Senin, 03 Oktober 2011

Cassette tapes see new life after MP3s

Jesse Sheidlower the editor-at-large for the dictionary, said the term was considered "so past its prime that it was not worth keeping it in."

It's starting to look like that move may have been premature.

The 2.5-by-4-inch compact cassette that overtook vinyl albums and passed by eight-track tapes in the 1970s and '80s is experiencing a bit of a comeback, which some say is being fueled by the growth of indie music popularity.

A growing number of indie bands are turning to the format to get their music out more quickly and inexpensively, according to Rob Mason, the owner of Old Flame Records.

The Brooklyn-based record company released the band Total Babes' album Swimming Through Sunlight on tape before the full-length album was formally released Aug. 30 on CD and vinyl.

"From a musicmaker standpoint, I love it because they are very inexpensive to make," Mason said. "I can make 100 for not a very large investment. Especially compared to making vinyl â€" it's like a tenth of the cost."

In addition to the cost, 30-year-old Mason said the turnaround for cassettes can be as quick as two to three weeks, compared to the eight to 12 weeks needed for vinyl.

As vinyl records began their decline in the early '80s, cassettes began to saturate the music market, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

The peak of cassette sales came in 1990, when more than 442 million cassettes were shipped. But then began the cassette's decline and the rise of the CD, which peaked in 2000 before giving way to the digital platform.

As of mid-August, music-related cassette album sales are up 46% from last year at 22,000 units sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Last year, they said, cassette album sales were at about 15,000.

"Considering not a massive amount of new releases are being pumped out there, that's substantial," said Chris Muratore, vice president for merchant services and emerging growth for Nielsen Entertainment. But, he added, the numbers are still, in the big picture, "minuscule."

Regardless of format, music consumption is at an all-time high, says David Bakula, the senior vice president of analytics entertainment for Nielsen. But even as sales of vinyl records continue to grow â€" they've increased 37% from last year, he said â€" it's uncertain whether cassette nostalgia will reach those same heights.

"The growth of vinyl continues to increase year after year," Bakula said, noting that 2.7 million vinyl albums have been sold so far this year â€" the largest vinyl sales year Nielsen SoundScan has recorded since they started tracking sales in 1991. "We don't see nearly as much of that on cassette."

Daniel Gallen, a University of Maryland student, says he began collecting cassettes this past summer when he ordered Swimming Through Sunlight on tape. Gallen, an avid vinyl collector, found himself purchasing tapes instead of vinyl because vinyl became "too expensive." Since ordering Swimming Through Sunlight, Gallen has added six cassettes to his collection, including music from the bands Woods, Parentz and Real Estate.

"It's about having something you can hold in your hands … that are kind of yours," Gallen said. "It's like getting a closer relationship to the music."

And that is exactly what Total Babes' singer/guitarist Chris Brown said the band was striving for when they released the limited-availability cassette.

"Just having that physical copy … shows more support as opposed to buying an mp3 and putting it on your iPod," Brown said. "There were only 100 copies of the tape made, so having one of those hundred gives you more of an intimate feeling for the record knowing you are one of very few people who have it."

Baltimore's Animal Collective, California-based folk rock group The Mountain Goats and Chicago prog-rockers Umphrey's McGee have also jumped on the bandwagon by releasing their music on tape for collectors and dedicated listeners, according to their websites.

"Everyone has tape players lying around … and everyone will find a way to listen to it," Brown said.

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