Familiar to anyone who grew up in the 1980s and 90s, the cassette tape is enjoying a comeback with many big name artists releasing albums on tape.
Taylor Swift's album Reputation, Jay-Z's 4:44, Lana Del Ray's Lust For Life and Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy soundtracks have all been offered on cassette as well as in download and CD format, and are selling well at retailers like Urban Outfitters, which also offers cassette players and recorders with USB adaptability.
And French company Mulann – based near Mont St Michel – has seized the opportunity and rebooted production, the country's first manufacturing of music-grade tape in two decades.
(Taylor Swift is one of several high profile artists releasing her music on cassette. Photo: AFP)
Already selling magnetic tape for metro tickets or military recording studios, the Mulann group acquired a plant in November 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 ephemeral music world.
“Take the example of heating: you have radiators at home. It's comfortable, it's digital – but next to you, you can make a good fire.”
“Pleasure” is the goal, he said: “That's the cassette or vinyl.”
The company sells tapes for €3.49 each, producing them by the thousands each month and exporting 95 percent worldwide, according to commercial director Theo Gardin, who at just 27 is too young to have experienced in his youth the joys — and pains — of the Walkman personal tape player, or the delicate strip of tape that tangles up and must be rewound with, say, a pen. Or a finger.
Joining Mulann in the cassette business is the National Audio Company in Springfield, Missouri, USA, which has also begun manufacturing cassette tape again.
“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 Springfield, Missouri with his father 50 years ago.
“I think it's got a bright future,” Stepp told AFP of the cassette market.
“It died in 2000, as far as conventional wisdom was concerned, and it has made a strong comeback since.
“Reports of its death were greatly exaggerated.”
Cassette tape album sales in the US grew by 23 percent in 2018, according to tracker Nielsen Music, jumping from 178,000 copies the year prior to 219,000.
It's nothing compared to 1994 sales of 246 million cassette albums, but significant considering the format was all but dead by the mid 2000s.
“As an old fogey I don't want to imagine a world with no analog,” Stepp said.
“The world around is analog; our ears are analog.
“Digital recordings are very clean and sharp but there are no harmonics. These are digital pictures of audio recordings, if you will.”