As perplexing as it might be, cassette tapes are making a comeback. Much like vinyl's resurgence in popularity over the past several years, cassette tapes are finding their way into retail stores and bands' merch booths. In the case of one Dallas establishment, cassettes are the subject of a museum.
The return to analog can be hard to justify with the ease of digital media like MP3s and streaming sites. But some in the North Texas music community say cassettes have their own appeal outside of pure nostalgia.
Artist and Southern Methodist University lecturer Arthur Peña started a cassette tape music label funded by a grant from the city of Dallas. Peña has been a longtime supporter of the city's underground music scene, throwing shows in warehouses, bookstores and art galleries. He started the label to capture the best of Dallas-Fort Worth DIY.
When his grant from the city ran out, SMU stepped in with a faculty grant to keep the project going. At the end of May, Vice Palace Tapes will have recorded 20 local musicians on 10 tapes that sell for $5 each.
"It's about the accessibility that cassette tapes offer -- because of their ease of recording and affordability. You can make 100 tapes for around $150," says Peña. Pressing vinyl costs thousands of dollars; producing CDs oftentimes comes with a 1,000-quantity minimum.
Besides the affordability, Vice Palace also chose the format as an homage to the history of underground punk music. Cassettes are pocket-size, so they were easily transported in the '70s. And because they're cheap and easy to produce, they were shared among musicians and enthusiasts and helped grow the punk music scene.
Local psych rock band Acid Carousel prefers to sell its music on cassette. The band's front men, Gus Baldwin and John Kuzmick, are 18 and 21 years old -- too young to remember the cassette in its heyday. But they say there's just something cool about it.
"I think people, including myself, are kind of tired of CDs right now," Kuzmick says. "Cassettes are the physical product but with a fresher aesthetic, even if it's a throwback."
"It's music you can collect," says Gus Baldwin of Dallas band Acid Carousel.
"And indie girls think you're cool."
In April, the band celebrated the release of its newest album, Higher Than the Beatles!, with a cassette tape release party. Not everyone owns a cassette player, so the band included a digital download with the $5 purchase. In addition to being more affordable than vinyl, they say they like the sound of cassettes.
"We really like the old analog technologies. This is a way of retaining that lovely analog sound without being able to afford real records with real grooves," Baldwin says.
Peña agrees. "Young bands can't afford vinyl. ... And there's a certain a warmth to the sound. It might not be the best quality, but it has its own unique audio space."
Bucks Burnett recently opened 14 Records and Cassette Tape Museum near White Rock Lake after his Eight Track Museum in Deep Ellum closed several years ago. In his hybrid store-museum, displays include original cassette releases by the Beatles, David Bowie and Led Zeppelin. Burnett's vintage finds can cost anywhere from $15 to $200, and some of the rare tapes in his collection cost upwards of $2,000, like the Beatles box set from 1968.
"Three or four years ago I felt it intuitively, it's time to try the cassette tape again," Burnett says. "Unlike the eight-track, the cassette never really died. It's managed to limp along through every single era since it came out in 1965. Indie bands really started the revitalization of the format."
Burnett agrees affordability is one of the reasons the cassette survived, as well as the fact that it's pocket artwork. For instance, just take a look at Vice Palace Tape's psychedelically colored releases, which are handmade by a producer in Ohio.
"When I started looking into this, I was astounded by the creativity and innovation involved in the printing of the covers and the color printing right onto the cartridge body," Burnett says.
He says he's thrilled to be operating what might be the first cassette tape museum in the world. It's definitely the first in Dallas. "It's fun to start a new kind of museum," he says. "You get to be the first person to decide these should be taken seriously."