CassetteWhere vinyl and cassette once conspired to carry music in a beautiful symmetry of quality and portability, they have been brought head-to-head by the launch of Cassette Store Day. Rather than reuniting the old team, this has divided opinion over their relative worth.

We’ve become used to the succession of ‘format wars’, but this has to be the first engagement fought between obsolete and obsolescent media…

The first Record Store Day (RSD) took place in 2007, when more than 700 independent music stores in the US celebrated their place in today’s music market though assorted events, artists’ appearances and special album releases – some on vinyl. It has since become an international event, and offers a rallying point for music makers and music lovers in support of independent music sellers.

Just one week ago, Cassette Store Day (CSD) followed suit, offering its own round of international events and music releases from the likes of Deerhunter, Animal Collective and Flaming Lips – 50 years after Philips unveiled it at the Berlin Radio Show. Where Record Store Day set out to ‘recognise the unique culture surrounding over 700 independently owned record stores in the US and thousands of similar stores internationally’, Cassette Store Day aims to ‘highlight the format’s resurgence, as well as providing an outlet for new music’.

Cassette Store Day

‘This is more about celebrating the continued existence and usefulness of a predominantly overlooked, yet still current, format, rather than fetishising something obsolete,’ says Cassette Store Day co-founder, Steve Rose.

But to many others, the old cassette remains vinyl’s poor relation; intractably associated with failing audio quality, tape jams and motorway streamers. Cassettes certainly can’t contest vinyl’s appeal to audiophile quality, or the art it wears on its sleeves. And its claim to portability is greatly overshadowed by the convenience and reliability of MP3 and other digital delivery systems.

Excepting a relatively small number of collectors’ rarities, cassettes have not held their value in the same way some vinyl has. On top of that, figures for 2013 have cassette sales at 0.02% of overall album sales (Nielsen SoundScan), while vinyl LP holds a 2% share of the album market.

Somehow the cassette – for all its technical achievement and cultural significance – has failed to win the same affection as its vinyl playmate. But there’s another side to the old cassette…

Skill in music

To the music consumer, the Compact Cassette brought ‘mixtapes’ and the first Walkman. And while it brought piracy paranoia to the music industry, it brought the home studio to the music maker.

iPhone cassette coverThe major music labels sought a levy on all blank tape sales to offset the royalties they believed they were losing through illegal copying. Their ‘Home taping is Killing Music’ campaign invited protests from various quarters, including the ‘Home Taping is Skill in Music’ counteroffensive launched by users of a new breed of cassette recorder. 

Teac brought a genuine revolution to music recording with the release of 144 Portastudio in 1979 (also the year in which the Walkman appeared). Based on the same mechanical format as the domestic cassette, this bumped the tape speed from 1⅞ ips to 3.75 ips, and used all four tracks in a studio multitrack arrangement, complete with sync overdubbing. Inevitably, other four-track ‘personal multitracks’ followed, and Sansui pushed a little harder with its MR-6 and WSX-1 six-track based machines. But it was the cassette that made it all possible. 

Along with the arrival of Midi in 1982 (also the year that the CD arrived), the cassette multitrack had signalled a tectonic change in the commercial recording studio market, ahead of digital audio and hard-disc recording. It might have served Steve Rose (and Cassette Store Day co-founders Matt Flag and Jen Long) well to have picked up on this.

While the Compact Cassette is assured a place in modern cultural history and the development of music recording, it seems unlikely to fulfil the ambitions of the CSD crew. Contrarily, very few young music fans or music makers have ever seen, let alone used a cassette. And yet they are keeping it alive as an icon, through tee-shirts, graffiti and even the iPhone case.

‘The cassette has transformed over the years from a functional music medium into a visual pop art object,' agrees Brighton graffiti artist, Cassette Lord. ‘The home recorded cassette mix tape was a revolution in editing and personalising of music, and became a deeply intimate object passed between millions of friends with handwritten inlays, stickers and painted covers. This capacity for personalisation and re-recordable function helped embed the cassette tape into people’s hearts allowing it to transcend its simple functionality. Some think it has a face...’ 

See also:

Last/Next Blog

FacebookTwitterDiggDeliciousStumbleuponGoogle BookmarksRedditNewsvineTechnoratiLinkedIn
Pin It

Fast-and-Wide Blog

  • The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains
    Released in March 1967, ‘Arnold Layne’ was the first of eight singles from the fledgling Pink Floyd that year. Fifty years on, and with an unassailable...
    Read More...
  • Making Waves: Cause and Effect in Kit Reviews
    Sharing time and a couple of bottles of Asahi with another former pro audio magazine editor in the bar of London’s Metropolis Studios recently, the...
    Read More...
  • The Heydays of Phase
    Sometime around 1975-76 I wanted an MXR Phase 90 for my Wurlitzer electric piano – I wanted what the ‘real’ keyboard players of the time were using....
    Read More...
  • The Vibe Revival
    With the ambition of the first Leslie emulation pedals finally fulfilled, the story of the Shin-ei Uni-Vibe has come full circle. In its wake we have phasers,...
    Read More...
  • Second Screen Sports: Off Tube, On Target
    My local pub has a split personality. Or, maybe, it’s more like a secret identity – a single location but with two roles in life. For some...
    Read More...
  • Sound of Story: Chapter 3
    I once read that smell is our strongest associative sense. I’ve since tried to establish the relative ability of our other senses to evoke memories...
    Read More...
  • Flange Theory: How I Miss My Mistress
    It seems to have become a common misconception that guitar fuzz boxes and distortion pedals predate more eloquent effects, such as phasing and flanging. OK,...
    Read More...
  • Echoes from the Past
    If you count the green 1970s Carlsbro thing that’s presently in storage in a city 100 miles away, I’m now up to eight footpedal delay units....
    Read More...
  • Safe and Sound
    Just a few days after the events in Brussels and in the wake of the killings at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris, an incident at a London venue went largely...
    Read More...
  • The New Bootleggers
    The world of bootlegging music has come a long way since I bought my first illegal concert cassette from a Walsall market stall. Its lousy artwork, poor...
    Read More...
  • Dying like Heroes
    Sitting down to write this shortly after the deaths of Lemmy and David Bowie, I’m presented with yet more sad news. I can add Mott the Hoople drummer...
    Read More...
  • Sound of Story: Chapter 2
    Like a finely crafted sequel, there was a perfect counterpoint between Ray Beckett’s passion for capturing film sound ‘on set’ at last...
    Read More...
  • TV and the Radio Star
    With Apple promising ‘the future of television’ with the latest-generation Apple TV, the race is on for music streaming services to get onboard....
    Read More...
  • Track Limit Exceeded
    For some of us who grew up with the rigours of analogue tape multitracking, the term ‘infinite tracks’ has never really lost its shock value. From...
    Read More...
  • Gear Change: AES67
    Commenting on the former BBC Top Gear team reuniting for Amazon’s internet TV enterprise, presenter Richard Hammond enthused over making a programme...
    Read More...
  • Music for Pleasure
    To players of modest ability, entering a 1970s Birmingham music shop could be like entering the Arctic Circle – an inhospitable place where...
    Read More...
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18
  • 19
Fast-and-Wide.com An independent news site and blog for professional audio and related businesses, Fast-and-Wide.com provides a platform for discussion and information exchange in one of the world's fastest-moving technology-based industries.
Fast Touch:
Author: Tim Goodyer
T: +44 (0) 1273 726201

 
Fast Thinking:Marketing:  Fast-and-Wide
Web: Latitude Hosting