SINGAPORE: Before Spotify, Apple Music and CDs, there were cassette tapes as a cheap way to distribute and savour music, and some in Singapore are pushing for a comeback of the medium.
Consider it an off-shoot of the vinyl craze, which has crept across the country. Mr Nick Tan, 45, owner of music record store Hear Records noted that the number of stores selling vinyl records has increased here. “Four years back, when we first started, there were about 13 to 15 places in Singapore that you could find selling vinyl,” he said.
“Basically vinyl at that point in time was only associated with two kinds of people – the older folks that actually like their 70s and 80s stuff and audiophiles – but now we have more than 35 places in Singapore selling vinyl, with an increase in the younger crowd as well.”
Musician Frank Lee told Channel NewsAsia there is a shift away from digital music to something more authentic.
“Digital is just kind of a crazy desire to make everything absolute, and the scary thing is that sometimes it loses a bit of the humanity in the sound with the absolute drive towards this sterility,” said the 24-year-old.
Most musicians are no longer looking for "the perfect studio sound", he said. “It's no longer about music the way it's meant to be heard, but rather, music the way it could be heard.
“A cassette tape is a very interesting body that houses a possibility of imperfections and chance encounters. It creates a mental space where you’re really more connected to the vibrations rather than the sounds."
Since 2011, Lee has been recording his own work on such tapes and buying albums from his favourite bands on cassette. “You don’t really know the band too well, but you want something to remember them by - you’d try to support them by getting the tapes, because it looks cool and is not too expensive,” he said.
And at just S$2 a pop to make, cassette tapes sound like a better option compared to records, which cost up to S$30 a piece.
Mr Mohd Zafran, who runs Surface Noise Records, agreed with Mr Lee: “To me, life isn’t perfect, so why is there a need for a perfect medium? It’s always very nice to have something physical to hold, to understand and appreciate the effort of the band."
He added that using cassette tapes allows him and other musicians to be spontaneous and to react quickly to market demand. “It’s a low-risk commitment,” he said. “For vinyl records, the turnover is about four to five months and for tapes, it can just take two weeks to do. It’s the cheapest format, especially in Southeast Asia. Kids in Indonesia would rather pay for tapes than records because the latter is too expensive.”
Still, Hear Records' Mr Tan points out there is a risk in investing in cassette tapes. “What if one day the consumers decides that it’s not cool anymore? Then retailers would be holding on to lots of stock on a medium that nobody wants anymore. I can’t say for now, but recession and a bad economy will affect sales too,” he said.
Getting your hands on a functioning tape player is tricky as well. “It’s quite difficult to find tape decks or cassette players, but obviously there's always an alternative whereby you can go to forums and Carousell to find a second-hand tape player," said Mr Zafran.
“It’s hard to maintain and sometimes you need to do some tweaking, but I hope this resurgence of tapes will cause companies to start making tape decks again.”