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  • Writer's pictureOmar Holloway

Original user playlists: The Cassette Tape Effect and its music purpose

While revivals of interest in vinyl records have become a fixture of popular culture over the past four decades, it could easily be argued that 33⅓ record revivalism has now lasted significantly longer than the vinyl album's actual reign as the most popular medium for listening to recorded sounds.

But that’s not the only music media reincarnation of interest.

"Tape isn't dead," said music journalist Marc Masters in support of his book "High Bias: The Distorted History of the Cassette Tape".

"There are lot of young people interested in tapes for the same reason we were interested in them growing up... It's such a universal subject in a weird way," Masters said of the appeal of cassette tapes. "So many people either grew up using tapes or found tapes in their parents' closet. Almost everyone I spoke with on the tour said that the book made them think of some stories that had with tapes that they hadn't thought of in 20 or 30 years."


"Before cassettes came along, there wasn't a cheap, easy, affordable way to control the music you listened to," Masters said. For the lion's share of listeners, the choices of radio station programmers and record labels determined what they listened to and in what sequence they heard it.

Virtually every high school student of the 1980s and 1990s was the creator, recipient or inspiration for a homemade cassette mixtape or possibly all three.

"Having a cassette you could record on easily or make mixes on freed up people's ability to access music they weren't able to before," Masters said. "It was democratizing for artists who didn't have the connections to get on a record label or the money to record at an expensive studio. They could record it on tape, pass it around or even sell it on tape."


The portability of cassettes, particularly after the introduction of the Walkman portable cassette player in the early 1980s, freed listeners to bring their music with them. It also expanded the possibilities of music shaping the interior life of listeners, "Early Walkman users are quoted in newspapers as saying, 'This is my own soundtrack. I get to block out the world and listen to what I want to and be who I want to be,'" Masters said.


Thus, the original traveling playlist hook up - without commercials or need for an email and password.


For music artists, cassettes served as an easy entry point into recording their music, particularly in the 1980s.

For Hip-Hop artists, the cassette mixtape became the means by which new performers developed followings.

For Heavy Metal acts of the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was trouble getting an audience with major record labels until homemade cassette recordings initiated a cult following.


In the early 1980s, major record labels tried to curb consumers' myriad uses of cassettes with their heavy-handed "Home Taping Is Killing Music" campaign. There's little to no evidence that taping songs off the radio or making mixtapes actually hurt the record business. Equally scarce is evidence that the "Home Taping Is Killing Music" slogan had much of an impact on consumer behavior.

"The industry has proven time and again that their first line of defense against piracy is to try to shame their own customers into not doing it," Masters pointed out.

He was speaking of both the early '80s "Home Taping is Killing Music" push as well as the major labels' campaign against file-sharing software in the 2000s. In both instances, the industry's multiyear efforts to shame fans were in vain.

• SOURCE: Remember Music Cassette Tapes? They’re Back; By democratizing music production, distribution and consumption, the 60-year-old medium has overcome its low-fi sound quality. Next Avenue >

*RehaB101 Original New School Webcast > #RehaB101ONSW newsfeed.

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