Nova Scotia

Got a boom box? Why this Cape Breton band records on cassette tapes

Pop-rock band Strongboy says there are advantages to releasing their music on cassette rather than on vinyl or CD.

Cassettes are indeed making a comeback, says a music industry distributor

Strongboy, a band out of Cape Breton, is recording its new album on cassette tapes. From the left are Tyler Popwell (guitar), Alex Sheppard (bass), Brett Jerrett(guitar and vocals) and Seamus O'Neill (drums). (Kate Giffin)

There are young people today who've never even seen a cassette tape, let alone listened to one.

But it's the format a band from Cape Breton has chosen to distribute its new album.

Strongboy, a four-piece pop rock band, says there are some practical reasons for the unusual choice.

"You tend to have to wait a long time to have CDs mass-produced and people are not really buying CDs very much anymore," says bass player Alex Sheppard.

"Vinyl [is] incredibly expensive to produce."

Cassette tape like a souvenir

Sheppard says he personally loves the sound of tapes. The band will also release their music digitally, and he admits most fans will probably listen online.

"I don't think that many people are listening to the cassette, to be honest," he said.

"I think that there's a few people that have tape decks that they listen to them in. But for the most part, people will buy the cassette just to have it and probably listen to us on their iPods or on their laptops."

But some fans still like to have music in a format they can touch.

The cassette tape is "more like a souvenir than an actual thing to listen to and I think it's a nice format — pocket-sized," Sheppard said. 

Band gaining international fans

Old-fashioned technology aside, Strongboy, whose members now live in Halifax, is gaining international attention on sites such as Spotify and YouTube, with numbers spiking across North America and also in Asia. 

The band's song, Steady, was picked up by a popular YouTuber who then posted it on his channel and within a few days, it had close to 400,000 views — or more accurately — listens. 

Surprisingly, the seemingly archaic method of cassette tapes is actually gaining traction among some music lovers.

"The growth of it has just been insane," says Josh Andrews, the owner of Human Sounds Records and Strongboy's distributor in Atlanta, Ga. He's been distributing tapes for bands for several years now. 

Hands-on music format

"In 2014, we'd be selling like 25 cassettes and now some of the artists sell hundreds of cassettes,"  Andrews said.

He added some fans also just want to support a band, rather than just listening for free online.

"A cassette is something that they own, they know it's going to support the music. They get the digital files too, so it's a win in all aspects."

Andrews sends many tapes to an exclusive cassette tape store in Tokyo, where he said Strongboy is a favourite. 

"The cassette is just going all over the world," Andrews said. "So it's really cool to see."