National Audio Company, which is located in Springfield Missouri, is the last factory in the United States that still manufactures cassette tapes. You’d think they would be on the constant brink of extinction, since their line of work revolves around a defunct audio format, but that’s not the case. In fact, 2015 may have been their biggest sales year ever, and 2016 is already on track to be an even stronger year.
That’s according to Robert Coverston, National Audio Company’s chief technician, who narrates and details the factory’s history and current status in the video above made by Great Big Story. Coverston explains that although for many years the company wasn’t exactly thriving, the past five years have seen a resurgence of interest in cassette tapes as a format. The sound is unique; cassettes are often said to have a “warmer” vibe than other audio formats. But that’s not the only reason why people like cassettes.
You know the biggest reason: nostalgia. And sometimes that nostalgia is for a time that happened before the consumer was even born. Many of the people who are into cassette tapes now are twenty-somethings who could be too young to have ever bought them in stores. Personally, I grew up with cassettes, but I’m turning 30 this year, and I only listened to them in elementary school; by middle school I was buying CDs and MiniDiscs (remember MiniDiscs?). Anyone who is a few years younger than I am probably didn’t grow up with cassettes, but they might just like the idea of them because of the era with which they’re associated. A lot of ’80s fashion and music stylings are “cool” again, why not not bring cassettes back too?
I think the other reason why cassettes have caught on with indie bands, as Coverston describes in the video, is that they’re relatively cheap to make. A lot of bands want to put their record on vinyl for similarly nostalgic reasons, but it still costs a couple thousand dollars to create even a small batch print of vinyl records. If you do make a vinyl record, you could provide it to professional DJs, but you’ll end up with a lot left over to sell and it can be difficult to recoup costs. Cassette tapes, on the other hand, just don’t cost that much to make, yet they still have a nostalgic quality to them. The prices on National Audio Company’s website are pretty darn low, so I can understand why plenty of indie bands have decided to create small batch runs of cassettes.
Of course, many indie bands still make CDs, which I’m sure will be seen as “nostalgic” and therefore cool in another decade or so. Digital music is great because it’s way easier to make it and sell it; recording technology has become so much more accessible now in the post-analog age. Still, there’s something to be said for creating a physical piece of art, designing liner notes, deciding what color the tape (or record, or CD) should be, what the font should look like, and so on. It’s just fun and it’s another delightful form of expression to characterize your music. It’s nice to see that there’s at least one company that still exists to help you make a small run of cassettes, if that’s your thing. After watching this, I almost wanted to put one out myself!