High Bias

The Distorted History of the Cassette Tape

By Marc Masters

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

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-7598-5
    Published: October 2023
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-7599-2
    Published: September 2023

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Awards & distinctions

Finalist, 2024 Best Historical Research on Record Labels or General Recording Topics, Association for Recorded Sound Collections

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.


"High Bias makes a persuasive case that . . . cassette-based activity functions as a sort of understory in the forest of music, a substructure in the shadows that nurtures and fortifies the canopy of successful commercial artists above. . . . An extended, paperbound mixtape of cassette-based music. . . . Revelatory."—New Yorker

"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

"Not just for the Gen X-ers on your list, but for anyone curious about the history, cultural and otherwise, of the humble cassette tape . . . This charmer of a book goes down fast and easy. . . . He does it all with narrative economy, academic rigor, a personal touch, and genial good humor. A gem."—Esquire

"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 loving tribute . . . High Bias is a clever taxonomy of cassette culture and its various subcults."—Wall Street Journal