Music Marketing

Is A Cassette Tape Release In Your Future?

Prohiphop-cassetteWith the gradual but still limited resurgence of music on cassette, from avid collectors to new releases, the seemingly unthinkable has been happening whether you've been keeping up or not. I know I was out of the loop but the more I find out, the more fascinating the growing interest in cassettes and other older forms of media becomes. Perhaps releasing an album on cassette could even be a good marketing maneuver.

WSJ – A Cassette Tape Comeback

A few years back it seemed like we were in the final days of music on cassette with sales dropping and most cassette news about art using or depicting cassettes and cassette tape. But Lauren Rudser, writing for The Wall Street Journal, recently documented the ongoing existence of cassette tape culture. In fact, some see a resurgence of cassettes in the future similar to that of the return of vinyl.

Though I find the idea that cassettes could make the same return as vinyl unlikely, despite the work of such scratch tape artists as the awe-inspiring DJ Ruthless Ramsey, I do believe that cassettes have the potential for something more than nostalgia collections.

Much of the article and the above video focus on throwback collectors, but they were also my introduction to the existence of Oakland's Sanity Muffin, a small label focused on cassette releases. Label owner Billy Sprague came up with the idea as a lower budget alternative to CD and vinyl releases for his friends but it's become an interesting boutique label in the process. And, apparently, he's not alone.

I have no idea how widespread such releases are at the moment but I do think they suggest some interesting marketing possibilities for emerging artists who want to benefit from the combination of nostalgia and the ongoing reinvestigation of every decade of the late 20th Century. Or who just want something that will catch some attention for being a bit different.

I've also been discovering that young electronic music artists, not dance music but electronic music from the lineage of such artists as John Cage, are getting back into reel-to-reel tape for music production and performance. On a related note, there's also said to be a zine revival and so the potential for the return of older forms of media, including the well-established interest in 8-track tapes, should continue with both cult appeal and marketing potential.

Related Hypebot Coverage:
A Gallery Of Audio Tape Cassette Nostalgia
Are Cassette Tapes The New Vinyl?

Hypebot contributor Clyde Smith is a freelance writer and blogger. He maintains a business writing hub at Flux Research and also blogs at This Business of Blogging. To suggest music services and related topics for review at Hypebot, please contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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  1. I get the feeling hypebot is getting more and more random recently.
    Having worn out many many of my own cassette mixtapes in the car stereo, I cannot recommend buying pre-recorded music on a cassette because these tapes just won’t last. If you’re a mixtaper like myself, don’t use cassettes as the source medium. Sourcing from CD worked best for me, but unfortunately by late 2004, loudness levels on newly released CDs had gotten so high that recording the b-side of a mixtape crunched the cassette tape more often than not from magnetostatic forces applied while recording.
    That’s the reason why I quit and moved my mixtaping practise to CD-R mainly.

  2. “I have no idea how widespread such releases are at the moment”
    You might want to check out this graph[1], tapes are live and kicking…
    “Is A Cassette Tape Release In Your Future?”
    I’ve released two albums this year[2], one on vinyl and one on cassette tape. The short answer is “yes”: because releasing on tape is so much cheaper than on vinyl, because not every album can be released on album, tape is a great alternative – better than CD, I find.

  3. I think the lone problem with this (and I actually like the cassette format) is that, if I recall correctly, the last company to make cassettes ceased production of them a year or two ago. What people are buying now, in terms of blank tapes, are back-stock.

  4. Thanks so much y’all. This is giving me a lot to think about.
    Yannick, not sure I get the randomness comment, especially on a post that’s elicited more interesting and useful comments than I usually see on any given post on Hypebot. But I do tend to see connections between things that other don’t until they’re spelled out and I also strive not to be stuck in the box that seems to contain most human thought on any single topic.
    But as you’ll see with one of Mind Booster Noori’s posts, the cassette topic certainly fits the tendency for many folks to say things are “dead” when they just aren’t as prevalent as they used to be, something I’ve been writing about for years though not at Hypebot.
    Not to make too much out of one sentence but I should point out is that I take a very consistent strategy of looking where others have stopped looking to see if fresh strategies can emerge cause we all can’t:
    post shit on YouTube
    get featured on Fader
    and sign that deal.
    Or whatever script folks fall into. They vary but they’re all scripts.
    Beyond that, for my part, my posts are almost all related to current or recent news items and are focused on music marketing and music startups with underlying themes that are pretty consistent but not always forefronted.
    Mind Booster Noori – nice work!
    Adam B – back-stock, yes. Who will outsource this problem to China?
    Cyclpsrock, guess it’s just been too underground for me. Got to spend more time away from my computer!

  5. Don’t you think its less about nostalgia and more about exploring sounds, song lengths, and analog experiences?
    Its not that you’re spending too much time by a computer, just not looking in the right places.
    I think its a difficult process to report on emergent trends and marketing, because they come from the top-down (Gagaville, for example) just as much as they come from the bottom-up (Noah Wall’s scavenger hunt).
    Tapes are a thriving industry and easily the most marketed that I’ve been able to experience. Their cost effective for the producer (label, artist) as well as the buyer, but in the end get to have a long-form listening experience that can’t be inherently presented through digital media at the same price points.
    Tangibility, affordability, and maybe most importantly, sound experiementations are crucial to the tape revival.

  6. Interesting points Tripp. Part of what’s happening for me is that I’m focusing my news filtering on music and technology sources that wouldn’t normally pick up on something like this except as an occasional bit of entertainment for their readers, as I think WSJ did, though I could see it showing up in Wired since they do cover older tech.
    I primarily follow tech news because that allows me to come up with stories that other industry writers aren’t always going to have so I’m not chasing the same news all the time though there’s lots of overlap.
    So there are certain trends I’m going to miss entirely because of where I’m focused. I already filter so much news I’m not sure I could add any more and my personal reading tends more towards following things like the Occupy movement or reading actual books.
    But the responses from people on this post are reminding me of something that has been bothering me quite a bit lately. Despite my own background in the arts, I don’t follow arts online very closely even though back in the 80s I was on top of underground movements via print, discussions with other artists and participation in underground art scenes.
    Sometimes I wish we’d had the web in the 80s. It would have been a different world.
    On the other hand, I had a much more exclusive view of the things I followed than I could have now because it’s all so accessible. And it was great to be able to hang out with people with no gadgets to interfere with ludic time!
    Kind of thinking out loud here but I found Noah Wall’s scavenger hunt because it was covered on Wired. So that fits my news gathering MO.
    “Tangibility, affordability, and maybe most importantly, sound experiementations are crucial to the tape revival.”
    Makes a lot of sense.

  7. “Adam B – back-stock, yes. Who will outsource this problem to China?”
    Actually, I would be surprised if there aren’t any Chinese factories selling tapes. I mean, most companies where you get new blank tapes, or that do tapes duplication work, will tell you that their tapes come from Chinese factories (and you have several “Chinese factories” selling directly). Now, I’m not sure if they’re actual factories or if they simply were and in the meantime they stopped the machines and now are only selling stock. But I would be very much surprised if offer ended when there’s still demand…
    But I have to throw the question: what makes you doubt the WSJ article, when they say “Steve Stepp, president of National Audio Co., the largest U.S. cassette-tape manufacturer, says he has seen a surge in cassette-tape sales. He says he has doubled his staff to about 60 from 30 in 2009 to increase production at his Springfield, Mo., factory. “? I mean, do you doubt they really are a “cassette-tape manufacturer”?

  8. Doh, I read that but I totally spaced out when reading these comments.
    So cassette tape production is alive and well.
    Thanks for pointing that out. And for the notes on China as well.

  9. Personally, I would never want to listen to music on tape. I don’t think most people do. But if someone’s buying tapes? Hell yeah I’ll sell it to ’em. Who cares if it’s “ironic” or “retro”? Someone wants to BUY it.
    Actually I do think the cassette tape represents an interesting space for unique album art. I’ve seen some cool, creative art on those long narrow sleeves. Also, maybe there’s some weird 14 year old kid who grew up in the digital age and finds tapes quirky and kinda interesting. It’s history, yknow?

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