Over the last year you may have seen your favorite pop punk band tweeting about a limited run of cassette tapes a tiny indie label was pressing for their latest release and thought, even if just for a moment, that such news was fairly odd. After all, the cassette tape has long been thought dead by mainstream America. It was killed by the CD, and then the CD was killed by the digital age, but new numbers from one manufacturers tells another story.
According to National Audio Company, the largest of the companies still involved in cassette manufacturing, the company sold nearly 10 million units last year. Vinyl, for those keeping track, reportedly moved 13 million units during that same time. One format received far more attention than the other, but it’s clear based on number alone that the recent rebirth of tapes in popular culture is more than just an overnight fad.
Of the 10 million tapes produced in 2015, over 70% were created for labels big and small, including Sony and Universal Records. The other 30% was for blank cassettes, which I can only imagine are being sold to someone hoping ‘real’ mix tapes will one day make a comeback (they probably won’t).
Adding to the cassette’s apparent return to popularity is the fact many audio manufacturers have begun producing new tape decks. After phasing cassette players out of cars and home theaters all together in the mid-aughts there are many who are now receiving demand from consumers to have them back. Prices vary, but new tapes on a well made machine can offer rather incredible sound quality.
As for who is buying tapes, it’s the same under-35 market that helped breathe fresh life into vinyl. It seems those brought up in the digital era have found something special in the physical format that they refuse to let die. Punk and rock labels make up the majority of tape releases, but there are new tapes being made for every genre imaginable as demand continues to rise.
All this said, longterm success of the tape revival still seems unlikely. The decay in quality begins the first time a tape is played, and as much as those under-35 seem to appreciate the cassette format I doubt they will feel the same once their beloved Modern Baseball cassette begins to deteriorate. Then again, maybe they will.
James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also a professional entertainment critic, covering both film and music, as well as the co-founder of Antique Records. Feel free to tell him you love or hate the article above by connecting with him on Twitter. Bonus points if you introduce yourself by sharing your favorite Simpsons character.