The first question you might have asked after reading the headline above is “audio cassettes?” The short answer to that is one word and one word only: “yes”.
Even though mainstream record labels stopped making cassettes as a regular part of music distribution, you are able to actually find some Black Eyed Peas tapes out there. Sounds odd to say doesn’t it: “Black Eyed Peas tapes”? It’s a format that has been kicked around for decades, figuratively and literally, from what was considered a very cheap knock-off for audiophile-quality open reel tapes to becoming the format of choice not only for music fans in the late 1970’s and most of the 1980’s, but for some genres. As the industry pushed to put vinyl records to rest, there was a time when you could not find certain titles on vinyl. However, if you walked into any record store, supermarket, or truck stop, you could find cassette pressings of all of your favorite artists and albums. They may not have been from the country of your origin, and sometimes the graphics had nothing to do with the music (and sometimes vice versa) but a lot of us of a certain age have fond memories from those tapes. For years it was not an uncommon sight to drive on a street or highway and see an unwound cassette on the side, perhaps getting stuck in the car deck or a music fan not happy with hearing Air Supply and tossing it out forever.
We may be ten years into the 21st century and everyone is living their own digital lifestyles, but the audio cassette format is far from over. Many independent artists and labels continue to press up cassettes of their latest projects, and they’re selling it to music fans who have found no reason to sell their decks or Walkman’s. Believe it or not, they still sell portable cassette players at Walgreen’s and professional cassette decks at some stores, but the durability of older cassette players makes it possible to play these new tapes without damage.
Who’s making tapes? Rock, stoner metal, sludge metal, indie folk, and even the heart-attack inducing heads at Stones Throw have released hip-hop on cassette in the last few years. On one hand, going “back” to vinyl and cassette may be nostalgic for some, but many are taking advantage of the novelty of a dead format and realizing that the medium, as great as it can be to fetishize about, is less important. It’s merely a vehicle for the music contained within. A cassette in your pocket obviously can’t hold up to 32gb of content that a digital player does, but some are saying “I don’t need 32,000,000,000 bytes of anything, I’m happy with my 60 minute album right here. NPR‘s Lars Gotrich looks at what he feels were The Best Cassettes of 2010.