Thursday, November 24, 2011
How To Put Out A Taped Cassette
By way of being thankful for the tape cassette as a medium, I thought it might be kind of cool to write a little something about what I've learned from putting out scores of cassettes over the years. Forgive me if any of this seems patronizing. I sure wish I had had some of this information when I was making my first crude audio missives! I'm going to take you step by step through the process.
Making a Master/Dubbing
You can release a cassette tape of music that was initially recorded on any medium. Your cold, clinical sounding Garageband recordings may find new life on a warm sounding c23 (notice I said may). I often record my music onto cassette (4 track, handheld, stereo boombox) and then transfer it onto a computer where I piece together different segments using Audacity (or some such program). If you are going to do like I do, make sure to watch your levels as you are transferring the tape onto the computer. If it's peaking on the audio program (that means the image of the sound waves is reaching the top of the spectrum) then redo it cause it's going to sound like shit.
What I do next is I take my finished digital files (one track for each side) and put them back onto a cassette to make the master tape. Be sure that the cassette is the same length as the ones you'll be dubbing onto. If you are using a tape for your master, I suggest using a dedicated two deck player as opposed to a boom box. You can often find used ones for cheap at a Salvation Army or Goodwill. If you use normal speed dubbing, the quality will significantly better than when using high speed. Multi-tape dubbers are notoriously finicky and result in shite quality more often than not.
You can also choose not to transfer your audio back onto a cassette and use a CD or a computer file (wav or aiff please) as your master if you desire. Simply buy an 1/8" to RCA cable from radio shack and go from the headphone jack of your computer or CD player directly into the back of your tape deck. Some people might think this gets a "cleaner" sound, but I personally think putting your stuff onto a tape for the final master adds a layer of warmth to the recording. The best advice I can give you is that experimentation will provide you with the best results.
I'd say that there are generally three ways of producing a cassette release.
1. Almost-free method: You may have noticed, but a lot of folks simply don't want their old cassettes anymore. What you can find in free-boxes, soup kitchens, or ultra cheap at thrift stores includes sealed boxes of blank tapes, old mix tapes, copies of Harry Chapin records, sermons, major label hits or self released albums. Oftentimes you'll find the cases included with these tapes. When I lived in Western Massachusetts I was able to make hundreds of cassettes for free by picking up whatever I could score at the Amherst Survival Center. If you're in that area, I suggest you check it out.
So now you've got all the blank media you'll need for your release. If you are using brand name blank tapes (whether blank or not) chances are the little tabs on the top of the tape will still be intact, allowing you to dub over whatever is that's already on there. If you are recording over Julio Iglesias' "Un Hombre Solo", you'll need to cover up the holes (where those tabs should be) in order to record over his saucy sounds. It's best to use two pieces of sturdy tape (the sticky kind), but even a piece of paper will do. Keep in mind that unless you are using commercial recordable tapes (c60, c90), your tapes are all going to be different lengths. I'm sure you'll find someway to work around that. Sometimes it's helpful to erase the already existing program by dubbing a blank cassette onto the one you want to record over. This will help reduce the chance of the old audio bursting through onto your music.
Now you can produce your artwork any way you'd like (more on that in the next section).
2. Buying Tape Stock and Cases: This is not a paid advertisement, but Deltamedia.com has pretty much everything you will need to get started. They sell tape stock of any length, different kinds of cases and some other stuff like labels or j-cards that you can stick in your home printer. There are a few different types of cassettes available. I suggest buying Type I Master Cassettes (Music Grade). I've had some problems buying Type II tapes, as you have to make sure that your master tape and the machine you are using to dub with supports Type II. Either way, be sure to order "tab in" tapes.
I'll often get the tapes and cases I need online and then go to a trustworthy print shop to make the j-cards myself (the j-card is where the art goes btw). You can lay out your artwork either by hand (like I do) or on the computer (like everybody else does). The cheapest way would just be a 11x17 piece of paper (any thickness you desire, card stock is the best) with 6 j-cards. Obviously, it's cheaper (and sometimes artistically more appropriate) to use black and white. Color will usually cost at least 4x as much, but all in all, the total cost of printing won't be too high either way. Just remember that the more you make, the less they'll charge you. Your print shop will also make you some rectangular stickers that you can put on your tapes. In any case, marking them someway is a really good idea. If you've got a good home printer you can run off your artwork on the j-cards and labels from home, but I actually think this will end up costing you more when you factor in the ink and all. Obviously, if you want to try your hand at screen-printing or block printing, those are affordable and cool looking options as well. However you decide to do the artwork, combine all the pieces and you're good to go!
Working this way will generally put your production cost at well under $1 per tape.
3. Pro-dubbing: Again, not a paid advertisement, but National Audio Company is really the place to go if you want someone to cover every aspect of production for you. They will duplicate your tapes from a supplied master (CD, audio file or cassette), make the artwork to your specifications, put printed text or any image you want on the cassettes themselves and even shrinkwrap your finished product! Trust me, this is probably the best way to go when you weigh the cost vs labor vs quality of the product. If you make a run of 200 copies, it will only cost you ~$1 per tape, before shipping. I've heard these guys are a "Christian company" so they might not do your project if it's called Cockdickanus or something stupid like that. But that's just a rumor...
Besides Cassette Gods, there are a number of other places you can send your tape in order to get noticed. Animal Psi is a really good place if you just want to announce yourself. Send them a description of your stuff and a link to your website and they'll post it verbatim. It's sort of like a catalog of recently released stuff with very little editorial content. Foxy Digitalis is another site that will frequently review unsolicited submissions, but be aware that they will just as easily hand out a negative review as a positive one. Vital Weekly is a long-running email newsletter that reviews new underground music. They have a policy of reviewing every submission they receive. Rotten Meats is another good place to go to and so is the Auxiliary Out blog, which does really in depth analysis. Of course there are probably hundreds of other blogs that write about contemporary D.I.Y. music, but I've tried to list the ones here that seem less like "cool kids clubs." Click on any of the names in this paragraph to be taken to the appropriate website.
Getting your tape picked up by internet distributors or record stores is based on luck and connections as much as it is merit, so I won't really go into that too much. There is no secret. Just work hard and keep at it, no matter what! I am loath to name names, seeing as these people get enough unsolicited emails. I would suggest thinking about the places where you buy your tapes from and look into who sells copies of your favorite label or artist's work. If you offer your tape for $5 retail, I would suggest asking a wholesale price of $3 to get people interested. Don't sell yourself short though: maybe require a minimum order of 3 to 5 units. You can also suggest trading tape for tape.
Hey, in other news, I've also done some updates to Cassette Gods that might go unnoticed lest I hip you to them here. For one, I've gone through every post since the beginning and updated the tags. Took a little while, heh heh heh... So if you scroll to the bottom of this page you'll see a complete list of artists and labels that have been covered by CG over the last four and a half years. Cool! I've also added a link to the old Cassette Gods page that is archived on the Deathbomb Arc website. You can find the old columns and stuff there. Find this page by clicking on the word "Founded" in the upper right corner of this page. Hopefully we'll begin posting more current non-review writing, like the piece above, and also interviews, writing about live music, etc... in the coming months. I've created a dedicated section to that kind of writing. Just click on "Editorials" on the right hand column.
Hope y'all enjoy. Just don't call me an editor...
Feel free to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com with any questions...