In 2010, Billboard Magazine's annual album sales evaluation read thusly: physical sales were sinking like a septic tank full of concrete, except for vinyl. Sales of records were up 14 percent to 2.8 million units that year. Don't go proclaiming vinyl an industry savior. It's hardly enough to resuscitate the flagging physical music industry back to its '90s heights, but the vinyl resurgence has been acknowledged even by big-time retailers. Best Buy and FYE have been stocking not only classic vinyl reissues but also shilling USB turntables that can convert my grandparents' neglected Lawrence Welk LPs into shiny invisible MP3s I'll never play.
A less heralded revival is the reemergence of the cassette tape, the supposedly lowly medium that rode the ebb of the vinyl wave but was trampled by compact discs in the early '90s. As the vinyl uptick has gained recognition in the last few years, boutique tape labels like Night People and Not Not Fun have established a proving ground for emerging acts like Dirty Beaches and Peaking Lights.
According to Billboard, 60 percent of vinyl sales in 2010 were generated by indie acts with the rest constituted by classic heritage artists. Both vinyl and cassette tapes have unique sonic and visual qualities that "cool kids," music lovers, and rabid collectors appreciate. So why haven't tapes trickled into Urban Outfitters, giving ghetto-blasters a nostalgia sales bump?
Perhaps it's just a matter of time. For now, tapes remain a hand-assembled staple of small-time independent labels. In keeping the cassette alive, these three Phoenix-area tape labels point to the cost-friendliness of tapes, their modest and intimate ethos and, of course, their unique acoustic properties.