Forget vinyl, cassette tapes are the hippest new format from the past

cassette tapes thrive 80s nostalgia
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Vinyl records aren’t the only analog music media undergoing a revival in the modern era. A company that specializes in another nostalgic format — cassette tapes — just had its best year ever.

Springfield, Missouri-based National Audio Company (NAC), which opened in 1969, produced 10 million tapes last year according to a Bloomberg. report. The company noted that cassette sales are up 20 percent year-over-year, with 70 percent of the sales in the music category. The news follows the aging format’s recent resurgence on a broader scale, which has resulted in cassette-only record labels, an annual Cassette Store Day, and even a cassette re-release of Metallica’s debut record Hit the Lights.

NAC is the leading cassette tape manufacturer in the U.S., producing runs for both major record labels like Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group, and a variety of indie labels.

“I think you could characterize our operating model as stubbornness and stupidity,” said the company’s president Steve Stepp to Bloomberg. “Now, we’re making more audio cassettes than we’ve ever made. And that’s something to say in 2015.”

The company, which still uses machines built in the ’70s, has stayed alive since the format’s heyday in the mid ’80s. And Stepp isn’t too surprised about the revival. Apparently 30 Rock’s Dennis Duffy was right: Technology is cyclical.

“[We were] preparing ourselves to pick the music market up when it came back,” he said in a Bloomberg video, “and that’s exactly what happened.” Now, NAC is responsible for producing cassette releases for do-it-yourself basement bands, big acts like Metallica, and even the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack.

The latter soundtrack was the second best-selling cassette of 2014, selling 2300 copies according to Rolling Stone. That’s no surprise to those who’ve seen the movie, given Star Lord’s love for his prized cassette mixtape. Late Mexican singer Cuco Sanchez’s Tu Solo Tu was the top seller, with 2600 units. These numbers may pale in comparison to 2014’s top vinyl sellers (Jack White leads that list with 87,000 copies sold of Lazaretto), but they’re still rather impressive in the streaming age.

Cassette sales surely aren’t going to usurp CD, vinyl, or digital download sales, but they’re enough to keep one company’s doors open for 46 years. And that’s due, first and foremost, to good old fashioned nostalgia. “Probably the thing that has really enlarged our business at a faster phase than anything is the retro movement,” explained Stepp.

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