This article originally appeared on Performer Magazine.
If you're an indie musician, there's a good chance you're interested in making physical product of your recordings. Although CDs and vinyl are positioned as the standard for physical media, and are certainly valid depending on your audience, demographic, and/or region, they may not be the format that would serve you best. Maybe, just maybe, you should be considering making some tapes. Yes, you read that right. Audio cassette tapes are still manufactured today, and many plants that make vinyl records and/or CDs still manufacture the good ol' cassette. These are some of the reasons you might consider making tapes.
The compact size and weight of a cassette makes handling and shipping tapes easy. Shipping rates will only increase. Once packaged up, a standard LP weighs over a pound, while a cassette will be about four ounces – a big difference when shipping. Going on tour? Don't want to lug around a 50-pound box of records from show to show and worry about warping? Tapes!
Tapes, like vinyl records, are an analog format. They have a unique "warm" sound, and they wear out over time. Also, like records, on the right playback system tapes can sound phenomenal. [Editor’s note: I can vouch for that. I have a properly maintained Nakamichi tape deck that will make even the crustiest flea-market tapes sound breathtaking.]
Cassettes can be made professionally in super small runs as low as 50 or 100 units for $1 to $2 per unit, depending on length and artwork options. In most cases, you'd have to order 1,000 CDs to get a per-unit rate that would beat that. Vinyl is so expensive to make, it's not even worth talking about. This low cost can be passed on to the consumer and local record shop. At $5 to $8 retail, everyone makes something, and you keep the money where it should be.
Currently, record plants are completely backed up by major labels with senseless reissues for Record Store Day (and the even sillier Black Friday RSD). Boo! Professional CDs require a glass stamper to be made and generally take a few weeks. Tapes are super quick! Just send in files for your artwork, a prepared master, and in a week or so, professional looking and sounding tapes should be ready for you and your fans.
5. Download codes
If you need a download code, you can purchase codes from Bandcamp inexpensively and insert the codes into the tape cases. Easy!
6. The DIY aesthetic
If you want to leave out the manufacturing plants, you can make tapes at home if you have a second deck or a dubbing deck. People respond to short runs and handmade artwork. It gives fans a real connection with your art, something no mass-produced product can do.
Cassette players can be found inexpensively and most quality repair shops still work on cassette decks. Also, many old cars have cassette decks.
In a time when supposedly everything is at our fingertips and it’s so hard to engage people because big money has all the attention, maybe making 50 or 100 special little copies on a format we refuse to acknowledge as obsolete is just the right thing to connect with people. The rest can grab the download.
Three companies that still manufacture tapes:
- National Audio Company (NAC) – 309 E Water St, Springfield, MO, 65806 – (417) 863-1925
- M2Communications – 235 Bellefontaine Street, Pasadena, CA 91105 – (626) 441-2024
- ENAS Media – 5018 Lante St, Baldwin Park, CA 91706 – (626) 962-1115
If you're thinking about releasing your music on cassette, learn more about analog recording techniques.
Trevor Baade is the owner of Jacknife Records & Tapes, a music shop in Atwater Village, CA, that stocks an equal amount of vinyl records, compact discs, and audio cassette tapes, honoring the three formats equally. The shop also releases new music by artists such as My Hawaii and Miles Cooper Seaton of Akron/Family, as well as classic music like early Daptone Records albums, all on tape. For more, visit www.jackniferecordsandtapes.com.