Thought For The Day

BBC Radio Berkshire asked me on to talk about the tape revival this morning. The questions were (of course) all framed in terms of how CRAZY it is that anyone releases on tape in 2020, but I tried to deflect that a little and explain what I love about tapes. It was fun, but inevitably brief.

If they’d have offered me a 3-minute Thought For The Day style uninterrupted slot, here’s what I would have said instead:

For a new band starting out in 2020, the prospect of uploading a release to the streaming services is grim. Spotify has around 40,000 tracks uploaded every day, and they all look the same – the identity of the artist is secondary to the identity of the service itself. The “release” is now a non-event: the band compulsively refreshes an app at midnight until their music appears then has a quick high five before bed. The chance of anyone featuring (never mind discovering or listening to) your music is vanishingly slim. And the play counts are right there on your profile to show the world just how unpopular you are.

Contrast that with the excitement of receiving a box of brand new beautiful tapes a couple of weeks before the release date and lovingly gifting them to band members and friends; sitting around the table disassembling them to insert download codes before carefully putting them back together; listening to the first copy (side A, side B); taking and sharing photos; finally packing them up ready for the merch table at your first gig. Doesn’t that just sound more wholesome? It’s an actual human experience with friends. You have physical proof of your work. It feels great!

New bands can’t afford vinyl. That’s not to say that tapes are great just because they’re cheap, but it certainly makes them more accessible. The joy of making music is never really about making money (whether or not you try and/or succeed in creating financial success around your music), and a tape release is never going to cause much financial stress. You can make 5 copies, duplicate them yourself and print the J-card at home for almost nothing. Or you can have 50 copies professionally duplicated and printed (like we do) and make something really beautiful without a huge up-front investment.

Physical releases are (obviously) more tangible than digital, and I think that’s a big deal. I like to collect music, to feel a sense of ownership. My music collection is a huge part of my identity, and a hard drive full of MP3s has never fulfilled that function for me. I understand that a lot of people don’t think like that at all – I think streaming works perfectly for 90% of people. They want to press a button and have music that (someone else has decided) they (should) like play in the background until they hit stop. But for the rest of us, the enthusiasts, the collectors, the musicians and the nerds, that’s just not an attractive proposition. We want to listen to albums, obsess over bands, read liner notes, discover everything about the release, make mix tapes and playlists, share music with friends, talk about it endlessly and never EVER have something we didn’t choose start playing after the end of an album. (When an album ends I want silence, unless I chose to enable auto-repeat.)

But having said all of that, I think the radio questions (like all press about The Tape Revival) almost always miss the point: tape labels aren’t really about tapes. Releasing tapes is a declaration of identity. We are not for everyone. We refuse to fit into the mainstream cultural sorting box. We demand and encourage active engagement. We want people to think about the place of music in the world, in their lives, in the lives of musicians. We want people to be pissed off and make jokes about how tapes are fiddly, noisy, vacuous hipster bait. We want people to see what we’re doing and decide whether they’re into it or not. We think that music shouldn’t quietly slip into the world with a midnight app refresh. It should land, BAM, with an impact. We want this music to change people’s lives forever. We’re not making Muzak here, people. Tapes. Are. Back.

Something like that, anyway. ✨