Now available in physical ZINE format for purchase at https://sludgepeople.merchtable.com/zines/sludge-people-how-to-release-a-tape-zine
Everything you read here is merely advice and opinions based on the experiences of someone who wants to help!
PART 1: How to listen
“Tapes sound like shit”.
The biggest hurdle you’ll face in any cassette discussion with the real world is that interest in this format is stupid and it sounds terrible. Everyone’s a critic. Casual listeners unknowingly suffered poorly dubbed cassettes played on department store-level systems. The people who remember winding back the tape back in 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, despite the allure of a USB port or the concept of Bluetooth. The public stopped believing in this format long ago, so no reputable business will invest real money in manufacturing a quality player – they’re just trying to take your money. I hope that changes somewhere down the line, but until then that means you have to be clever and do some detective work. I say build your own system or refurbish an old Walkman.
This won’t be easy, especially as time goes on and the demand for these vintage products increases. Your best bet is to search thrift stores or look online. My main setup was built from various Facebook Marketplace purchases for a total of $40. That includes a receiver, which is a must if you want to hear the true quality of a cassette. Search often! So many gems pop up and it scratches the itch that comes with the thrill of the hunt. Speakers are still made great and budget-friendly though. Sure, the dream is always vintage, but you can still easily find a receiver and speakers out in the mainstream.
PART 2: SET-UP & MANUFACTURING
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 and there are a lot of options out there. Here is where I used to stress about finding a place that had Chrome tape, but it no longer exists. It sucks because it was the greatest and now all that is left is Ferric… which isn’t the best. Ferric remains a roll of the dice, but most places are starting to offer a premium option from Recording the Masters. It’s not Chrome (sigh), but it’s the best we’re going to get right now. I’ve had some really good results with it so far and I hope that trend continues.
I should note that I’m not really an audiophile, but it isn’t hard to hear when someone didn’t care. One of the best feelings is when a band compliments the work you’ve done with their music, be it in presentation and/or sound. There’s been a handful of times when an artist has told me that the tape pressing of their album is the best-sounding version on any format 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, so why not spend a few more dollars to take first prize in a band’s heart? The price difference on most upgrades is so tiny that it’s absolutely worth doing.
So which manufacturer should you choose? My #1 pick is Duplication. I stopped using National Audio Company because I found the sound from their Ferric tapes sub-par, but in the last year it seems to have improved. I’m not as afraid to buy a tape that was made by them anymore, but I’ve never been afraid to listen to anything from Duplication. I stopped using National at the beginning of 2020 for my projects because I was sick of the sound risk and the lack of basic communication on project delays. I run a tape label, I’m obviously not rich and each project is funded with my hard-earned money – the least I could be buying is peace of mind.
My favorite tapes were made at Duplication, a company I kept hearing about for a few years but I like to be loyal. Once I soured on National, I pulled the trigger on our first chrome tape from Duplication (Brian Mietz‘s Panzarotti – sold out on chrome but back on RTM!) and it’s been a fantastic relationship ever since. With them, you get a company that is constantly evolving to provide the best possible product, a thicker j-card, and A+ customer service. They care and aren’t just trying to cash out on a passing fad.
This probably goes without saying, but also make sure you’re sending over the best quality audio files so it can sound the absolute best it can. You wouldn’t send 320 mp3s to get vinyl made. Request a test tape, at least until you’ve built trust. 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 could mean some company is inclined to create new Chrome tape or manufacture a Walkman worth a damn.
It’s such a minor price difference to add an extra panel or so to a j-card, why skimp out? Cassettes are handheld and portable, which gives them an edge over all other formats, and we need all of the edges we can get in the music wars! Remember sitting in your bedroom 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. Have some fun – get an o-card, make multiple colors, or do a dance or something. It’s a party!
If you need help with this, I will gladly design any j-card for $35. Get in touch!
PART 3: COMMERCE
“Tapes sound like shit”.
Maybe that’s why people buy cassettes and never listen to them. I don’t like it, but I’ll gladly take their money. If you include a download code, that audience has a better chance of listening to what they purchased someday and it’s a reward to your loyal listeners who want to take the music with them on the road.
Include a code if you can. It’s not always possible with our releases due to licensing or a band’s request, but I’m always pushing for it. They get a great response and as a consumer myself, I understand that feeling entirely. Nearly every artist has a Bandcamp (they should!) and thankfully they make it real easy to generate codes.