough to ensure the success of a revival.
A Cassette Tape Revival Without Actually Having To Bother With The Cassette Tapes Themselves
The elevencorners blog is about personalised prints, so why are we writing about cassette tapes? Because we’ve just added some new personalised print designs based on cassette tapes.
The prints celebrate the fondly-remembered (by some!) cassette format but:
- You don’t have to put up with the rattling sound or cheap plastic feel of a cassette tape itself.
- You don’t need to dig out your old cassette tape player.
- You don’t have to be concerned about cassette’s lack of sound quality or the fact that the sound quality will deteriorate over time or the tape mechanism might jam or the tape might get stretched or the wrong tape might end up in the wrong box – you can leave all these things behind.
- Personalise your print
- Hang it on your wall (or give it to someone else to hang on their wall)
- Enjoy it. Enjoy the memories it triggers, enjoy the celebration of a format that has (probably) had its day, enjoy the time you spend deciding exactly which song(s) you want to feature on it, enjoy the fact that you don’t have to fast forward through the tape to find the song you want to hear.