On an Endless Loop: Tracking the Cassette Renaissance in 2021

Davey Ferchow posted October 12, 2021

The cassette never went away. According to National Audio Company (the largest audio cassette manufacturer in the US), the need for cassettes continued throughout the ‘90s and 2000s as there was still a demand for spoken word tapes. As cassettes were originally produced for dictation, this is where we began to see the tape come full circle. 

The circle is now continuing to loop around as we’ve seen a cassette revival in the music industry. Cassettes are being produced and released at higher rates than they have in years. With the popularity of releases like Guardians Of The Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1, National Audio Company has seen their best sales since they opened in 1969 and they now produce cassettes for Disney, Sony, and Universal. The demand is there as sales continue to climb with young cassette fans leading the charge. 

So what has inspired a new generation of music fans to collect cassettes? Information from the Discogs Database unveils some interesting developments over the last five and a half years.

increase in cassettes listed on discogs 2015-2021

Since 2015, the number of cassette releases added to the Discogs Database has increased almost every year. Part of this growth can be attributed to the number of new cassettes being released. Incredibly popular artists like Billie Eilish, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift have all released their recent albums on cassette in addition to vinyl, CD, and digital formats. We’ve also seen a return to cassettes in underground music. Bands like Poison Ruïn have kept the DIY cassette alive by self-releasing their own recordings, while labels like Sacred Bones offer cassette versions of the latest Molchat Doma and John Carpenter albums. 

The data also shows that older releases are being discovered or rediscovered as the amount of tapes listed for sale has grown significantly over the last several years. In 2020, over 600,600 cassettes were listed for sale on Discogs. This year still has a few months to go and we have already seen more than 1,000,000 cassette tapes listed for sale this year. 

Naturally, with more cassettes for sale, there are more cassettes to buy and members of the Discogs Community have continued to outbuy themselves every year since 2015. Looking at the data for 2021, it’s looking like this trend will continue. 

But why are people listing, selling, and buying so many cassettes? 

Vinyl sales have been booming for years with no sign of slowing down. The popularity of vinyl has contributed to higher prices across the board and cassettes have stepped back in as a cheaper alternative for those looking to own physical media. 

Millennials and Gen Z are looking for connectivity beyond the digital world. For Millennials, there is the nostalgia of returning to a format from their youth. For younger generations, there is the excitement of tapping into a culture that predates them. Most Gen Z kids have Gen X parents and many of them are discovering fashion trends and music formats from the ‘80s and ‘90s and embracing them the same way their parents did.  

The pandemic has also helped boost sales as concerts have been canceled. Tapes allow fans to engage with music in a physical way and support the artists they admire. 

While the data shows us that cassettes aren’t likely to come back the same way vinyl has, it appears that cassettes are here to stay. So, if you are looking to get into cassettes or relive your youth, now is the perfect time to grab that boombox or walkman and let those tape spools spin!