So…let’s talk about cassette culture and the man accused of infuriating the community.
Recently ARTV Reviews revealed a video thinkpiece on the current resurgence of cassette tapes. His stance not only goes against the quality of cassette tapes, but also the act of doing it to mainstream albums. Since then, everyone from those who purchase to those who make and sell cassette albums, mainly indie labels, came in aggressive opposition to his thoughts on cassettes. And honestly…the hate isn’t exactly warranted. I’ll explain why.
Now, those who stuck with ARTV Reviews would have already guessed that he doesn’t know that what really kicked off the cassette thing was people in the underground, and considering his profession, you can’t really expect him to. Labels like Burger Records (at it or 11 years), Candy Drips, Orchid Tapes and Leaving Records (at it for 10) have been exclusively dropping tapes to varying results in success.
Z Tapes, a predominantly bedroom pop label, has recorded multiple times that his tapes (or MP3s) topped alternative charts on first releases. (As we write this, Orchid Mantis’ Yellow House and Pickle Darling’s Bigness are respectively 1 and 2 on the Badcamp pop charts, when it comes to selling cassettes. Both albums being sold or will BE sold by Z Tapes.) While ARTV may unearth a few pop-punk bands every now and then, ARTV’s musical knowledge/expertise isn’t in the underground like that.
Notice that the first few tapes he has shown within the thumbnail is Ariana Grande’s Sweetener and 30 Seconds to Mars’ much-maligned album America. This instantly should tip you off that it may not be that he finds cassette to be a useless format per se. Just useless for the mainstream to co-opt. Imagine an album as forward-sounding as Ariana Grande…on cassette tape. The vitriol seems more warranted towards the major label industry. Before the unearthing of his video, you should be able to walk into a Newbury Comics, and spot cassettes by…Justin Bieber, Eminem, Beach House and maybe one Sleater-Kinney live album. Sleater-Kinney, you can most definitely understand. You could even make a case for Beach House having one, but…Justin Bieber?!?
Another tape that you would find is one that Jon puts his blame for the most on cassettes resurgence: Guardian of the Galaxy mixtape. “In [Guardians of the Galaxy], you can see Chris Pratt starring as Starlord, and you can see him playing hits from the 80s on his cassette Walkman,” he points out. “…and it’s something that a lot of people, not just movie buffs, but people everywhere started to embrace it. They were like, ‘oh, what if I could get the awesome mix on cassette?'” After that, he tried out the format by buying Skrillex’s Recess. (Albums like Skrillex’s may not really be tailor-made for formats like those, so I could understand his need to play it only once.)
Along with this is him pointing out common complaints about the cassette after comparing it to the technologically advanced CD: you can’t skip songs on a cassette and it seems more copped for nostalgic purposes (implied by him mentioning how we all opened a children’s tape once in our lives). But the one that he hits upon like a hammer on a gopher is how the idea is co-opted from the underground.
“I think the problem is that it’s another thing that bands or artists can put out there or else their label can say “its another moneymaker right now because all of the hipster kids think they’re cool because they got the new Ariana Grande on cassette”. Without even knowing it, Jon from ARTV rather crassly pointed out the major labels most costly and most egregious mistake: they were following the so-called hipsters.
The main thing is that cassettes and vinyl were not meant to be trendy. At all. Nothing in the underground was meant to be copied over and over, and sold back for double the profit and for the personal gain of larger labels. (Really, what artists do in order to survive if their art, even as artists, are way too often seen as a hipster thing, but that is another conversation for another day.) Ask label owners such as Citrus City’s Manuel, IHeartNoise’s Ilya or Z Tapes Filip, and they will ALL stress to you that tapes have more to do with releasing physical formats as frugally as possible. If someone wants to take a professional album out on tour but they don’t have the money to make vinyl, visiting local cassette plants (or having your label do it for you) are pretty much your best bets.
The thing is when you go to those sites, they don’t make millions of copies. They release around 50 or less at a time (Labels like avant-garde enthusiasts Illuminated Paths release around 25 at a time), and will only make more based upon the demand. Even then, they still sell mp3s, if they want those instead. So, whenever major labels take this and sell it for twice the amount a smaller label would (such as selling a Muse or a 30 Seconds to Mars tape), they are essentially swiping food off of the plates of those trying to survive without the major machines. Other reasons such as the warmth of tape hiss equaling the vinyl hiss or, yes, the nostalgia factor are noted yet not quite as relevant to the situation.
But the major point I am trying to make is this: ARTV is not really the guy you want to bring the pain to because he doesn’t even seem like he is the type of guy to be aware of all this. Skim through his videos or his reviews, and you will most likely see bands ranging from pop punk to mainstream pop or mainstream/up-and-coming rap music. Not really a new focus amongst reviewers on and off Youtube, really. So, regardless of how long a cassette label has been killing it, there is no way Jon could have known that the cassette business wasn’t new, unless he did some true digging amongst the culture of music or labels named and unnamed boomed into mainstream notoriety.
This in mind, is it possible that we can take that red target off of Jon’s head? At least, for now?
- Little Guide to Physical Formats for Independent Labels/Artists
- Around 2018 in 12 Weeks: Label Mixes by Rusted Tone Recordings and Arachnidiscs
- 5 Questions For…Brian John Mitchell (Silber Records)
- Label Profile – RRRecords
- Retrospective 2017 Label Mixes Roundup – Field Hymns, Shadowtrash Tape Group, Strategic Tape Reserve