All of that is to say that cassette tapes, an audio format we all thought died an ignominious death in the ‘90s, are back, baby. According to Nielsen Music’s sales numbers, the format is having a quiet revolution. Just in 2017, sales for cassette tapes were up by 35% over 2016, with 174,000 new cassettes sold. Which isn’t, like, huge, but for a retro format that’s not vinyl, that’s pretty incredible.
And leading that revolution is the superheroic maestro of ‘80s nostalgia, Guardians of the Galaxy. The top three selling tapes are all Guardians joints: the first and second volumes of the Awesome Mix and the first volume of the Cosmic Mix. If you’re looking for proof that Marvel and Disney are reshaping pop culture in their image, look no further. Star Lord is so powerful he can revive dead media formats.
This is cute. My guess is this surge in cassette sales is driven by Millennials, but I have no idea.
As someone who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, I was deep into the mix tape culture. One of my favorite things to do was not only arrange great collections of songs, but I took it a step further. I figured out how to to take the white ‘left’ and red ‘right’ audio cables from the VCR (combined with the yellow ‘video’ cable this was know as ‘component cable’) and feed them into the left and right AUDIO IN inputs in the back of my stereo so I could sample my favorite clips from movies between tracks.
Then I bought the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction and realized Quentin Taratino did exactly what I was doing. My mind was blown.
As John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity explained perfectly, there are many rules to making a mix tape:
The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.
The fact that cassette tapes were an analog format meant it took time to make these mix tapes. They weren’t something you could slap together in 5 minutes like you can with a playlist on Spotify.
I’d be curious if kids spend thoughtful time creating playlists like we did with mix tapes. They probably don’t.