I remember one Christmas aeons ago when I was but a youth feverishly unwrapping a small rectangular present from Santa hoping it would be what I thought it would be. And it was. A copy of Michael Jackson’s BAD on cassette tape. Eager to listen to it I headed straight for my parents’ tape player only to be stopped abruptly in my tracks and directed to another larger rectangular gift from the jolly fat man. Within its gaudy paper exterior I found what was once referred to as a “personal stereo”, a Walkman by another brand if you will. It didn’t end there either because not only did it come with headphones, the generous rotund gentleman also provided some small speakers which could be powered by the portable player – which was the size of a small house brick. My world was complete.
The machine in question was pretty big and only played in one direction including only having a fast forward function which meant you had to turn the tape over to rewind it. All this adds to the nostalgia though and it didn’t matter, it was mine and I could listen to it anywhere.
Recently I spotted this article in the the Washington Post claiming that tape was making a comeback! Could this be true? As a format the tape is highly perishable and consistently inconvenient by today’s standards. I mean, you can get mp3 players that are a fraction of the size of the cassette itself that hold considerably more music. So what could this possibly be about?
Further reading reveals that sales have gone up in the last few years and this is somewhat in relation to some labels and bands using it as a marketing technique. Some artists are releasing promos and unreleased demos in this medium. Maverick indie rockers Radiohead in 1997 sent promo copies of “OK Computer” to reviewers via cassettes glued inside Walkmen so this isn’t a new approach. Holly Tegeler, 30, member of a jangly guitar-rock trio called Black Telephone said of their decision to use tape:
“Cost was a big reason for choosing to put [our music] out on cassette. We liked the idea of putting something physical out, but vinyl was too expensive, and putting out a CD felt lame.
“People say ‘But I don’t have a cassette player’ to us a lot, but that’s not really the point. The point of putting out a cassette is that it gives the people who are interested in physical media the chance to actually own a copy of the music.”
Their music is available to download free online too. Another tape fan is Hooray for Earth frontman Noel Heroux who stated:
“In the MP3 age, everything passes by so quickly, so many listeners don’t seem to care much about what they’re really getting when they purchase music. When something is presented in a special package, music buyers can feel more part of the experience. When you’ve got to work more than a mouse click to hear some track, it’s just better.”
With the majority of people not having tape players in the house these days (a fair few no longer have CD players either!) is this marketing strategy actually going to work? Are those without a machine to play them on going to buy into this merely to hold a physical object in their hands and to have the gone but not quite forgotten fold out artwork?
I think my memories of tape are viewed through rose-tinted spectacles as it was the first time I could have uncontrolled access to my music without being interrupted (my sister got the same player
in red so she could listen to the first Kylie Minogue album). I’m not sure how viable it is these days but as a marketing gimmick it may prove successful but not in the mainstream.