In lieu of LP production, which costs labels around $10 per 12-inch, Fischer orders his cassette duplication through Amtech, a company in Montreal that charges $192 for a batch of 100 60-minute double-sided tapes without labeling, placing his bottom line at just under $2 a tape. Other label heads, like Lajoie, use home duplicators, seeing the process as another opportunity to maximize their creative efforts while minimizing cost.
And it isn't just established labels that are embracing cassettes — local art-punk band the Rattlesnakes have had success selling small batches of hand-printed copies that they make before shows, leading them to careful consideration over how to release their next album. "I'm pushing for a tape/digital release," says drummer Mike Cunnane. "CDs are played out — artifacts of a less connected digital age. If someone can download and burn the digital files, a tape of those same songs will sound different, like a different master."
At the very least, the resurgence of tapes is giving local musicians and label-curators a broader set of options from which to construct their art. Of course, more options doesn't necessarily mean more profit. While the profit margin is about the same for both vinyl and cassette, a tape's small print run and lower price point make it less likely labels will be saddled with expensive overstock. Running a tape label is still a labor of love — it just might have more rewards and flexibility.
pEACEFANg and Felsenmeer, Dracula Songs (Tea First, 2009), stamped and hand-numbered red cassettes in a hand-painted sheath; edition of 50 | teafirstrecords.blogspot.com
"It's really easy to do your own label now, even if you're doing analog formats," says Lajoie. "Everyone knows how to use the Internet to do a blog or a tumblr or Facebook page to maintain a mailing list. I can't imagine what that was like in the '80s and early '90s, using mail-in catalog fanzine sort of stuff. It's ridiculously easy now."
One of L’Animaux Tryst’s more elaborate releases, a Bad Bus double cassette encased inside a hollowed-out library book | lanimauxtryst.blogspot.com
As Anderson sees it, this new convergence of analog and digital technologies is something to celebrate, not polemicize. "The new mix simply kills. Most folks I know plop their digital recordings — which usually are done on a computer or relatively nice sounding digital recorder — onto tape! It's a fantastic reversal, and binds the two planets indiscriminately. I love that."
Nicholas Schroeder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.