Photo: Kurt Alaska, Tape Dad
Scoot over a little bit, vinyl, and make some room. Tapes are back.
Depending on who you ask, maybe they never left? Either way, in this highly digital age that we live in, a new record label that focuses on releasing local independent music on cassette tapes has sprung up in Fayetteville.
The label is called Tape Dad, and is a one-man show created by local musician Kurt Alaska (Lost John, Magnolia).
Alaska created the label in part, he said, to help provide a physical leave-behind for local musicians to sell to their fans at local shows, or on the road at a time in which most of the music many folks consume only exists in a digital format.
In addition to being awesomely nostalgic, the tapes also sound pretty fantastic. And they look cool, too.
Alaska has only been operating for a few months, but has already released around a dozen tapes featuring local acts like Sad Palomino, The Chads, Terminus, Witchsister, Dylan Earl, and others.
We got in touch with him recently to learn more about Tape Dad, and he was nice enough to answer some questions for us.
Tell us a little bit about how you got into the tape-making business?
Starting a “cassette label” is something I had been kicking around for a while, but I didn’t get everything going until a few months ago. Several of my friends’ bands were going out on tour and none of them had physical copies of their music to sell. All the bands are super good (The Chads, Sad Palomino, Whoopsi) so I figured that was a good enough reason to finally get it going. I had already done all the research I thought I needed to, so I ordered materials and equipment and put out the first four releases. The release party was in early June. I think a lot of cassette labels start like this, more out of necessity than anything else.
This one starts with a statement. Tape Dad is an awesome name for a tape label. How’d you come up with that?
Thank you! I just thought it sounded cool. The tapes are my children.
Can you tell us a little bit about the business-side of Tape Dad? How do you operate, and how is it different than they way a traditional label works in terms of how you choose bands, distribute the music, split the money with the bands, etc.
Because Tape Dad is in it’s youth, we don’t really offer like a traditional, “major label” deal. For now I’m just teaming up with bands who already have music recorded and putting it on tapes. It’s kind of more like a tape duplication and distribution business more than anything right now.. I make the cassettes for the bands and they buy them from me at a greatly reduced price. The bands go on to sell those tapes at shows and on tour and stuff. I keep some of the tapes and sell them via social media, my website, and some local stores to make back some of the money it cost to produce the cassette. I am also working on offering online distribution to everyone I work with, so like putting things on Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, etc. As the label grows I’ll be able to offer better deals to the bands and more resources.
As far as making the tapes goes, it starts with the bands giving me their recorded music and sometimes artwork. My roommate, Gustav Carlson, and I format the artwork to fit on a “J-card,” that little slip of paper that goes in cassette cases. I order the actual tapes and prints and other materials from a company in Canada. I do all of the actual duplication at my house on three studio-quality tape decks from the 80s. It sounds pretty good too! I spent a lot of time researching which tape decks to use and the best way of preserving fidelity throughout the process. There are definitely easier ways of going about it than my process, but I figure that the tape label isn’t really worth (anything) if the tapes don’t sound as good as they possibly could!
As far as selecting bands goes, so far the I’ve pretty much only released music from bands I know personally. Friends, friends of friends, etc.. I figure eventually I’ll start working with people that I’m not super tight with, which is totally fine, but I do kind of like the idea of Tape Dad being representative of what’s going on in Fayetteville and Arkansas right now.
We’ve been really impressed with the lineup of music you’ve released so far. How do you perceive the music scene in Fayetteville these days, and what are some of the local acts you’ve seen lately that are making interesting music?
Thank you again! I think the scene is doing pretty well. There’s a lot of music being made and people doing cool things. Although there is kind of a deft of places to play around town currently, the local DIY venues, like Backspace and La La Land, have been keeping things going. Let’s all take a moment to thank the folks that keeps those spaces open and safe for everyone to enjoy!
As far as particular people doing particularly cool things there’s so much it’s hard to choose! I’m excited about some of the heavier bands playing around more. We kind of had a slump in the metal scene for a sec it seems like, but it’s starting to build back up! Terminus is making some crazy stuff. Bones of the Earth is really cool. Groaners is super tight.
You’ve played quite a bit of music around town yourself, correct? What are some of the projects you’ve been involved in.
Yeah, I’ve played in several bands in the area over the years. Currently I play bass in Lost John, Magnolia (which is made up of members of Lost John), and drums in the John Charles Band (which is made up of members of the Chads and Sad Palomino). Magnolia has a show at George’s opening up for Sun June on 11/13. That’s an On The Map show.
Most of the tape playing setups I’ve ever owned have been pretty crappy to be honest. Do you have any recommendations for setups for listening to tapes that will suck less then the 90s boombox I have in my garage?
Let me just say this: I think it’s total BS when people tell me that tapes “sound bad.” NOT TRUE. Tape does have a few sonic quirks and little distortions, but that’s just the personality of tape. Just like vinyl has “warmth,” so does tape. I think a lot of people have had negative listening experiences with tapes primarily because of the mode of playback, not the quality of the format. If you have a stereo set-up at home then go get an old tape deck from a flea market or thrift store! It’ll sound better than that boombox. It’s like listening to vinyl on a decent record player and receiver vs a Crosley with build-in speakers.
But also, I really miss having a tape deck in my car. That is the most pure way of listening to tapes for sure.
What do you think are some of the factors that have led to the resurgence in popularity of tapes? Is it nostalgia? Affordability? The desire for something physical in an increasingly digital world? Something else?
First of all, even with the popularity of streaming, there will always be a large population of people who want to own physical copies of the music they enjoy. It is just an unshakable aspect of music consumption culture that probably will exist in some form forever. Because by purchasing an LP or cassette or CD of laserdisk or whatever, you have essentially purchased a physical representation of your love and admiration for that music. And people are totally into that. Tapes are in kind of at a funny point in their “resurgence,” because most folks don’t have tape players right now, so I hear a lot of people talk about cassettes as purely merchandise items. That’s not a super satisfying concept from my perspective, since I work hard to make things sound nice, but if it gets people buying tapes then OK! All Tape Dad releases, and really most tape releases in general, will come with some kind of download code so you can download the music via the internet, so it’s not like people never hear the music if they buy and tape but don’t have a tape player.
In the end, the best thing about the cassette format is that it’s inexpensive to produce. Tapes have always been an approachable option for independent musicians and artists. With all the crazy changes happening in the greater music industry (the popularity of streaming services, the decline in CD sales, the resurgence of vinyl, the INTERNET) I think it makes total sense that a cool, inexpensive, and analog format like the cassette tape is becoming popular again!
What is next for Tape Dad. Got any future releases / release parties in the works?
There are lots and lots and lots of things in the works, thank you for asking. Too many to start getting into! My suggestion to you and your readers would be to follow Tape Dad on Instagram and Facebook and stay tuned! One thing I will mention is that we will be putting together a Tape Dad holiday compilation tape! It’ll be like a mixtape of a bunch of different Tape Dad affiliated and Fayetteville musicians. It’ll come out around Christmas time. It will not be a bunch of Christmas songs. Just good sounding stuff! Maybe if I get (everything) together we will have a release show for it too around then. Who knows.