Cassette tapes were a big deal in the 1980s. They allowed anyone to record music for themselves, and they took the world by storm. But now that we are living in the digital age, cassette tapes have lost their popularity. Throughout this article, I will be discussing what cassette tapes are, where they came from, and some fun facts about them!
What is a Cassette Tape?
Cassette tapes are a type of audio recording that can be played on either cassette players or digital media. They were popular in the 1980s and 1990s as a convenient way to listen to pre-recorded music.
The tape is made out of thin plastic, which has two fine lines of metal oxide coating running along its length called “the head.” When played, the tape head is used to convert sound waves into electric signals. The player reads those two metal oxide lines and converts them back into a waveform that can be heard.
The History of Cassette Tapes
They were invented in 1963 by Dutch company Philips and German company BASF. The cassettes weren’t actually used until the 1970s because they didn’t offer any significant advantages over vinyl recordings at first.
The original intention of the CASSETTE TAPE was to be used as an alternative to reel-to-reel audio tapes because they were more portable and less expensive. They were not initially intended for mass-market consumption.
The cassettes became popular in the 1980s, which is when they hit their peak. It is estimated that by 1979 there were over 500 million CASSETTES TAPES made and sold around the world.
They were also used for voice recording and dictation because it was a convenient way to take notes or record an interview without lugging around big bulky equipment.
The cassettes became less prevalent in the 1990s as compact disc (CD) sales increased due to CD players being in most households.
They are still used today, but they had lost their popularity compared to the 1980s when CASSETTE TAPES WERE A BIG DEAL.
Early Uses of the Cassette Tape
The earliest use of a CASSETTE TAPE was in 1964 when the Beatles released their album “A Hard Day’s Night.”
The Beatles had a lot of success with the CASSETTE TAPE, but it was actually their 1968 album “Hey Jude” that became one of the best-selling albums on cassette tape.
In 1968, The Rolling Stones released an album called Their Satanic Majesties Request on cassette tape rather than vinyl. They wanted to offer something different after being under contract for so long with Decca Records.
In 1969, an engineer at BASF invented the first mass-production process for making tapes out of polyester, which replaced metal as the tape’s backing. This was a big deal because it meant that the cassettes could be used for more extended periods, making them more appealing to consumers.
In 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono released their album Unfinished Music No. Two: Life with the Lions on a CASSETTE TAPE because they wanted to create an artwork that was more than just about sound quality.
The first pre-recorded children’s story tapes were created in 1975 by the Record Children’s Library. They released a CASSETTE TAPE called “The Talking Book, Volume One: The Hobbit.”
The cassette tapes were popularized in 1980 when The Smiths released their album “Hatful of Hollow” on cassette tape only and sold 50 thousand copies within a week.
In 1982, Queen released their album Hot Space on cassette tape rather than vinyl because they wanted to release something different from what everyone else was releasing at that time.
In 1984, the cassette tapes reached their peak when they became a popular mode of music storage for consumers, and there were over 500 million cassettes made and sold around the world that year alone.
The Different Types of Cassettes (normal, compact, extended)
Regular cassette tapes are called Type I, while normal compact cassettes (CASSETTE TAPES WITH A BASIC PLAYER) are called Type II. The extended or long-play tape is a type kown as an EP mode because the tracks on these recordings were usually either longer or had more than eight tracks.
Compact cassettes are about 30% smaller than regular cassette tapes, usually found in boomboxes and Walkmans. They also have a higher recording density to store more music or data on the tape. The most common compact cassette is 120 minutes long with up to 60 minutes of playing time per side.
The Compact Cassette was revolutionary in that it enabled anyone to record audio tracks. Although the Compact Cassette was at its peak in 1980s, it was soon eclipsed by the compact disc (CDs).
Extended cassette tapes are usually found in video cameras. They’re twice as long and hold about the same amount of data as a CD (700 MB).
Fun Facts about Cassettes Tapes
- In the early 1980s, cassette tapes were in vogue. The compact and economical format allowed for infinite play possibilities. You could buy a tape of any song you wanted without having to commit to buying an entire album or record that was more expensive than one desired track.
- Cassettes often came with 45-minute runtime limits on each side, so if the album ran for more than 45 minutes on one side, it was necessary to flip over the tape.
- The cassette’s humble origins date back to 1889 when Edison invented the machine that would record sound using tinfoil sheets and spools of paper punched with holes. In 1925 celluloid plastic film replaced this system.
- In 1962, the cassette tape was invented and marketed as a more durable alternative to reel-to-reel audiotape recording. The first cassette player for home use was introduced in 1963 by Philips of the Netherlands.
- Its compact size led to its adoption with Sony’s Walkman line of portable stereos starting in 1979.
- Cassettes were the dominant consumer audio format throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s, but cassettes fell out of favor in 1992 with new digital compact discs.
- In 2013 music industry trade groups reported sales revenues from cassette tapes totaled US$36 million globally over the previous 12 months, up 29% from US$28 million in 2012.
- In 2016 cassette sales were up by 40% over the previous year, with 47,000 tapes sold according to Nielsen Music during the first six months of that year and more than 400,000 albums as part of cassettes shipped since 2013.
- The Compact Cassette also served as a convenient way for people to share music.
- In 2017, the cassette tape was revealed as a trendy collector’s item and sold for US$25-US$75 on sites like eBay and Etsy. Since then, more than 20 stores have opened across Japan that exclusively sell cassettes, with some of them claiming to be selling up to 200 copies per day at US$40 a pop.
- Cassette tapes have achieved cultural significance as the musical format of choice for underground musicians (such as punk bands) to release their music and distribute it in small quantities under independent labels without excessive production values.
- In 2018, cassette tape popularity was fuelled by the emergence of several popular TV series that feature protagonists obsessed with the physical media. These include Stranger Things and the Mid90s (2018) film, both of which have led to a revival in popularity for the Walkman.
- A report by South Korea’s government-funded publishing agency Research Institute for Culture and History, said that up to 70 percent of South Koreans aged between 18 and 29 listened to music on cassette tapes, with over 60% listening regularly or occasionally.