Cassettes: A Newbies Guide For Cassette Store Day

cassette-store-day-2013

The exciting prospect of Cassette Store Day has got many of us very excited. Just two years after I sold all my cassettes believing the format to be as relevant as a Phil Collins greatest hits laser disc, here’s a grass-roots movement to try to ensure that, like Gordon Brown selling the UK’s Gold Reserves in 1999-2002, I couldn’t have picked a worse time to offload them all.

However, bearing in mind there may be people reading who are wondering just what these mysterious “cassette” things are, here’s a cut-out-and-keep explanation that you can email to the young or uninitiated people in your life who may be looking slightly confused:

  • A Walkman is like an iPod that only holds one album or “cassette” at a time. They were popular in the eighties, before CDs existed and before iPods were invented.
  • The “cassette” is like an MP3 file that you can physically touch. It contains five or more tracks on each “side”.
  • Insert the “cassette” into the Walkman. Press play. You will hear a hissing sound before the tape plays. Do not panic. This is normal and adds to the “analogue” experience.
  • If nothing happens, remove the cassette, turn it over, and re-insert.
  • You will notice the “skip” button is inefficient, consisting as it does of a button that manually winds electronic tape forward or backwards with absolutely no indication where one track ends and another begins. Not annoying.
  • There is no facility to play the tracks in a different order, which is how it should be. The band have taken care of that for you, and tried all the options. Don’t worry about it, You don’t know better.
  • When the tracks stop playing, that may not be the end of the album. On some Walkmans (NB. not “Walkmen“) you may have to take the tape out, turn it over and press play again.
  • If, when you do this, you appear to have started half way through a track, this is because the album may not be the same length on either side. Don’t panic. It isn’t a software error. Merely press “rewind” and wait for the tape to go to the start, then press play.
  • Under no circumstances should you store your cassettes on top of anything remotely magnetic, in case the tape deteriorates or is wiped clean. This includes loudspeakers.
  • Or on the rear shelf of your car on a hot day.
  • Try not to fast forward or rewind too aggressively. A Walkman is a temperamental object, prone to feeling slightly hungry when tired. When hungry, it will “chew” your cassette tape, rendering the tape useless without careful use of a pencil, which you can use to wind the tape back. It’s the equivalent of pressing the “Start” and “Menu” button to reset your iPod, only more fiddly. Not annoying.
  • If you want to listen to another album, you need to take other cassettes with you. If you don’t know what sort of mood you will be in later, you may find yourself taking a number of cassettes with you. NB. this is important: if you are stuck on a train or in an airport for longer than expected you may regret only having brought one album with you – or you will get to know that Phil Collins album very very well indeed. Just remember to balance this need for variety with the concept of “travelling light” and “avoiding a hernia”. Watch that magnetic clasp on your bag though.
  • Batteries. Take spare batteries. These things eat batteries. They usually run out on hot days when your train breaks down.

Hope this helps…

Cassette Store Day is on 7th September 2013. Check the Cassette Store Day website for details.

Record #226 – Cassette Store Day artist Deerhunter – Dream Captain



Categories: Indie

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12 replies

  1. Wow…yeah..those were the days.

    I recently bought a book on cassette culture called Mix Tape written by Thurston Moore of the band Sonic Youth.
    You may want to check it out. It’s at -> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mix_Tape:_The_Art_of_Cassette_Culture

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  2. Aahh, memories of the good old days.

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  3. Hahaha, I was in the attic the other day and nearly binned the lot I still posses – glad I didn’t – I’d have nothing to do with the pencils I still own =)

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  4. This very helpful and instructive. But there’s one essential element you’ve forgotten: the cassette ‘case’. For the stereotypical (see what I did there?) cassette experience, you need to be sure that 15% of your cassette ‘cases’ should be empty at any one time; a further 18% should contain a cassette which bears no relation to the design on the ‘sleeve’ which lines the ‘case’.
    Moreover, if you happen to make your own recordings onto cassette, use a felt-tip pen to write the tracklist, to ensure maximum smudge and quickest fade.

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    • Cassettes in the wrong box? Oh dear. I could never have allowed that to happen. I bet you never put your CDs back in the right box either did you? Shoddy….
      I remember writing out the names of tracks on the inners though. And then crossing them out as I taped over them. Again and again.
      But not in felt tip…

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  5. Your good, funny post brought back memories of playing cassette tapes and made me appreciate my iPod Nano so much. I just wish I could rewind my Nano back to relisten to a specific lyric instead of only having the option to skip back to the beginning of the song. So that’s one advantage of cassette tapes. Although, like you wrote, the rewinding and fast forwarding of tapes was completely random and it could be tedious to find the exact lyric you wanted to hear.
    I still have my complete cassette tape collection including my mixed tapes. I never thought of getting rid of them yet I am afraid to play them because I fear the actual tape unraveling, getting caught in the tape player, and ruining the cassette and the tape player. So I’m stuck with piles of cassettes covered with dust yet filled with memories.

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    • Thanks – I hadn’t thought of that – but then I never had a Nano. My iPod does allow me to rewind mid-track, and hasn’t spilled out any tape whilst doing so. Yet.
      Re your tapes – it’s great you still have them! I think you should take one with the least promising track listing and play it – just to see if it still works. My old tapes were fine. Just don’t fast forward or rewind I reckon.
      Those are memories waiting to be revived – fantastic stuff.

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  6. I wish I still had something with which to listen to cassettes! Maybe I’ll have to scour some thrift stores for a Walkman. A few years back my sister got a car old enough to come with a cassette player and I had fun finding cheap and random ones for her listening pleasure.

    If you haven’t, read Rob Sheffield’s Love is A Mix Tape. It’s a wonderful memoir that attests to the nostalgia and romance of the cassette. And he’s a great writer to boot!

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