Cassette sales have nearly doubled this year, which indicates there is more demand in the format than in years past, but is it making a comeback that can be sustained?
According to Official Charts, cassette sales account for a minuscule 1% of music sales in the UK, with just 22,000 copies sold in 2017. This low number is staggering when one thinks how cassettes were the leading format for audio 27 years ago. While that is far from the case today, in recent years, there has been a strong resurgence, with sales close to or more than doubling each year since 2015. Now in 2018 there looks to be an even stronger increase with 18,500 copies sold in just six months. At this time last year, only 9,753 copies had been sold. So it looks like another big comeback year is in store for cassettes, right?
The reason for this huge jump in sales in 2018 is due to a large amount of mainstream releases that appeal to the larger market of listeners and collectors. The leading cassette sold this year so far is Kylie Minogue's new album 'Golden' with 2,847, that was released as a limited edition glitter-gold clear cassette around the time she played at Berghain. Next up is the Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 soundtrack followed by Snow Patrol's new album 'Wildness' and the 30 Seconds to Mars album 'America'.
Similar to the current vinyl resurgence, it's the new mainstream releases that are yielding the resurgence rather than the culty, underground cassettes released by labels like Opal Tapes, 100% Silk, Awesome Tapes From Africa, Whities, Pale Master and Handmade Birds among others. That being said, the overall appeal of cassettes is attracting listeners and collectors.
Helena Hauff, who fronts this month's issue of Mixmag, released her debut album titled 'A Tape' only as a cassette in 2015 via Handmade Birds and Dark Entries, and it's value has held up with many looking to sell it for at most €40.00.
The cassette is a format that seems to be increasingly in high demand, but it's playability is still much lower than most other formats. For one, the quality of sound isn't as high as digital or vinyl, so it loses out there. Plus it's not a DJing format unless you are the wizard that is Awesome Tapes From Africa, who works magic in the DJ booth with solely his cassette players and a mixer. He famously said, "it made sense to DJ tapes... there's no rules about BPM", yet not many, if any, do it like he does.
It's safe to say that cassettes will never regain there place as a staple within the music industry. For most, if one is going to go and listen to music, chances are they're not going to be listening to tapes, especially with the increase in music streaming that's taking over the industry. Yet that's not really the point of buying a tape. Sure one may want to listen to it, but having the music in a physical form is something that is attracting due to the tangible nature of the product. As time goes by, people may seek out cassettes more for this reason.
Cassettes are a novelty to most, but with increasing sales numbers, who's to say it's a dead format? The numbers don't lie.
Look for The Prodigy to release their forthcoming album 'No Tourists' on cassette as well. Big beat seems like it was made for cassette right? Probably not.
Harrison is Mixmag's East Coast Editor. Follow him on Twitter here