Steve Stepp, president of the company, which bills itself as “the Great American Cassette Company,” credits their success to the power of nostalgia.
“You might think it’s the older demographic powering this,” Stepp said. “But it’s not. It’s the under-35 age group. They grew up listening to MP3s on earbuds and thought that’s what music sounded like.
“Then they listened to their grandpa’s vinyl LPs or cassette tapes and that group has now decided that’s what music should sound like, and the art is important on the packages as well. We have a very loyal audience. They experienced digital, and now they have experienced analogue.”
NAC’s production lines are full of still-functional machines built in the ’70s, a nostalgic technology made by other nostalgic technology.
Seventy percent of their annual product — and this may be the most surprising thing of all — is recorded music cassettes produced for large companies like Sony and Universal, as well as smaller contracts with indie labels, who favor tape for its “warm, analogue sound.” Only 30 percent are blank tapes.
Cassette tapes debuted more than 50 years ago, in 1963. About five years ago, Stepp told the Daily Dot, interest in tapes picked up again. This followed a downturn in demand that began in about 1995 with the apparent triumph of CDs. In that trough between the downturn and the uptick, NAC had gone around the country buying up the machinery that made the tapes as duplication houses and record labels turned their backs.
In the event that you might think this a quick, hipster-driven bubble, there is one aspect of the new cassette culture that indicates it is not.
About 2010, indie label heads told Stepp they were having to go out to garage sales to find tape decks that allowed them to play the tapes they liked. So Stepp approached Tascam TEAC, the one-time 600-pound gorilla of tape deck manufacturing, and asked them if they would retool their line and start building decks again. They initially had no interest, but last year that is exactly what they began to do.
“They’re not going to do that for a six-month phenomenon,” Stepp said. “We are acting as distributors for them and we are selling them as fast as we can get them in, by the pallette!”
Convenience dictates much of our technology use. Who wants to have to stick around home waiting for a phone call — or rely on a clumsy machine to take messages — when we have phones verging on full computers that ride in a pocket?
But music is not something we have to do, it’s something we get to do. And sometimes tactility connects us further to the art we consume.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Dot. More from The Daily Dot you might like: