Your Favorite Mix tapes are Headed Toward their Graves
It seems like just yesterday people were strutting around the streets in their shoulder pads, perms and oversized neon garb rocking out to their Walkmans. Only that wasn’t yesterday, that was 30 years ago and that technology has long been obsolete.
But that shouldn’t be a reason to just let your favorite stash of cassette mix tapes, underground hip-hop artists, record label-less indie groups and home recordings go to waste. Yet, if you fail to digitize your old cassette tapes soon, there won’t be a side B to flip to.
That’s right, the cassette tapes of your youth have been slowly degrading over the last several decades and there’s nothing you can do to stop it – only prolong it. Because whether you like it or not, 30 years is the average life of a cassette tape.
But what exactly contributes to that cassette 30-year lifespan?
Did you know that the longer the tape length (90 and 120 minutes) the thinner the actual tape? It makes sense if you think about it, after all they had to make it fit within the tape deck, but the thinner the tape, the more susceptible to breaking.
Some of the earlier cassette tapes released used chromium dioxide as a coating. Now that may not mean much to you, but to your tapes it means lesser durability. It’s why tapes released later started using magnetite, cobalt-absorbed iron oxide, or ferric oxide and cobalt as a replacement, an effort to increase longevity.
More than likely, those beloved mix tapes from your first crush and your home recordings weren’t recorded on the highest quality of tape. After all, if it worked at the time why would teenage your worry about more expensive tapes? Well, turns out that the pressure pads on lower quality tapes tend to deteriorate or fall off much earlier than those premium cassettes.
Double Sided Trouble
Attention all tapes with a side B, you’re at a higher risk of early deterioration. Yep, it turns out that tapes recorded on both sides may not last as long as single-sided recordings because of potential bleed-through from the magnetic fields.
Cassette Life Support
There’s no easy way to say it, but your tapes are fading and will eventually die out. But there are some things you can do to prolong their life.
- Controlled storage – make sure your tapes are constantly stored between 50 – 70º F with 20-40% relative humidity for the best possible storage atmosphere.
- Be kind, rewind – fast forward and then rewind each tape before storing for best tape position on the inside spools.
- Vertical storage – storing your tapes upright will help prevent damage to the edges of the tape media
- Play them – play your tapes annually to prevent any layers of tape from sticking together, hence ruining playback.
Lastly, the best option – the only option, really – for preserving your past playlists, is to digitize them. This will ensure that your tunes stick with you forever, long after the life of your tape has come and gone.