High Bias

The Distorted History of the Cassette Tape

By Marc Masters

High Bias

224 pp., 6 x 9, 27 halftones, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-7598-5
    Published: October 2023

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The cassette tape was revolutionary. Cheap, portable, and reusable, this small plastic rectangle changed music history. Make your own tapes! Trade them with friends! Tape over the ones you don't like! The cassette tape upended pop culture, creating movements and uniting communities.

This entertaining book charts the journey of the cassette from its invention in the early 1960s to its Walkman-led domination in the 1980s to decline at the birth of compact discs to resurgence among independent music makers. Scorned by the record industry for "killing music," the cassette tape rippled through scenes corporations couldn't control. For so many, tapes meant freedom—to create, to invent, to connect.

Marc Masters introduces readers to the tape artists who thrive underground; concert tapers who trade bootlegs; mixtape makers who send messages with cassettes; tape hunters who rescue forgotten sounds; and today's labels, which reject streaming and sell music on cassette. Their stories celebrate the cassette tape as dangerous, vital, and radical.

About the Author

Marc Masters is a music journalist whose work has appeared on NPR and in the Washington Post, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and Bandcamp Daily. He is author of No Wave.

For more information about Marc Masters, visit the Author Page.


"An affectionate ode . . . Masters constructs a lively and detailed case for the cassette as a vital driver of cultural creation. This charming history is sure to please anyone nostalgic for the mixtapes of yesteryear."—Publishers Weekly

"A thoroughly enjoyable romp . . . With energy, insight, and wit, Masters provides a welcome examination of an often overlooked cultural turning point."—Kirkus Reviews (STARRED review)

"This accessible primer unravels past and present uses and misuses of cassettes. . . . Masters builds a generous lineage, where it is clear that as much as ‘sounds realign magnetic particles on a tape . . . the tape realigns your brain.'"—The Wire

"A wonderful book, whose title is derived from the term for tape quality."—The Goo

"Tapeheads rejoice! Marc Masters has crafted a joyous but detailed history of the cassette, as quirky and personal as the mixtapes you used to make!"—Patton Oswalt, comedian and actor

"In this deliciously deep dive that spans from the birth of hip-hop to Deadhead show tapers to the Japanese underground, Masters reveals why cassettes continues to endure, deftly illuminating earlier analog eras and the very digital now."—Jessica Hopper, author of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic and Night Moves