How to release a tape
(2022 note: Hi! Part of this quickly became outdated due to dwindling supplies in the industry. Duplication ran out of Chrome tape and I’m still testing what’s available to see what I’m ready to suggest. Stay tuned for a full update!)
This is really more ‘How to Release a Tape the SLUDGE PEOPLE Way‘ than a general guide. What does that entail? Professionally manufactured cassettes and giving your fellow tape fan the best product that you possibly can. That means no DIY tapes or shells that have a sticker on the face instead of ink printed directly on it. I still buy those tapes, I get it and no shame to you, but I just think it can be done better for almost the same cost. Why not spend a tiny bit more to make something that is noticed from the shelf?
Everything you’re about to read is just advice and opinions from someone who’s lived it and wants to help!
“Tapes sound like shit.” The biggest hurdle you’ll face in selling the world on this format is that cassette tapes sound terrible. This comes from years of poorly dubbed cassettes or the fact that everyone listened to them on the worst system. The people who remember winding tape with a pencil were not using high end equipment, I guarantee it. You may be glad to see that “they still make Walkmans” but they’re pure trash, I don’t care how cool a USB port or Bluetooth is. No one believes in this format anymore, so no reputable business will invest real money in manufacturing a quality player – they’re out for your money. This means you will have to be clever, do some detective work and build your own system (more on that further below, see ‘How to Listen’).
Ok, beyond the player how can you make sure the tape you’re releasing sounds great? You’ll need to find the right duplication company. There are a lot of options out there, but the important thing to look for is if they offer Chrome tape. The audio difference in Chrome vs Ferric is night and day, and I’ve had 0 issues with Chrome and a billion with Ferric. I should note that I’m not really an audiophile, I just notice things when they’re especially noticeable. One of the greatest feelings is when a band compliments the work you’ve done with their music, be it in presentation and sound. There’s been a handful of times where someone has told me that the tape edition of their album is the best sounding version and that’s the kind of compliment that sends me over the fucking moon! Vinyl production is in such a bad place right now sound-wise, why not spend a few dollars more to take first place in a band’s heart? The price difference on most upgrades are so tiny that it’s absolutely worth doing.
The only manufacturer I see currently offering Chrome is Duplication. National Audio Company used to have it (it’s actually where I first learned of the stuff), but they ran out years ago and have since been making their own Ferric tapes that sound sub-par in my opinion. The problem seems to stem from the machinery they’re using to make the tape – it isn’t even an actual tape machine, it’s a repurposed credit card machine that would put the strips on back of the cards. Sometimes you can tell if it’s going to sound extra bad by seeing a difference in the darkness of the tape from inside the shell, or at times it will have noticeable creases. It’s rare that they sound ok and you’re always rolling the dice, fearing the tape when you put it in and press play. Sub Pop and Drag City use them exclusively it seems, and it’s such a bummer knowing a Smog reissue I was pumped for sounds like total garbage. No one at these labels even bother to quality check or get it corrected. I stopped using National at the beginning of 2020 as I was sick of the risk and the lack of communication on project delays. This is tapes, I’m obviously not wealthy so each project is funded with my hard earned money – the least I could be buying is peace of mind. My friends By Surprise released their album Cosmic Latte on tape at the end of 2019 and I was so impressed with their j card – it was so thick! Turns out they got their tapes made at Duplication, a company I kept hearing about for a few years but unsure of what in my collection they were responsible for. I pulled the trigger on our first chrome tape from Duplication – it was Brian Mietz‘s Panzarotti, and while it sold out because it’s a goddamn great album, I don’t think the quality hurt word of mouth at all. People I trust with great listening systems all had nothing but compliments for the sound.
So not only will you get a thicker j card with your project to start, but also Chrome is available and WORTH IT. I’ve had 2 Ferric releases with Duplication, purely because the shell color requested by the bands weren’t available for Chrome, and they actually sound awesome! It’s not my preferred method obviously, but it was nice to know that if it had to be done it could be done properly. If you’re going to go with Ferric, my suggestion is to still use Duplication or anywhere that isn’t National Audio or outsourced to National. It shows that everyone can offer the same thing but it really depends on how much a company gives a shit about what they do vs. just trying to cash out on a passing fad.
This probably goes without saying, but make sure you’re sending over the best quality audio files so they have the best quality to send back to you. Request a test tape, at least until you’ve built trust. With Duplication I only got one (for a Ferric project) and I don’t think I’ll ever get a test tape from them again – I can press play on what they give me with confidence. Everyone there is responsive, fun and beyond helpful. It’s a dream to have zero complaints about a place you do business with.
Chrome tape is running out. I shouldn’t have even suggested any of this to you because it just means less for me, but I care about this format and want it to sound the best that it possibly can when I buy a copy from you. If everyone demands quality it means people are more inclined to create new Chrome tape or a Walkman worth a damn.
Use as much source art that you can
It’s such a minor price difference to add an extra panel to a J Card, why skimp out? Cassettes are handheld and portable, which gives them an edge over other formats – with the amount of shit talk on tapes, we need all of the edges we can get! Remember sitting in your room listening to a great album and obsessing over the liners? Tapes can bring back that experience (holding an LP for long periods of time sounds like a nuisance to a weak old man like myself), so why not take advantage and try to make something memorable and timeless?
Include lyrics if you can. If the band sends over a ton of art for the album from the LP or CD, use all of it. When I’m working on a reissue, I’m imagining that it came out at the same time as the other formats. Let the art tell you how many panels your j card will need.
If you need help with this, I will design any J Card for $30. Get in touch!
A DOWNLOAD CODE HELPS THE MEDICINE GO DOWN
Give a download code if you can. It’s not always possible with our releases due to licensing or the band’s request, but I’m always trying. The codes always get a great response from the consumer and as a consumer myself I understand that feeling entirely. Nearly every band has a Bandcamp (they should!) and thankfully they make it real easy to generate codes.
How to listen
Honestly, this will be the hardest part. Your best bet is to search thrift stores or save up like $150 for a vintage player that is either refurbished or unopened. I built my current setup from Facebook Marketplace for a total of $40 (that includes a receiver, which is a must if you want to hear the true quality of your cassette). I’ve also found the Napa Valley wooden tape shelves there for $10 or under instead of at the inflated prices you’ll see online. It’s all about the thrill of the hunt, and if you do it right and often you will walk away the victor. Speakers, however, are still made great and budget friendly. The dream is always vintage, but you can still easily find a receiver and speakers so no need to make those a priority in your thrift store trips.
Also: if you look hard enough you can find replacement belts and frequency tapes online to refurbish a Walkman yourself. YouTube tutorials are probably the greatest thing that service has given us, so look around for your model and give it a shot!
“Don’t sweat the petty, pet the sweaty”