Many things happen deep in the internet’s darkest recesses, most of which you know nothing about. Keep it that way – much of it is pretty terrifying. One of the most perplexing trends happening on Tumblr blogs and in sweaty basements across the nation isn’t even a bit gross, though – it’s the return of the cassette. Then again, maybe that’s just terrifying in a different way.
These cheap, occasionally colorful pieces of plastic have snuck back into relevance more quietly than the pop and hiss that comes with it. In many ways, they’re more relevant than CDs now, which many non-Big Four labels consider a sunk of doing business (if they bother having any made at all). Most small labels that are started now are cassette-only. Perhaps they’ll work their way up to wax, but for now, they’re plastic only.
This renaissance is no new thing. CNN has written about it, and you don’t get much more un-hip than CNN.
But why? Vinyl makes more sense on the surface. It looks cool, and you get a big piece of art with it. It may or may not have the benefit of better sound quality. You can look at your crate of vinyl records, smile smugly, and feel superior to all your radio-bumping friends. CDs are, in terms of physical media, the easiest to get, to use, and to replicate.
You know what cassettes are? Cheap. They are so very, very cheap, and they are the lifeblood of a music scene full of kids and young adults who barely have enough money to blow on something considered “cheap.”
Tapes are cheaper for those small labels to produce and ship. amd they’re cheaper for those cash-strapped fans (or kids whose parents aren’t loose with the credit card). Much like vinyl, they also imbue the buyer with a certain status. That status is different things to different people, but it all boils down to a sense of community.
Buying a brand new cassette from a tiny record label is more than just a transaction of goods and services. That $5 – and $2.50 shipping – is an investment in a brand and a lifestyle. It’s equal parts economic transaction, Kickstarter pledge, PayPal donation, and thank you tweet.
Vinyl and cassette aren’t rising and the CD falling simply because of what objective truths may or may not exist regarding quality, price and value. To invest in these formats is to take a stance on the way we support music.
We all know about Napster and Mediafire and cratering sales numbers, there’s no need to rehash modern ancient history. Buying a vinyl record or cassette is the same as buying a comic book, attending a convention, blogging about a movie, or telling your friends that no, really, they NEED to watch this TV show.
It’s about passion. We love, really love, our music, our shows, our stories. Cassettes are cheap and vinyl sounds great, but those aren’t the real reasons we invest in them. It’s because we cherish these things we love, and we need to find ways to express our love. It’s up to ingenuity to provide the best means to do so.
It’s also up to the free market to best capitalize on that passion. The money is going somewhere – the manufacturer, maybe? Somebody out there must be doing pretty well for themselves.