Currently, one company is working to avert a disaster that no one expected in the digital-music era: The world is running out of cassette tapes—specifically, the specialized magnetic tape that stores music in glorious analog detail.
There was a good chance that cassette tapes were going to join their sibling the 8-track in recorded music obscurity. But cassettes are actually enjoying a resurgence right now—and we have Justin Bieber to thank for it.
The Wall Street Journal credits releases from the pop star, along with artists like The Weeknd and Eminem, for kickstarting a cassette renaissance, driven by equal parts nostalgia and economics. Essentially, cassettes are basking in the retro glow of vinyl records: They’re possessable, giftable, hand-holdable, but also affordable.
The shortage of magnetic tape is intertwined with the even larger renaissance of vinyl records: Both are surfing the same wave of nostalgia for old recording formats, and the vinyl boom has created a new niche for cassettes. They’re cheaper and require less lead time for production.
The Journal reports that a manufacturer called National Audio Company has been managing a dwindling stockpile of tape since most US suppliers shut down. It’s restarting production to satisfy demand from musicians like Metallica and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who insisted that “The Hamilton Mixtape” be available as a cassette.