By Evan Henry
In a culture that thrives on instant gratification, some people like to step back and look at what came before smartphones and iPods, before the CD, even. In 1963, the Philips Company invented something that would revolutionize recording and playback alike: the compact cassette.
Cassettes are cheap to produce. They have been since their inception 50 years ago. A cassette is just magnetic tape wound into a plastic shell that fits snugly into your hand. With the right technology, an artist can single-handedly record, produce and manufacture an album in an unlimited quantity in-house within the day. The advantage is that an artist can sell the tape for $5 to $7, compared to the absurdity of $10 for the CD or $25 for the vinyl. Cassettes can be entirely personal, such as the mixtape, a homemade compilation of songs made for friends. Usually, mix tapes will cost $1 to $2 to make, including artwork.
Burger Records, based in Fullerton, Calif., is the cult-like wacko garage rock label that has given the go-ahead for cassettes to be cool again. At this point, the label is known worldwide, and if that weren’t enough, this year Burger Records’ co-founder, Sean Bohrman, is curating a second installment of “Cassette Store Day.” The event is similar to “Record Store Day,” when music nerds across the globe gather at their local record stores and buy limited edition albums, EPs and singles all on cassette. Bohrman said his main inspiration for starting his now globally recognized cassette label was “to discover the best new music and get people to hear it.”
“Making people’s dream come true and watching their art/musicianship/
songwriting grow and blossom and become better is the greatest reward for me,” Bohrman said. His opinion of other labels is: “the more the merrier. It’s going to take a lot to bring back the cassette tape and keep it relevant in popular culture instead of it being just a fad. The more people there are heralding the cassette tape, the more it will become ingrained in popular culture and the longer it will last in people’s consciousness,” Bohrman said.
In the final week of August, the crew who runs Lolipop Records, Burger’s sister label, were in town from Los Angeles touring with the bands they’re all in. Each member said the same thing – their main intent for doing tapes as opposed to being vinyl-exclusive is that tapes are cheap. On average, the label spends $200 to produce 150 copies of the release, which is fitting for the format’s niche audience. Lolipop’s artists can take their releases on tour and immediately establish a personal connection. The label’s founder Wyatt Blair, who runs Lolipop with his best friends, said it goes beyond just producing an album and making tons of copies – it’s about establishing a human connection.
Searching locally to find a favorite band’s album on tape is not difficult, as most area record stores have succumbed to the demand of the format. Specifically, at Good Records on Greenville Ave. in Dallas, the tape collection has gone from a small stack by the register to spanning its own table in the middle of the store.
“I don’t see the cassette market expanding much, but with folks like Burger carrying the torch, I don’t think they are going away again anytime soon,” Good Records owner Chris Penn said. In fact, Penn said the cassette’s predecessor, the vinyl LP, will continue to thrive throughout, calling it “the cockroach of the industry,” as vinyl has been the store’s number one seller since its opening nearly a decade ago.
Despite older audiences giving the cassette the boot, there will always be younger ones right behind them who likely, because of insane college expenses, will continue to buy albums on tape and may in the end start their own tape labels, as in reality, it isn’t difficult. In recent years, the number of cassette labels in America has dramatically increased. From having them professionally duplicated by a manufacturer or just dubbing copies at home on a dual tape deck, the dream is alive. Readers can celebrate Cassette Store Day 2014, Saturday Sept. 27, at a participating retailer and for more information visit cassettestoreday.com.
Cassette Labels of America
1 – Los Angeles, California: Lolipop Records, Under the Gun, Big Joy Records
2 – Fullerton, California: Burger Records
3 – Portland, Oregon: Gnar Tapes
4- Brooklyn, New York: OSR Tapes
5 – Chicago, Illinois: Lillerne Tapes
6 – Greenville, South Carolina: Plastic Response
7 – Fort Worth, Texas: Dreamy Soundz Lo Life Recordings
8 – Denton, Texas: Olympic Dreams Records
9 – Dallas, Texas : Dallas Distortion Music