2013-05-01

Co.Labs

Why Digital Audiophiles Don't Miss Cassettes

She & Him--the duo made up of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward--are one of the latest to attempt to bring back the cassette tape. Before the allure of that background hiss tugs at your wallet, remember what made tapes inferior from the start--and why you should focus instead on the music tools here, which reproduce everything about tapes worth reminiscing over.



It's dangerous business trying to tell someone what is and isn't fashionable. The backlash just gets you things like blinding neon, skinny jeans, and the most ridiculous clothing from each era with hopes of ironic appeal. So when record labels and major artists start releasing their new albums on cassettes, the best thing to do is quickly dispel any myths of a comeback and pretend like it never happened.

She & Him--the duo made up of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward--are one of the latest to attempt to bring back the cassette. According to M. Ward, "vinyl has a scratch to it and tapes have a hiss" that he really likes. I can appreciate the nostalgia for whisper hiss of the little plastic tapes, and I can also understand the memories of a time when mix-tapes were born and music was more shareable than ever. Who didn't like when it was socially acceptable and expected for crushes to exchange tapes of their favorite songs? What I don't understand is why you would actually release a new album on a cassette when digital can accomplish every single sonic quality a tape can, but without the frustration.

There was, and still is for the most part, something so satisfying about creating your own mixes with the songs you liked in the order you preferred. That's probably why sites like Everyone's Mixtape, Tape.ly, and Mixtape.fm all aim to digitally re-create the most important things cassettes ever did--by being recordable--which was creating a culture of sharing music.

The fact is, cassette sales were only 2 million in 2012--in contrast to 833 million CD sales. Vinyl is again a booming medium, though only to the tune of $177 million. Beyond the nostalgia aspect that vinyl still carries, a technical argument could be made for the format and the reason it never completely died. Cassettes on the other hand lack any technical reason for a comeback in 2013. Originally tapes possessed a portability that made them an attractive alternative, but in the face of digital downloads and ever CDs, cassettes are merely an exercise in frustration.

Before the allure of the tape hiss and a simpler time tug at your wallet, it'd be good to keep in mind some of the things that made them an inferior product from the start. Relatively quick deterioration of the magnetically coated internal tape makes longevity a non-starter, finding specific tracks is at best a guessing game, and still needing an A and B side add insult to injury. Don't be a sucker. If you want to find or share music, use these digital tools instead:

Fifteen Digital Tools For Finding New Music

  • Elbows is a music engine like WeAreHunted, which was acquired and became Twitter Music.
  • Adtunes.com finds music that's in advertising--great for when you can't Shazam a commercial fast enough.
  • Shazam more for when you're at dinner at a cool restaurant and you know they'll be playing new things you haven't heard.
  • Oh My Rockness for local show listings.
  • Kitsune.fr/music is a French clothing line and new label that makes monthly mixes of really cool stuff from France and beyond.
  • Todd P and Nonsense lists are both underground e-mail newsletters and usually have artists we know nothing about (but are pleasantly surprised to hear).
  • PopGun Booking newsletter is what you should scour to find new music and listening to those bands' songs online.
  • FBI FM in Australia and other online radio stations from across the world: No one realizes how easy it is to just stream great stuff in the background all day.
  • College radio stations are great to stream from online, because they play cooler music, not needing to worry about ad revenue.
  • Twitter is a great place to find college radio stations with an online presence.
  • Spotify's "Related Artists" tab has some hit or miss algorithms, but the hits are worth it.
  • Bandcamp.com is a good place to search "tags" and seeing what is hightest-selling each day.
  • College Music Journal has a monthly mix tape they send out via email.
  • Talkwalker Alerts are great for being reminded of important dates for festivals like CMJ and SXSW.

Tyler Hayes contributes to Hypebot.com and does interviews for NoiseTrade's blog. He often writes about music and the impact of tech is having on that industry, which can be often be found on his personal blog, Liisten.com. Tyler also runs the site Next Big Thing which ranks user submitted links for an interesting hub of music related content.

Thanks to Jackie Shuman for her awesome suggestions on new music-finding tools.

Image by Mike Licht on Flickr.