“…Max would like you to… bring back eight-track tapes. Not sure if that’s gonna work, but, uh, let’s see what else…”
— Harry Stamper, Armageddon (1998)
Who knows? They might bring eight-track tapes back again. After all, they brought back Polaroid instants. What’s surprising is the resurgence of the audio cassette in 2016 wherein sales climbed up to 74 percent. What? They’re still around? Old technology has its merits but really, who wants to put up with slow fast-forwards and rewinds, manual track selection, filler albums and stuck crumpled tape reels in players? Fans.
Imagine a world where we now have smartphones that can carry thousands of songs stored on a piece of silicon smaller than a thumbnail but still see people carrying boom boxes on their shoulders or bulky portable players with audio cassettes that can carry an average of 14 songs. It’s not hard, really, just watch the Winchester brothers during road trips in Supernatural on TV. The brothers do use audiocassettes but on their old car stereo.
“Driver picks the music, shotgun shuts his cakehole…”
— Dean Winchester, Supernatural, Season 1, Episode 1
Yup, there’s still a lot of them out there. It was a crazy time in the late 80s and 90s when car stereos were hot items. Much like Max’s eight-track tape players. There are also plenty of still-very-good stereo setups people keep at home with functioning tape decks hungry for modern music. Apparently, while there are many audiophile fans of vinyl discs, there are also hardcore fans of audiocassettes and these fans made up for sales of 129,000 units this 2016 and per Nielsen’s year-end music report. It’s not much compared to vinyl’s sales of 13.1 million units, but it’s something.
It’s surprising to think that there are modern albums released on audiocassettes, which is ironic considering many modern full albums have a number of songs meant to fit the medium. You probably won’t find audiocassettes sold in stores like Tower Records because these are mostly sold direct-to-consumers online to fans of the medium. That or in garage sales and flea markets where gold can sometimes be struck. Much like books, vinyl, VHS tapes and game cartridges, there are fans who want something physical to hold on to aside from their digital downloads. So how did the resurgence of audiocassettes come about?
We can probably thank Guardians of the Galaxy’s Peter Quill for that. The film partly re-introduced the public to the novelty of cassette tapes. Between 2015 and 2016, the film’s soundtrack, Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix sold a total of 4000 units in cassette medium and much more on digital. The track really is awesome, and fans can’t wait for the next wave, Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume Two.
Other popular albums sold in cassette medium include Beauty Behind the Madness by The Weekend, Purple Rain by Prince, Eminem’s The Real Slim Shady and Purpose by Justin Bieber. It seems that the audiocassette won’t be going away soon unlike the now-rare original iPod.
Those who want to relive the glory days and young ones who want the audiocassette to experience, you can get them on your favorite band’s personal websites, independent record labels, online novelty shops, Amazon and eBay. You can also feel what it’s like on your smartphone. There’s the amazing DeliTape app from Umbrella Software available for iOS and Android that runs over the phone’s music app and turns the phone into a mini-Walkman. The app doesn’t cease to fascinate onlookers and has free and deluxe versions. The free version is fully functional featuring some audiocassette skins with more that can be added through in-app purchases. The skins display the current song name and album in handwritten font much like in a mixtape, and the reels rotate accurately as the music plays. The app can also access internet radio.