Cassettes makes a niche comeback

The humble cassette — that tiny little plastic rectangle containing the homemade mixtapes of yesteryear — is back, joining vinyl as a darling of audiophiles who miss side A and side B.

But as top musicians, including Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber, release their music on tape and demand continues to climb, the niche revival has faced a global shortage of music-quality magnetic tape needed for production.

Now, two facilities — one in the American Midwest and the other in western France — have stepped in to meet the need.

“It’s a good place to be — there’s plenty of business for both of us,” said Steve Stepp, who founded the National Audio Company in Missouri with his father 50 years ago.

He said that around 2000 the “imperial hegemony of the CD” cut his business, which stayed alive as a major manufacturer of books on tape that remained popular.

But despite the astronomical rise of streaming, Mr. Stepp said rock bands like Pearl Jam and The Smashing Pumpkins began seeking to manufacture anniversary tapes in the mid-2000s, launching a cassette comeback tour. “That convinced record labels that there was still life in the cassette as a music form,” he said.

Since November, Mulann — a French company — has rebooted production, the country’s first manufacturing of music-grade tape in two decades.

The Mulann group acquired a plant to produce analog audio tapes under the trademark Recording The Masters.

For Jean-Luc Renou, Mulann’s CEO, there’s still a place for analog sound in today’s music world.

Cassette tape album sales in the U.S. grew by 23% in 2018, jumping from 1,78,000 copies the year prior to 2,19,000.


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