Before digital downloads, .mp3s – even CDs, the world’s main source for listening to their favorite tunes (outside of vinyl) was the audio cassette tape. The successor to the 8-track. Pop one of these little guys into your Sony Walkman and you could instantly add a soundtrack to your day to day. But the real appeal came in making mixed tapes for friends and significant others. Because if you had ever made a mixed tape for someone else, you knew how much thought, time and effort went into that poignant playlist. An attempt to punch someone right in the feels.
But as we look back at the obsolete nature of the cassette tape, questions swirl around the life leading up to its obituary – who invented it? What happened to the cassette tape? And, is it still used today?
The History of the Cassette Tape
The first Compact Audio Cassette (CAC), more commonly called the cassette tape, was developed by Phillips in Hasselt, Belgium and released in 1962. Originally designed for dictation machines, the cassette took the audio world by storm, replacing the stereo 8-track and giant reel-to-reel tape recording machines. It was available in two forms – one already containing pre-recorded content; the other, a completely blank deck.
What made the cassette unique compared to previous iterations like the 8-track and reel-to-reel machines was its compact design and portability. By 1968, the first cassette players were introduced via car dashboards and the popularity would only skyrocket from there. By the mid-80s, the cassette tape was THE audio source for the masses, from boom boxes to Walkmans, cassette tapes were everywhere.
The Bootleg Boom
One of the biggest controversies surrounding the cassette tape back in its heyday was illegal bootlegging of live music. Up until the cassette tape, bootlegging had never really been a problem, but due to the compact nature of the tape, its recording equipment and easy duplication, bootlegging and underground distribution became quite the scandal. For the first time ever, unwarranted mass distribution of some of the biggest artists in the world was happening right under their noses.
Now, “bootlegging” happens at nearly every show when someone records the band with their smartphone. And no one bats an eye. A lot has changed in just a few decades.
The Decline of the Deck
While the cassette was at one point the most popular medium for music, that time was short lived when compared to other formats. The sweet spot for the cassette tape was between 1985 and 1992, until a shiny silver disc began edging it in popularity and quality. By the mid-90s, CDs had almost entirely replaced the cassette tape and by the 2010 most teenagers didn’t even know what a cassette tape was.
The Return of Fuzzy
Like most pop culture styles, fashions and trends that follow a cyclical nature, so too does audio. Vinyl has seen a huge renaissance in the last few years – even the cassette is making a comeback with various bands and artists, such as Eminem and Blink 182 are releasing their old and new music on cassette tapes. In today’s music scene where everything sounds polished, clean and overly produced, some audiophiles are returning to their raw roots when music felt authentic and natural – going back to the fuzz.
What to Do With Your Old Tapes
If you were one of the lucky few to hold on to your cassette tape collection, then now is the time to digitize them to preserve those precious tracks. Why? Because every cassette tape is recorded on a magnetic strip that over time will lose its quality due to time and improper storage.
But don’t fret – Legacybox can digitize your tapes and other audio devices so that your precious 80s hair metal albums, first love mixtapes, illegal bootlegs and home recordings don’t fade away with time.