Web Analytics Made Easy - Statcounter

Benefits of Cassette Culture

The Sony D6C Professional Walkman

I'm GenX and I grew up on a budget. That meant listening to the radio and trying to record my favorite song onto a cassette tape so I could listen to it in my parent's car or on a cheap portable cassette player on the way to school. When CD's came on the scene, like many others, I jumped on board eager to get perfect sound quality and leave behind clumsy track skipping.

I did miss creating my own mixes but that was eventually solved in the late 90s with MP3s, CD Ripping, and burning.

Eventually I found my way back to tapes and here are the reasons I'm in love:

  1. Equal distribution of sharing and consumption
  2. Limited space means more deliberate choices
  3. Listen free, fast, and without distractions
  4. Rerecording
  5. Immutable

1. Equal distribution of sharing and consumption

A while ago, a friend spent 20 seconds finding a YouTube link to a song he wanted me to hear and sending it to me on Slack. I then spent the next 5 minutes listening to the track. Didn't seem like a fair trade. He spent 20 seconds and then I lost 5 minutes. Worse, it happened again.

Society as a whole has this problem. Your boss comes up with a crazy idea and asks you to look into it and suddenly their 30 second "epiphany" costs you days or weeks of research and reporting. It may be unavoidable in work but it shouldn't have to be that way with music.

I countered my friend and asked him if he'd heard of an artist that I liked. When he hadn't, my first thought was not a Spotify or YouTube link, but a cassette tape. Why? I wanted to spend the same time recording the songs that I asked him to invest in listening to it. I was telling him that my time is no more valuable than his and, in making the mixtape for him, I was proving it.

2. Limited space means more deliberate choices

Cassette Tapes come in various forms but they generally vary in length from 60 minutes to 110 minutes. Generally the longer the tape the more fragile it is. Regardless, you don't have storage measured in gigabytes, you have it stored in minutes. Precious few at that, so your choices matter as how you choose. So give it some thought. Choose what you want and then get them on a side of a tape in a combination that creates the most enjoyment with the least amount of wasted space. It's fun and a bit of artistry in itself to pull off a good mix this way.

Weighing Scales
You must carefully weigh your choices and balance the time creating your tape with listening to it

3. Listen free, fast, and without distractions

I don't always carry a walkman with me. I generally use it when I'm on an airplane and have time to zone out without worrying about missing an important text message or alert. But, any time I open my app the process is something like:

  1. Unlock screen
  2. Find and click on app
  3. Navigate to my library
  4. Find album/genre/artist or shuffle
  5. Dismiss offer to try 1 month of streaming for free

By contrast, with my walkman I just hit play and I'm done. Glorious.

And, while you can absolutely create your own mix tapes, there is also the secondary market where you can buy old cassette tapes of albums you like. I've had to be really discerning with what I buy even though prices are pretty reasonable. (See links for one place you can buy online.)

What albums did I like a few songs on and which ones were remarkable and listening to completely? Those are questions you'll have to answer for yourself.

4. Rerecording

You are noting that a lot of this so far is doable with CDs as well. Sure, a CD burner may go 25x faster than the playback but it's still not as egrigious as sharing a link. And CDs also have limited storage too.

Ah, yes but can you record over that CD Mix?

With tapes you can. So whether you find your recording levels off or your taste in songs have changed, you can repurpose that cassette tape and give it new life. You of course, can just buy another cassette and leave it as-is, but the choice is yours.

5. Immutable

That leads to my last point. The music is immutable as long as you want it to be. "But you just said you can rerecord over it, so what gives?" That is definitely true. What I mean is that you are in complete control. You can pick off the write tabs to make sure it can't be changed but one thing is for sure, no 3rd party is going to change it either.

If you buy or stream music digitally there's a chance that an artist may take issue with a recorded track and change it after their album is released. When that happens, the version you bought is GONE. Music streaming services are able to completely change a song at any time.. much like a website or any other software update. This does not always mean an improvement either. Personally, I would love to go back to the original software on my Amazon Alexa before it had the "feature" where it would give me "by the way" updates any time I asked for the weather.

A final thing I love about the revivial of cassette culture is the excitement for finding a great deal. Those are definitely not found on eBay but rather in the real world (remember?) in flea markets, goodwill stores, or at garage sales. The ability to find new sealed cassette tapes or that perfect album, or even a great, working cassette deck. It can be a hobby in itself outside of the music.

If you're interested in grabbing a cassette deck or investigating further, here are some links I would recommend:

  1. The Cassette Culture Subreddit
  2. Discogs
  3. Reverb

If you have a deck and want to trade some mixes with me, hit me up on Twitter!

tl;dr
  1. Equal distribution of sharing and consumption
  2. Limited space means more deliberate choices
  3. Listen free, fast, and without distractions
  4. Rerecording
  5. Immutable