In the arts, technological trends are just as likely to be driven by emotion as they are by the latest developments, so that might help explain why the American music industry suddenly finds in the midst of a cassette tape revival.
According to media metrics firm BuzzAngle Music, 136 percent from 2016 to 2017. While that might not mean a lot in terms of actual sales—BuzzAngle estimates that 99,400 cassettes sold only made up 0.1 percent of music sold—it highlights the continuing trend of interest in physical media, despite more streaming options than ever before.
2017's growth , and there were similarities between the multi-year booms. In both years, , Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy soundtracks led cassette sales. In 2016, it was Volume 1 and in 2017 it was Volume 2. Other nostalgia-tinged new releases, like the Stranger Things soundtrack, also helped sales.
Non-traditional music outlets, like clothing chain Urban Outfitters, made up over 20 percent of cassette sales. Events like Cassette Store Day offered cassette exclusives and promoted the medium with .
Initially sold by Phillips in 1963, the cassette tape was revolutionized in 1979 with Sony's release of its Walkman. For the first time, music was seen as truly portable. A runaway success for decades, cassette tapes were selling at a clip of over 8 million a year as .
By 2004, though, Apple was already , putting the nail in the coffin of the cassette tape as a preferred choice for portable music.
Only a few years later, a tape subculture emerged. In a 2007 essay titled, "The Hallucinatory Life of Tape," author Paul Hegarty using the Voyager space probe's tape recording system. "This tape has lasted so well thanks to being outside of earth's atmosphere," Hegarty writes, "but perhaps also because of its specific mode of functioning, which is to be permanently recording, transmitting and erasing, whilst in continual movement."
By 2010, music site Pitchfork was running an essay the "strong personal connection" that the cassette tape brings with it. Unlike streaming options or even vinyl, it's difficult with a cassette player to pull up a precise song. That lack of choice can give the listener a stronger appreciation for the work as a whole.
Cassette tapes played a crucial plot point in the popular Guardians films, and it's easy to see why unusually strong marketing helped propel the format to another year on the rise. But beyond mass sales, the format has moved on to a below-the-radar subculture sturdy enough to carry itself.