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With streaming services and digital downloads, why would anyone buy cassette tapes?


Between streaming services and digital downloads, there are so many ways to listen to music in quality. So why would anybody still buy cassette tapes? They're known for being scratchy and hissy and way less cool than vinyl.



Hear that fast forward sound? Well, that's what happened to the cassette tape business.

STEVE STEPP: Right now, we're selling every inch of tape we make before it comes off the line.

MARTIN: That's Steve Stepp of the National Audio Company in Springfield, Miss.

STEPP: We are the largest manufacturer of the raw cassette tape and of duplicated audio cassettes in the world.


REDBONE: (Singing) Hail - what's the matter with your head?

FADEL: The 2014 sci-fi movie "Guardians Of The Galaxy" helped the cassette tape comeback. It featured Chris Pratt blasting alien bad guys while listening to an old mixtape. But the cassette market was already trending upward by then. And sales have increased by double digits every year since 2017. Stepp says his company sold about 25 million cassettes last year.

STEPP: And the market is not one that you would suspect. It isn't old geezers like me. It's the under 35 age group buying audio cassettes now.

LARS GOTRICH, BYLINE: Right beside me, I have tapes, tapes, tapes, tapes.

MARTIN: That's Lars Gotrich of NPR Music. He's one of those young-old people who's a fan of cassette tapes. His home is stuffed full of them.

GOTRICH: So this is Lady Ehepr. She is Oakland-based rapper. This is a Polish black metal artist whose name I can't pronounce (laughter).

MARTIN: He thinks cassettes are appealing because you can hold them in your hand.

GOTRICH: A whole new generation has embraced these little spools of sound. I'm talking about Generation Z, this is the generation after me. And the way that I think Generation Z thinks about nostalgia, it's not something that has passed, but that is something that can be claimed for the first time. So it is still incredibly fresh to them.


BILLIE EILISH: (Singing) So you're a tough guy, like-it-really-rough guy, just can't get enough guy, chest always so puffed guy.

FADEL: Top musicians, including Billie Eilish, John Mayer and Taylor Swift have released albums on cassette. And independent artists are also gravitating to them.

GOTRICH: The cassette allows cheap duplication. It's cheap to sell. And especially in a time when streaming giants, like Spotify and Apple Music, are basically paying fractions of a fractions of a penny to, like, stream songs, here's an opportunity for artists to take their power back.

FADEL: Who knows? Maybe soon we'll all be dusting off our eight tracks.


LOOKING GLASS: (Singing) There's a port. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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