Don't call it a comeback: Have cassette tapes returned?

Tampa’s Carson Cox, who performs with and records the bands Merchandise and Neon Blud, says he’s been collecting tapes his whole life and currently owns more than 200 cassettes. His collection is made up of modern punk titles that “didn’t come out on vinyl or CD and aren’t available as downloads.”

When asked why both bands regularly release music on cassette, he says, “Why not? Really? Because MP3s sound like shit.”

Merchandise releases cassettes in runs of 200, with the occasional limited release of 10 show-specific tapes. Neon Blud recently released a tape in Germany. Both bands continue to tour and release tapes.

Not too long ago, Cox’s home tape player broke. I ask him where in this world of USB hard drives and Dropboxes he might find another tape deck to replace it, and he replies without missing a beat, “At the flea market. That’s where I buy most of my records, too.”

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On April 16 (Record Store Day), labels shipped limited runs of cassettes to stores, probably to test this burgeoning market.

Manny Kool, store manager at Daddy Kool Records, says they sold “one.”

“I think most people still have tape players in their cars,” says Kool, whose store up until 1999 was actually called Daddy Kool Records and Tapes.

Despite the underwhelming tape sales on Record Store Day, Kool ordered some tapes online and now has around 100 tapes for sale at the St. Petersburg store, including titles by David Bowie and Morphine.

Mojo Books and Music, recently relocated to 2540 E. Fowler Ave. in Tampa, doesn’t see many tapes come through the door.

“It doesn’t make its way into the stores,” says Mojo employee Mandy Spirito, “it’s something that you might get at the shows from the bands themselves.”

Mojo’s Record Store Day tapes were “lost in the move.”

An informal office poll reveals that 27 percent of CL employees still own some form of functional cassette player (either at home or in their car).

Maybe the cassette tape never really did go away.

Maybe while some of us are chasing the newest and shiniest devices and mediums, connecting across networks and sharing inferior-sounding digital files, the rest of the world (the sane ones) are staying the course and waiting for the dust to settle. Maybe one day, when the satellites have all crashed into the ocean and our frantic, media-addicted bodies are draped across barbed wire fences with dead iPods dangling from our ears and there is no more music left in the world, the smart people will calmly open their closets, kick their feet up, pour themselves a cold glass of lemonade and rock out to some old Van Halen and RUN DMC tapes.

What would it take to get you back on the tape-wagon?

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"When you stick a song on a tape, you set it free." — Rob Sheffield

The “cloud” may very well be where all music is stored in the not-too-distant future, and vinyl might be the format that never dies, but the cassette tape is making an unanticipated comeback. Or is it?


The cassette — or more specifically, the compact cassette — had many uses during its heyday, roughly the early 1970s to the early ’90s. Lauded primarily as the initial medium for bootlegging (some people placed their cassette recorders directly in front of the radio speakers before radios came with built-in tape decks), the format also found uses in computing and data storage, and even video.

Most people celebrated the demise of the cassette, citing tape hiss, the tendency of the actual tape to melt, warp (or worse, snap), or the clunky mechanics of the motor needed to drive the takeup reel. To make matters worse, a second motor was added in later years, doubling the clunk factor.

The word “cassette” is even hard to type. I mean, two S’s and two T’s? What is that, French or something?


The 1980s boom in consumer-facing cassette culture has much to do with the fact that musicians and recording artists were, until that point, unable to record at home without investing in expensive reel-to-reel studio equipment. But now, armed with a 4-track tape recorder (which used store-bought cassettes!), they could record at home, quickly and cheaply, and if they didn’t like a certain track, they could tape over it. It was a revolution at the time, and should have prepared the music industry for the eventual appearance of home-recording software and file sharing (but it didn’t, and that’s another story).

Eventually, the tape gave way to the compact disc, the praises of which I will not sing here (or anywhere). But we all bought them. What choice did we have? The CD gave way to MP3s. Why own the plastic disc the information is stored on when you can just have the actual data? A rather cold and un-romantic way to think about music, but now, even “owning” or “having” the file seems cute (at best) and obsessive (at worst) in an era where you can stream any song you like on the Internet at anytime using services like MOG, Grooveshark, and others.

So, why in the world would the cassette tape ever make a comeback? If you ask some people, it never went away.

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