Masa, cassette player and me – Compact cassette transforming listening culture in 1970–1990

4/2012

Heikki Uimonen

Since early 1970s compact cassettes and portable cassette players have changed collective, personal and mobile music listening in Finland. According to recent study preferred music was transported to practically any place thinkable. This early ubiquitous listening was enabled by the launching of cassette players, extensive network of LP and cassette retailers and Yleisradio (Finnish Broadcasting Company) music contents, but most notably because of home taping.

In Finland cassette has gained scholarly interests among researchers on music technology and music business. However, the studies concerning the actual use of cassette music in listening situations or on individual and social practices created by music listeners have remained scarce. This paper seeks to answer in which ways the diverse uses of compact cassette changed music consumption and listening practices, how compact cassette was domesticated and what where the technological and cultural conditions affecting to this change from 1970s to 1990s.

The article draws on quantitative research material provided by Internet questionnaire (2010) with nearly 1000 answers dealing with memories on cassette use. The article suggests that it was the inexpensive blank tape, its durability, mobility and replaceable contents combined to the novel ways of domestication that transformed music listening for good. Different generations domesticated the cassette in different ways depending on the age and the availability of contemporary music sources such as LPs and radio music programmes. The success of cassette was further advanced by the fact that unlike broadcast music and record companies’ releases the contents of cassette could be freely compiled individually or collectively which democratized the music availability and sharing of music. The easy-to-use cassette was not only easily domesticated but also conveniently applied in domesticating different surroundings with music.