The end (or not) of cassettes

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The end (or not) of cassettes

Postby lukpac » Fri Jun 17, 2005 3:51 pm

Not long left for cassette tapes

Some 40 years after global cassette production began in earnest, sales are in terminal decline.

From its creation in the 1960s through to its peak of popularity in the 1980s, the cassette has been a part of music culture for 40 years.

But industry experts believe it does not have long left, at least in the West.

The cassette may have hissed, been prone to wow and flutter, and often ended its life chewed in a tape deck, but it ruled for four decades before MP3s and downloads.

However, the cassette's reign now seems to be over.

"Cassette albums have declined quite significantly since their peak in 1989 when they were selling 83 million units in the UK," Matt Phillips of the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) told BBC World Service's The Music Biz programme.

"Last year we saw that there were about 900,000 units sold. It's clear to see that cassette sales are dwindling fast."

Mix tape

Dutch electronics giant Philips perfected the design of the cassette in the 1960s.

It was designed to be a new form of portable entertainment, launched into a market dominated by vinyl LPs and reel-to-reel tape recorders.

Oddly, Philips did not charge royalties on their cassette patent, allowing numerous other companies to use their design for free. This ensured the quick acceptance of it as a new form of media.

It went on to accrue enormous worldwide sales. At its mid-80s peak, it sold 900 million units a year, 54% of total global music sales.

The music industry itself, however, remained concerned about cassettes, in particular the ability of people to record music on them.

They feared piracy, arguing that home taping was "killing music", a similar argument to the one occurring today over downloading.

One thing home taping allowed was the creation of the mix tape - a compilation of songs often put together as a present for a loved one. The process of creating the mix tape was immortalised by Nick Hornby in his novel High Fidelity.

New York music writer Joel Keller laments that personal computers have killed the mix tape star, and that the "drag and burn" method of creating compilation CDs is simply "less fun."

"I liked it when I sat in front of my stereo, my tape deck, with a big pile of CDs, deciding on the fly which songs to put in what order," he said.

"My play and record fingers got a little sore because I had to time it right. Listening to the song as it played, finding the levels - it seemed like more of a labour of love than it is it do CDs now."

Legacy

However, while cassettes are disappearing quickly from the music stores, they are clinging on in the UK in bookshops.

Having begun as a way of providing titles to the blind, a third of all audio books are still sold on cassette. An audio recording of a bestseller such as The Da Vinci code can sell between 60-70,000 copies in the UK alone.

"Audio tapes are like an old friend that doesn't go away," Pandora White of Orion audio books told The Music Biz.

"I think it's the accessibility of it. Where you stop and start is immediately where you left off, whereas CD can be a bit more tricky."

And outside of the music stores of the West, cassettes do continue to survive as a music format, in countries such as Afghanistan and India.

In some markets, performers record directly onto cassette.

Keith Joplin, a Director of Research at the International Federation of Phonographic Industries, said that Turkey still sells 88 million cassettes a year, India 80 million, and that cassettes account for 50% of sales in these countries. In Saudi Arabia, it is 70%.

However, he added that this is because the penetration of CD players "is not 100% in those markets."

With the US's largest magnetic tape factory ceasing production earlier this year, there are fears that even if cassettes are wanted in future, there will no longer be anything to wrap around the spools.

However, terms such as fast forward, rewind, record and pause, everyday words bequeathed to us from the tape era, ensure that in the English language at least, the legacy of the cassette will survive.
"I know because it is impossible for a tape to hold the compression levels of these treble boosted MFSL's like Something/Anything. The metal particulate on the tape would shatter and all you'd hear is distortion if even that." - VD

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Postby Beatlesfan03 » Fri Jun 17, 2005 10:03 pm

Interesting article. Most of the chain stores here really only carry backstock on new cassettes and I would guess that once it is gone, it's gone. If you're into the used scene, $20 will get you a nice stack of tapes. I remember when one of the chains here cut their vinyl stock to add more room for tapes. The last time I was in there, they had hardly any tapes, but a ton of vinyl. I found it kind of amusing.
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Postby Rspaight » Fri Jun 17, 2005 11:16 pm

I happily wasted many hours of my youth making mix tapes. For me, it's been the iPod more than the CD-R that's killed them. Why bother with a mix tape if you can just carry a large fraction of your collection around with you?

I went through a short period of buying pre-recorded cassettes, but I pretty quickly switched to vinyl (and later CD). Even back then cassette just seemed too chintzy for pre-recorded music.

Still, memories flood my mind with bliss and all that.

Ryan
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Postby Xenu » Sat Jun 18, 2005 1:44 am

I have a crapload (a metric crapload) of cassettes that I now (of course) regret buying. Early in my music run, I was intrigued by the fact that a lot of stuff that never made it to CD made it to cassette: the American Beatles albums, random compilations, the Rhino remix of "Turtle Soup," and others. When I saw those particular oddities for cheap, I tried to grab them.
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Postby lukpac » Sat Jun 18, 2005 10:25 am

I started getting music (1986/7?) as LPs were somewhat on the way out and CDs hadn't made it really big yet (I don't think I got CD till '91 or so). In retrospect, though, I didn't get/buy all that much stuff then, so I don't have *tons* of pre-recorded tapes. I do have a fair chunk of Stones and Beatles, though, some of which I *still* haven't replaced with CD (a lot of the RSR albums come to mind, along with Let It Be). Not quite sure why those UK Beatles albums needed to be out of order...
"I know because it is impossible for a tape to hold the compression levels of these treble boosted MFSL's like Something/Anything. The metal particulate on the tape would shatter and all you'd hear is distortion if even that." - VD

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Postby Beatlesfan03 » Sat Jun 18, 2005 10:49 am

lukpac wrote:Not quite sure why those UK Beatles albums needed to be out of order...


The main idea behind that was to even out the side lengths. Kind of silly if you ask me.
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Postby lukpac » Sat Jun 18, 2005 11:58 am

Yeah, but AFAIK, the ONLY Beatles albums they did that to were the UK ones.
"I know because it is impossible for a tape to hold the compression levels of these treble boosted MFSL's like Something/Anything. The metal particulate on the tape would shatter and all you'd hear is distortion if even that." - VD

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Postby Beatlesfan03 » Sat Jun 18, 2005 12:25 pm

lukpac wrote:Yeah, but AFAIK, the ONLY Beatles albums they did that to were the UK ones.


I think there were a couple of US albums that also had a slighty off track listing (as if they weren't off enough already). I have a US cassette of Hey Jude which has its sides reversed.
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Postby CitizenDan » Tue Jun 21, 2005 2:17 pm

Will anyone really pine for cassettes once they're gone, for any reason other than nostalgia? If so, I'd love to know why.
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Postby Beatlesfan03 » Tue Jun 21, 2005 10:31 pm

CitizenDan wrote:Will anyone really pine for cassettes once they're gone, for any reason other than nostalgia? If so, I'd love to know why.


I'm sure that you'll eventually have your hardcore cassette lovers just like you have your hardcore 8-track lovers now.
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Postby lukpac » Tue Jun 21, 2005 10:47 pm

There is such a group? Other than quad 8-track folks?
"I know because it is impossible for a tape to hold the compression levels of these treble boosted MFSL's like Something/Anything. The metal particulate on the tape would shatter and all you'd hear is distortion if even that." - VD

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Postby Beatlesfan03 » Tue Jun 21, 2005 11:12 pm

lukpac wrote:There is such a group? Other than quad 8-track folks?


Enjoy!

http://8trackheaven.com/
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Postby lukpac » Tue Jun 21, 2005 11:21 pm

Is Ed Bishop involved somehow?
"I know because it is impossible for a tape to hold the compression levels of these treble boosted MFSL's like Something/Anything. The metal particulate on the tape would shatter and all you'd hear is distortion if even that." - VD

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Postby Beatlesfan03 » Tue Jun 21, 2005 11:42 pm

lukpac wrote:Is Ed Bishop involved somehow?


Who knows? They've been around awhile. Back in the mid-90s when I worked at a local record store here, they used to publish a fan zine shaped like, you guessed it, an 8-track. It was usually pretty good for a read when boredom set in, but it tends to get old. However, the site itself is an excellent source of information if you're into that kind of thing. I really like the section that shows the carts that were post-83 that were available from record clubs only. You'd be surprised at some of the titles that made it out there.
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Postby lukpac » Tue Jun 21, 2005 11:44 pm

I was surprised when I saw John Mellencamp 7 1/2 IPS open reel tapes...
"I know because it is impossible for a tape to hold the compression levels of these treble boosted MFSL's like Something/Anything. The metal particulate on the tape would shatter and all you'd hear is distortion if even that." - VD