tapes. i don't get it.

The proper name for this specific audio technology is called the compact cassette. Amazingly, you can get new blanks easily for all those mixdowns you're never going to make. More on that in a minute.

Nobody I knew back in the day used the term compact cassette. Everybody, including me, called them tapes. That term was so ubiquitous that when the Nintendo Entertainment System came out, we called the game cartridges that went into the system "Nintendo tapes" even though there was never any physical tape in the cartridge.


That thing you see above? It's new, with modernized Bluetooth and USB. Is it any good? I have absolutely no idea. But what I do know is that for whatever reason, people likes tapes enough to keep using them...

...or do they?

Nobody made mixdowns

Creating a mixdown tape, a.k.a. "making a tape" as I and others called it. Let's talk about that. This is where you would go into your tape collection, pick out your favorite songs and then record those over to a blank.

Did everybody used to make mixdown tapes back when tapes were popular? NO! That's nothing but a huge lie and always has been. To actually do that, you either needed a double cassette deck or a system which could take in an audio feed from another deck. And that's assuming the other deck even had a way to send the audio out to begin with. The vast majority of systems were single-deck only.

Yes, I made mixdowns of my own, but it wasn't often, and it wasn't of other songs. It was of my songs that I made myself, or recordings I made with friends.

And what absolutely nobody talks about is that every time you record from one deck to another, the audio quality gets worse. Think of it as the same as dubbing video from one VHS videocassette to another. The copy will never be good as the original. It's just not happening.

Oh, and let's not forget that every time you stopped the tape to get the next song ready to record, there was a loud audible THUMP since most decks didn't have manual record level control. The only way to eliminate that THUMP is if you turned down the record level to zero, start recording, bring the record level up, wait until the song ended, zero the record level again, then stop. If you didn't do that, THUMP happens between songs, every time.

Who cares about tapes now?

Only two types of people. Musicians and collectors.

Musicians champion tapes these days because there's a significantly higher chance of actually making a profit from music sales. If you as a musician or band or singer or whatever have even a small following, selling tapes can actually work.

I would argue collectors never actually play the tapes they buy. Or if they do, maybe they'll play it once just for the experience, then the tape goes back in its case and on the shelf for display.

The tapes themselves do actually contain the music for playback, but it's primarily sold as a collector's piece. Listening to the music is secondary. It's about getting the tape, unwrapping it, reading the liner notes (if any), seeing the artwork and physically holding the thing. I'm totally okay with all of that.

What don't I get?

I don't get why anybody would bother with tapes when vinyl records and compact discs both have far superior audio fidelity, longevity and allow more fancy stuff with the artwork.

Vinyl records, whether 45's or 33's, are just neat. And bear in mind I've never been a vinyl record guy. There's just something cool about them that has a very organic feel for lack of a better term. The larger 33's can have jackets with some really nice artwork on them, sometimes getting quite large when they fold out.

Compact discs are obviously digital but absolutely have that '90s vibe going for them. I do understand why musicians and bands don't sell CDs. Even though the '90s vibe is strong with the CD, it won't be "cool like tapes" until some more time has passed. In other words, CDs haven't come around full circle just yet, but they will at some point. And while you can't put big artwork on the jewel case jacket like you can on a vinyl 33, it's still a larger area to work with compared to the compact cassette jacket.

If you're going to release a tape, do it right the first time for the people who actually buy them.

Any musician or band thinking of selling their music on a physical format should concentrate on the artwork first. Since it's going to be just collectors buying the things anyway, make the presentation good.

If it's a tape, it had better have that fold-out jacket. I remember back in the day that I always appreciated a fold-out jacket that listed all the song lyrics.

Or if not song lyrics, have it be something that folds out and has some nice art in there. A painting, "big" band photo, maybe a cartoon, whatever. Just have it be something special.

If I were ever to release a tape of my own, I would release mine on microcassette just for the goof. Tiny tape, tiny case, tiny jacket. I just think that's funny.

Published 2024 Jun 25