Resurgence of Cassette Tapes: A Throwback Trend in the U.S Music Industry

Cassette tape album sales witnessed a notable uptick, with sales soaring by 28% to reach 440,000, up from 343,000 in 2021.

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According to the 2022 U.S. Luminate Year-End Music Report, a surprising comeback occurred in the music industry this year. Cassette tape album sales witnessed a notable uptick, with sales soaring by 28% to reach 440,000, up from 343,000 in 2021.

Though cassette tape sales accounted for only a sliver of the entire physical album sales market (precisely, 0.44%), it represents a significant comeback for a medium that was almost extinct just a few years ago. To put it into perspective, cassette sales stood at a mere 74,000 in 2015.

In 2022, total album sales — encompassing all formats, both digital and physical — touched the 100.09 million mark. Physical album sales, which include CDs, vinyl LPs, cassettes, and other specialized physical formats, accounted for 79.89 million. Hence, cassette tapes made up 0.55% of the physical album sales last year.

There was a time, specifically from the early 1980s to the early 1990s, when cassettes reigned supreme in the U.S. album purchase market. Today, cassettes have transformed into a niche product, aimed at dedicated fans and often sold exclusively on artists’ websites and as collector’s items. Cassettes are frequently produced in unique colors, exemplified by Billie Eilish’s pink-colored ‘Happier Than Ever’ tape and Ghost’s metallic gold ‘Impera’ tape.

The Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 soundtrack held the distinction of being the top-selling cassette album of 2022, with 17,000 copies flying off the shelves. The Guardians franchise further staked its claim in the cassette tape resurgence, with two other related titles in the top 10 (ranking 3rd and 6th). The significance of cassette mixtapes within the Guardians storyline certainly explains their popularity. The three Guardians cassette albums that made the top 10 list have collectively sold more than 238,000 copies since their original release.

Here is a glimpse at the top-selling cassette albums in the U.S. in 2022:

  1. Soundtrack, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: Awesome Mix Vol. 2 (17,000)
  2. Taylor Swift, Midnights (14,000)
  3. Soundtrack, Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 (13,000)
  4. Harry Styles, Harry’s House (11,000)
  5. Billie Eilish, Happier Than Ever (8,000)
  6. Soundtrack, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Mix, Vol. 1 (8,000)
  7. Nirvana, Bleach (7,000)
  8. Bo Burnham, Inside (The Songs) (5,000)
  9. Bad Bunny, YHLQMDLG (5,000)
  10. Ghost, Impera (5,000)

Data Source: Luminate, for the tracking period from Dec. 31, 2021, to Dec. 29, 2022.

This fascinating shift serves as a reminder that old trends can return, breathing new life into almost forgotten formats, and the allure of nostalgia is ever-present in the music industry.

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