Be Kind, Rewind: Why Cassette Tapes Are Making a Comeback

If you are anything like me, you enjoy purchasing music that is tangible. I used to love the thrill of buying a new CD and thumbing through the insert, reading the lyrics and looking at photos. But with CDs becoming more and more obsolete over the years and digital music offering little-to-no material other than mp3s, cassettes are thriving in the DIY community and related subcultures. And it’s catching on.

When I first submerged myself in the local DIY music scene years ago, I noticed that most bands no longer cared about putting out CD-Rs of their music, but rather, cassette tapes. At first, I didn’t see the appeal. To me, they sounded like crap and were simply outdated. In addition, I had no way of even listening to a tape other than an old Walkman I had shoved in a junk drawer in my room. But after a while, I was soon drawn to cassettes and their many benefits versus compact discs.

Like vinyl records, cassettes offer the listener a sense of “collectability,” which most music-lovers seek out. They are often pressed in small runs and limited colors, unlike CDs which are produced in large batches, usually to be copied onto digital players later. Even the packaging of tapes can be intriguing; from simple plastic cases to unique, silk-screened, hand-numbered fold-out inserts. The possibilities of personalization are endless, which also makes them very appealing. And like records, tapes often come with digital download codes, allowing users to add the songs to computers and mp3 players (also giving you the option of burning them to CD!).

It’s no surprise smaller bands and DIY labels are stoked to release cassette tapes. With the average blank tape costing a mere 44 cents each, it’s no wonder new tape labels are springing up all across the country. Sean Michael Clark of Cleveland, Ohio, is one of those stoked individuals. Recently launching Perpetual Bullshit, a cassette label, Clark aims to do more for the bands he helps, and stresses the notion and values of "doing it yourself."

“I think individually dubbing tapes gives you a physical connection with your release,” says Clark. “Putting out vinyl records is awesome, but you’re not physically installing music on each unit. It’s really cool realizing that it was completely made and assembled by someone who felt a real connection with the release, not just someone making it at a plant for a paycheck.” With the average cost of pressing 500 vinyl 7”s at a whopping $1,400, it’s clear why cassettes are many band’s go-to. “I would love to put out vinyl records,” Clark adds. “But that is just totally unfeasible financially.”

While digital music continues to dominate the world of mainstream music, cassettes are increasingly flourishing in niche markets and underground communities. Offering more than just elusive mp3s, tapes put forward DIY ethics shared by the musicians that release and consume them. The inexpensiveness of them allows labels (and anyone and everyone) to release countless runs a year while the demand for them remains on the rise. While it’s not the 20th century anymore, the nostalgic love for cassettes lives on.