Timothy Malcolm: Cassette tapes and vinyl records are back in the groove
Posted Jan. 4, 2016 at 5:28 PM
Because I’m a millennial, I’ve been thinking lately about buying a turntable.
Yes, I know it’s really a record player, but I don’t necessarily consider the things they’re selling at Urban Outfitters – the millennial-focused clothing store – actual record players. These are cute, colorful boxes where, inside, you find a turntable with a needle. There you can play your records, like the newest classic from the Weeknd. Did you know the Weeknd has about 20 different vinyl records out?
If I’ve lost you, The Weeknd has that song “I Can’t Feel My Face.” It’s about drugs. He also has the song “The Hills.” That’s also about drugs.
Anyway, I own a couple vinyl records, including Talking Heads’ “Fear of Music” and Elvis Costello’s “Armed Forces,” among others. I would like to play these and, yes, would like to own and play more vinyl. Every few months I’ll stumble into Jack’s Rhythms and Rhino Records, peruse the shelves and think, “This is the day I buy Steely Dan’s ‘Katy Lied.’ … OK, next time.”
But recently, while pacing inside Urban Outfitters, I noticed it wasn’t just about vinyl anymore. Suddenly we’re back to cassettes, those plastic cartridges filled with that annoying tape that gets away from you and suddenly, yup, no more cassette.
The store was carrying a collection of cassettes, but we’re not talking about a bargain bin filled with six copies of Amy Grant’s “Heart in Motion.” These were new, fresh cassettes from today’s hottest artists. Did you know The Weeknd has about five different cassettes out?
According to the Recording Industry Association of America, vinyl sales were 52.1 percent higher in the first half of 2015 as compared to the same time in 2014. During that same period, CD sales declined 32.5 percent. The rate of vinyl sales is even surpassing streaming services like Spotify, whose “Discover” playlist – sent to you once a week based on your previous Spotify choices – acts like a mix tape made for you by a close friend.
Urban Outfitters is looking at the youngest millennials, who use Instagram and Snapchat to share everything with their very closest friends. The cassette – which allows for a culture of easily creating and sharing mixes for friends – is its opportunity to reach those people through music. I’m not sure we’ll be getting a Walkman renaissance in 2016, but just be on the lookout for more cassettes. And parents of kids ages 15-25: Your kid may be interested.
Me? I’m still looking for a turntable. That was confirmed to me last week while visiting my dad.
I don’t think Dad read my column about sharing music with my future kid, so I’m pretty sure it was serendipitous that, after a lovely holiday dinner, Dad brought us to his apartment to show off his new … turntable. He wanted to play a record that touched him when he was 25, “The Kenny Rankin Album.”
He dropped the needle, and the smoothest strings and lightest percussion soared through. Then came Kenny’s voice. The late singer had a voice like velvet. Dad kept his ear close to the record. He smiled. He exhaled happily. I felt so overjoyed.
Read more from Timothy at tsmalcolm.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.