The Washington Post has an excellent article on the demise of the cassette tape and the evolution from vinyl to cassette to CD. Furthermore, the point is made that the digital revolution will soon make even the CD obsolete:
Someday music will be only air. There will be no objects to hold or fetishize and people will simply collect lists. No disc, nothing spooled or grooved, nothing to scratch or break, no heads to clean, no dust to wipe, no compulsive alphabetizing. Nothing to put away in shoe boxes in spare closets and be embarrassed about.
The end of hiss.
The end of the sound system as furniture.
The end, on some strange and intellectually picky level, of the crucial dialectic between Side A and Side B, and the idea that songs talk to one another and take you someplace.
I can really relate to this story because I grew up near the end of the LP’s dominance and just before the CD started to really take hold. I still have lots of vinyl, although most of that is 45 singles of ‘80s songs I didn’t buy until well into the ’90s, before the resurgence of ’80s music made the most obscure song available on a CD compilation or album. And I have tons of cassette tapes, most of which are battered and wearing thin but which hold particular poignance for me. I bought most of those tapes with my hard-earned allowance money, so actually going out and buying an album back then meant that you really liked the music. Later, all of my ’80s mixes (all 60 of them!) were done on tape from 1994 to about 1999. I then moved into the digital age of music and started to burn my own compilation CDs. I feel happy that the mixes I burn these days won’t wear out like a lot of my mix tapes have, but I still miss the deliberate, tactile process of recording on tape at my stereo rather than sitting in front of the computer looking at waveforms. And of course, my 90-minute tapes don’t transfer faithfully to an 80-minute CD, so in remastering my tapes to CD there is always the quandry of deciding which 3 or 4 songs will have to be forever removed and transplanted from a particular mix:
Tonight you are feeling faithful anyhow. There’s a tape in you trying to get out, and you feel like doing it the old way. You will stay home, by yourself, have a drink, and turn your attention to the bulky components stacked like artifacts in homage to bachelorhood. With the teak-colored stereo speakers large enough to rest your beer upon.
All the important cords are jacked into the tape deck.
Obsessing into the small hours, pulling record sleeves from the shelves, the LED display pulsing into the red zone when you record. You can nudge the knobs toward more bass. High bias, normal bias, basically you’re just biased. You are very careful, like a doctor on the verge on the sheer genius.
It seems inevitable that the ubiquity of computers and the digital technology available to rip and store music on the computer will transform the way we buy, record, and listen to music. I’ve already gotten used to the convenience of accessing all of my ’80s collection through MP3s on my hard drive and am looking forward to being able to select a song to listen to at will from my entire, vast collection of music. But I’m not getting rid of my cherished vinyl and cassettes (or CDs). Call me overly nostalgic or sentimental, but the look, feel, and even the smell of some of those items holds its own vivid memory for me, and I can’t see myself losing that just yet. I just hope that kids growing up today will have similar musical memories and experiences, although at this point in time it’s hard to imagine that it will ever be the same for them…