4.10.09

Reasons to buy cassette tapes

Fire + Ice - Birdking (vinyl, white marble edition)

Last weekend a friend couple ended up the night coming home for some tea, chess and chat. I changed the record in the player to the beautiful white marble Fire + Ice's "Birdking" vinyl, and that led to a conversation around music, where I, perhaps annoyingly, ended up bragging about my music colection showing this or that vinyl or CD, mostly talking about artwork, limited editions and what attracted me about this or that album. Nothing too extensive or boring (I hope, for their sake).

C-Utter - Urban Hermits

At one point I showed the latest C-Utter release (actually because of its artwork and packaging, uncommon for a tape), and got as a reply "now that's something I don't understand". It was simple: my friend understands everything about why I prefer physical to digital (music-wise), and what's the attraction about vinyl records or (more commonly understood) CDs. But cassette tapes? Why? They went to their homes before I had the chance to reply, but the question stood on my head. So here's one possible reply:

Most people that buy cassette tapes do it by fetishism. I can understand that, and it's more or less similar (or even a sub-case) to the "physical release fetishism), and, like every other fetishes, it actually has an emotional part, not mandated by reason. But that's actually not my case, not in the particular case of cassette tapes. I want physical releases, and a cassette tape is a physical release - and that's as far as I can go fetishism-wise.

So what are the reasons why I buy cassette tapes?

Thanatos Cassette

Well, one of them is that... cassette tapes are cheap. Really cheap. No, I mean it. As an example, I can tell you about my second to last cassette tape purchase: a Thanatos album. I bought it directly to the record label that released it - at the time in two formats, tape and CD. The CD version costs $13.98, the tape version (the last copy, I suspect) cost $0.99 (or something like that, I don't want to lie, but if it wasn't that it was only a couple of cents less). See the difference? Exactly the same album, different formats. Well, I listen to tapes anyway, I have tapes anyway, it's not like I have a burden, or that I'm buying a lesser version. For me, it's more or less the same, only super-cheaper. Is this a reason or what?

Astra Autisma - s/t

But there are other reasons. That C-Utter cassette, "Urban Hermits", was only released on tape. The same thing about Astra Autisma's latest, self-titled, release. And this is more common than you would believe. So, what to do? Refrain from having that album or buying it on tape? No question here, this is a great reason to buy compact cassettes.

Finaly, the most arguable one, but one that I'm paying more and more attention (maybe because I am also a recording artist). Preservation. Yes, you heard it right. People talk to me about the cassettes saying "but they break the tape, heat messes with them, they're unreliable, it takes a lot of time of putting it back together when something happens with its tape"... but they're not looking to two crucial (for me) aspects: not only tapes "degrade gracefuly" (the sound gets poorer, but it doesn't just stop working, unlike CDs or digital files), but they actually have more longevity. What does that matter? Well, my music colection is actually already crumbling to dust. Several CDs unplayable, one cassette tape dead (recorded in 1976, 33 years ago), and counting. What percentage of it will I be able to play out in a decade? Will my grandsons be able to listen to the music I created? To me, preservation matters. Oh, sure, you can shoot me a "if you want preservation, go vinyl!". And I agree. But tapes are way cheaper to manufacture, so there's lots of music on tape you can't find on vinyl.

I understand if you still think buying tapes is silly. Really. Also, I don't mind :-) But, there, here are my reasons (or at least the ones I can remember of at this time of the day, my cup of tea is already empty, which must mean this blog post is bigger than it should) to buy compact cassettes.