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Discovering a Strange New World on cassette

A rediscovered 1990s cassette

When I recently went through a box of old cassettes I was amazed to find so much music I had forgotten about. One of the songs I found was called "Strange New World" by Plastic Violents from 1992. David Conley, who hosted the local radio show "The Sound of Sacramento" on KWOD was the lead singer. It was like finding a nugget from the past that still sounds futuristic. David was talking about the project on Facebook, which gave me the idea to check my old library of cassettes. It turns out I have one of the last cassettes by Plastic Violets ever made. It made me wonder about not just how many other lost tunes I have on cassette, but all the other lost tunes that everyone else has on cassette. 

After I rediscovered the  song "Strange New World" I made a video of it for David on SacTV.com. He now lives in Monterey but still records music and plays live. Even though the video was just a thrown together slide show, suddenly this local song that was lost in the digitial revolution had a new life. Then I started to think about why there’s so much analog material that ddn’t transfer over to the digital world. Part of it was that the music was more demo quality than a finished product. Another reason so much of it got lost was time and cost. It takes time to transfer long form audio to a digital format. It also didn’t cost much to make tons of cassettes back then, but it can cost a lot to make tons of CDs.

It was in the early 90s when David began asking the audience for CDs instead of cassettes to play on the local show. That’s when Sacramento began to shift from a cassette town to a CD town, at least when it came to circulating local music. I remember when I met Steven Tyler of Aerosmith backstage at Cal Expo in 1988 he talked about how kids shared tapes of music, which he thought was the new way music was being discovered at the time. I remember as late as 1993 I still believed in the cassette as the medium for local talent. Cassettes sounded pretty listenable back then, except when the tape would stretch. It seemed reasonable to still send music on cassette as a demo to music industry professionals. Not anymore, of course.

Everything changed with the CD, the same way everything changed with downloads. The CD, which overtook vinyl and cassettes by the end of the 80s in sales, was more of a product that cost money to manufacture, whereas the cassette was a less expensive way to promote original music. These days the free digitial download or free streaming music plays the role the cassette once played.  So why doesn’t everyone transfer their box of cassette archives to the internet? Part of the problem is most people don’t have the time to do so. It can take a few hours to transfer an hour’s worth of analog audio to a digital format. For some people, it’s easier to forget about cassettes as old junk than to transfer them.

Then I came across a box of cassettes of old radio shows. I kept hundreds of hours of  "aircheck" tapes like all radio people have done of their on air broadcasts. I saved about 30 artist interviews that I transfered to digtial from cassette tapes. So there’s a lot of audio history sitting around in boxes all over Sacramento. I notice that there still isn’t a lot of Sacramento music history videos on YouTube, so it might make a fun project to get together with other musicians who want to share their gems of the past online. There’s still time to preserve a lot of local music from the 70s, 80s and 90s before the boxes get forgotten or tossed.

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