“A lot of our artists are rooted in hip-hop, heavy into beats and the hip-hop lifestyle,” Hoffmann says. “A big part of that is digging for records, whether that means you’re in a CD store digging through compact discs, or at a tag sale going through boxes of 12-inches or dusty 7-inches, looking for who-knows-what. It’s almost a cultural thing for them to want music in a physical form.”
Custom cassettes, Hoffmann says, are for bands who want their music to seem like more than a download link. He buys boxes of cassettes on eBay dirt cheap and creates the artwork by hand in his bedroom. “I cut shit out,” Hoffmann says. “I’m bleeding all the time from the X-acto knife. I’ve got the duplicator, so I can duplicate three cassettes [at a time].” The DIY aspect of the business, he says, is a “punk rock sort of thing, which I also grew up with.”
Occasionally, a band will deliver Hoffmann a very specific set of ideas for what they want their cassette release to look like—colors, designs, lettering and so on. Others grant him the freedom to do what he likes. The finished product is put up for sale on the Grappa Frisbee website. Hoffmann also delivers copies, which typically sell for $5, to a few brick-and-mortar retailers.
“They sound great,” Hoffmann says. “I just spray paint them with Montana acrylic spray paint. When all is said and done, I really don’t have to go out and purchase anything to get a project under way. I’m not charging any artists to make anything—we work out the split for the profits.”
Bands and artists in Chattanooga are also hitching their music to the custom-cassette bandwagon, among them The Bohannons, whose frontman Marty Bohannon echoes the sentiments musicians interviewed for this article reflect upon when considering cassettes.
“What we chose to put on t the cassette is as important as why we chose to release a cassette,” Bohannon says. “We had this group of disjointed songs that were demos or B-sides that didn’t fit into the musical canon of our current show, but we wanted them to live together. So we tested these analog recordings through a lot of different systems and we agreed on releasing it as is with a flat mix. It has hiss and pops, but we love that shit—and you can hear it best on cassette.”
Bohannon says his band prints an email address on the side of the cassette from which a download code is sent back from their label, This American Music.
“At the merch booth, people would turn their noses up or pick one up and laugh,” Bohannon says, “but I’d say, ‘Hey, it’s five bucks and you can download it in its entirety.’ People still want to walk away with a physical product, especially collectors. Business cards with download codes are no fun.”
toward the middle of 2010, major media outlets, including National Public Radio, USA Today and The Washington Post, began reporting on the rebirth of the cassette. There are currently dozens of cassette-related blogs and Tumblr sites. Cassette-only record companies, including the Los Angeles-based Leaving Records (which released Dual Form, a double-cassette compilation of music by Stones Throw Records artists, on Nov. 6), appear to be thriving. There’s also a Kickstarter underway to fund “Cassette” a documentary film about the cassette tape.
In some cases, cassettes are the only way you’re going to hear a new song or album; the July/August music issue of The Believer, for example, came with a 24-track cassette sampler of music you can’t find online or on a compact disc, by bands like Baby Island, the Hysterics, Soviet and Sewn Leather. (A download code on the back cover allows you to go online and grab a digital copy.)