Music Hasn’t Killed The Compact Cassette

Here’s a comprehensive article from a couple years back on the history of the ‘compact cassette’, featuring this nugget that might ring familiar:

With [all-in-one stereo systems] gaining popularity through the mid-1970s and beyond, the issue of copying became a bone of contention. People were sharing their vinyl records and taping them. Records could be borrowed from public libraries and cassette copies made. It was stealing. In other territories, developing countries in particular, where the Compact Cassette was more widespread than other forms of recorded media, the sale of pirate copies was commonplace.

While these overseas activities were beyond the reach of Western record companies, back home in Blighty, the BPI led a campaign to bring our music-ripping nation to book in the 1980s. The slogan “Home Taping Is Killing Music” was the industry’s browbeating missive to counter its fears that record sales would suffer due as a consequence.

Yet for the consumer, taping and sharing music was a way of discovering new bands and for many artists, this was acceptable because it was a way of growing their fan base. Fans that would soon enough buy their records and probably attend concerts with their mates.

The pros and cons of copying is an argument that still rages to this day. Certainly, Philips had no idea that the introduction of a dictation machine some two decades earlier would lead to such strife.

Meanwhile, this piece in Deutsche Welle – How Magnetic Tape Changed Music Consumption – also runs down the cassette’s history with a photo gallery and a short video documentary.

And then Bloomberg Business presents a recent video visit to National Audio Company, a ‘blank media supplier’ that claims to be be “making more audio cassettes than we’ve ever made.” A shocking claim, but I know my friends at the Cold Busted label have been releasing limited edition cassettes to some surprising success.

I do have fond memories of recording songs and projects on my Tascam four-track cassette ‘portastudio’. I’ve even said that this may have been my most creative time, given how the limitations of the medium forced ‘outside-of-the-box’ thinking. But it’s a format I certainly don’t miss (besides its kinda endearing hiss), and I admit being a bit bewildered at its tiny resurgence, beyond writing it all off as some sort of ironic statement. Any current fans of the compact cassette care to enlighten us on how it maintains appeal?

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Comments (1)

As you know, I was a HUGE cassette fan from the early-‘80s through the early-00s.
Have a tub containing hundreds of mix tapes, DJ mixes, band demos and album dubs — documenting my musical journey from junior high through my early-30s — that I’ve been transferring to digital.

I loved the cassette as a recording format, and not because of the lo-fi factor (hiss and wow/flutter). That actually never made sense to me because a type II cassette with proper recording levels and noise reduction — Dolby C was my long-time favorite — rivaled CDs in sound quality (dynamic range and signal-to-noise ratio).

Considering the format was originally developed for dictation, they truly pushed its capabilities.

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