From vinyl records to cassette tape to CDs, media and consumers are quick to dub these music mediums as dead (or dying). But digging their graves is useless, as vinyl records and cassette tapes resurge “from the dead” and gain new popularity, and CDs continue to show positive sales numbers.
Today, tangible, tactile music forms are making a comeback. Streaming services such as Apple and Spotify have dominated ways of listening to music in the past few years. This followed the popularity of the CD (which followed cassettes which followed vinyl). It’s clear that music consumption fads come and go—but why are vinyl and cassette sales accelerating as of late?
The rise of streaming services means the loss of physical manifestations of music. Physical media is dissipating. The return of vinyl and cassettes are not coincidental. Just like the eBook versus print book debate, consumers desire a tactile relationship. Music listeners crave a material experience that they’re otherwise lacking; vinyl and cassettes fulfill this.
Vinyl and cassettes were sidelined in the nineties by the CD, but the CD also lost popularity because of the digitized format of music streaming; modernity has changed our ways of listening to music. Ownership of material music mediums resists digitalization. Streaming is about access; vinyl and cassettes are about aesthetic and possession.
In 2008, Record Store Day started and became a day to get people excited about purchasing vinyl, catching deals and snagging special releases. Ten years ago, the resurgence of vinyl was not as strong as it is today, but it goes to show that vinyl never died. Collectors and vinyl lovers alike have supported vinyl production and sales over the years. In 2013, Cassette Store Day was created to the same effect.
Vinyl’s production, packaging and marketing are seeing changes. The overall quality of vinyl has increased. Artists have a new passion for creating artistic, aesthetically appealing vinyl from designed sleeves to coloring the physical record. More and more records are being released on vinyl, and big-name artists are quickly becoming vinyl best sellers. Half of the vinyl’s current purchasing audience is under 25 years old, which means vinyl’s “rebirth” avoids implications of nostalgia. The purchasing audience is primarily interested in vinyl as a product of aesthetic and tangibility rather than a product of nostalgia.
Cassettes and their return, on the other hand, are products of nostalgia. Cassettes are remembered for their problems. Cassettes are known for their loud hissing sounds and the devastation of the tape player eating the cassette. It is the physicality of cassettes and the nostalgic recognition of the hissing tape that accompanies its return. Cassette sales haven’t met the marks of vinyl sales, but over time will cassettes be just as popular again? The current lack of technology for playing cassettes, their poor sound quality, and their readiness to destruct implies that cassette tapes will likely fail to be as popular as vinyl in these modern times.
Only time will tell if the successful sales and popularity of cassettes and vinyl will last. After decades, vinyl is once again nearing mainstream. Despite their perceived coming and going, vinyl records will continue to be meaningful to music listeners and record collectors. Similarly, cassette tapes’ nostalgic notions may continue to increase their sales and popularity. For the past ten years, sales have increased for vinyl. Given the growing trend, big name stores selling turntables and cassette players, retail stores selling records, and bands releasing cassette tapes and vinyl, there is hope for cassettes and vinyl may be here to stay.
Breana Rich is a senior studying Professional Writing and English with a concentration in writing, editing, and publishing. She is happiest with a cat sleeping by her side, a cup of coffee in one hand, and a book in the other with one of her many playlists playing in the background. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @breanalynrich.
All photographs taken by Breana Rich.