Cassettes Are The New Vinyl, Part 2: A Band’s Perspective

Grand Canyon is a New Mexico-based band that recently emailed us about their debut album release ‘The Hits’ on cassette tape.  They shared with us their insights for choosing cassette as their physical medium.  The group also has a digital version of the album, which you can download for free on Bandcamp.

For us, cassettes were the right choice for a lot of reasons.  The biggest was that a lot of the material (mainly drum tracks and vocal tracks, but some guitar and bass too) were recorded originally on cassette tape on a Portastudio. So we wanted to keep some of the release analog in the same way.  We also took a very DIY approach to this album (it’s all self-recorded and self-released) and the lithographed and uniquely colored j-cards, and uniquely colored tape labels (all done by the band and a few friends) were just another way we could showcase the do-it-yourself experience. Tapes were only a little cheaper than CDs, which helped, but we thought that the appearance of the final product of the tapes was aesthetically much better than the similarly priced discs.  Plus the coloring party was fun.

Sound wise, we were into the idea of tapes too.  Three of our four band members are in our mid-twenties, so we grew up listening to music on cassette.  Cassettes, of course, offer “that analog warmth,” and while the sound doesn’t stay as pristine on cassette as it does on cd (assuming you can keep your discs from getting scratched, but that’s a different story), we kind of thought the weird sounds you get as tape deteriorates and cassettes warp are at least interesting, and can add to the listening experience.  CDs make for boring, over-compressed background music.

Our last reason for going with tapes was that we think in the world of mp3s, even cds are totally obsolete, or at least will be soon.  So we figured it didn’t matter what medium we used to release the album physically.  We had all the reasons I listed above to do tapes, plus it worked as a marketing tool.  When people asked us, “Why tapes?,” we responded, “Why not?”  And it got people talking.  Plus we thought an interesting looking, and uniquely designed cassette was something people could take home as a collectors item, whether people listened to the 29 tracks of our original music on it or not. And we sold all 50 of the run at the release show, so it seems to have worked.

Trendspotting: Cassettes Are The New Vinyl

Dig out your boom boxes, tape decks and head cleaners because another almost obsolete music format, the cassette tape, is quickly being brought back to life. They’re turning up everywhere, being released by bleeding edge DIY hipster indie bands with a penchant for the self-released EP.  Dive deep into your local indie music scene and you’ll see what I mean. Merch tables are filled with them and the frequency of the cassette EP press announcements in my inbox are quickly rising. If vinyl is the format for the high browed music snob, then the cassette is the format for the DIY, crafty crowd.

It’s been a source of great frustration for me of late to discover fabulous up and coming bands live, then realize the only option for continued enjoyment of their music is a format I haven’t owned equipment for in a good decade. Grass Widow, The BathsBlank Dogs. These are all bands that released music on cassette that I would have liked to have in my music rotation but couldn’t do so because….I DON’T HAVE A CASSETTE PLAYER!  God dangit. Who still owns a cassette player? (Besides Blogger Mike who has three. Sheesh.)

Frustration turned to anger after my third attempt to buy music from a band with a cassette only option. (Why, why, why are you making it so difficult to support you?!) Then the anger turned to action.  I needed to understand the rationale these artists had for adopting a format that is clearly not widely used. Was it a cost factor? Cool factor? Sound factor? Did they want to languish in obscurity because no one could readily appreciate their music? What…what was the allure?

Welcome to The OCMD trendspotting series, “Cassettes Are The New Vinyl”, where we’ll explore the rational of artists and labels reviving this nearly dead format that so dominated my youth. Tune back in for Part 2 where we’ll get insight from a band and their reasons behind choosing cassette for their physical format.