By Danny Sheahan
Transcribed by Tashia Antoine
Malin Johnson, manager of The Dupe Shop, talks about all things associated with the cassette tape era. The Dupe Shop specializes in the release and creation of DIY Tapes and has become an important piece to Toronto’s underground music industry and the independent artist.
In this Northern Touch interview, Reporter Danny Sheahan discusses with Malin Johnson cassette tape culture and how cassettes are being sold and created by music lovers and independent artists.
Danny: Malin, can you briefly tell us about The Dupe Shop for those who haven’t heard of you before?
Malin: The Dupe Shop is the third end retail hub for duplication.ca. It’s the first full-time open store that duplication.ca has. This venture started about a year and a half to two years ago now and it’s been really exciting. Folks from all over the world seem to come here because we are a cassette retail store. You never thought you would hear the words after 1980 but, here we are!
Danny: Now with technology today like music streaming services, such as Spotify or Apple Music, and with CD’s still being around and vinyl making a comeback, why do you think people still record and release music on cassette tapes?
Malin: I am not going to try to fool you, I have a Spotify account. I love it to death. I don’t think I could ever live without it. The cool thing with cassette tapes is that you are able to have a real piece of music…a real piece of art that you don’t get with Spotify, iTunes or Apple Music. It’s cool in that sense. You do get something in hand. There is also a nostalgia factor. People are picking up cassette tapes for the first time, in some cases, in fifteen or twenty years. In some cases, they have never picked up a cassette tape before, and they get to explore this whole new medium to them and the excitement behind it. Getting into your other question now, about why cassette tapes are sort of coming back and how it’s infusing into the culture…bands still need to make money. Manufacturing cassettes is a really, really good option, and having something on the merchandise table that is not the CD that most people can’t play anyway. So why not give something that’s unique, and you can always throw a download code into a cassette case and have this really cool piece of art that’s going to sit on someone’s shelf. It’s going to constantly remind them of the show and constantly remind them of the band. Of course they’ll have the download code, where they can go and download the album or listen to on Spotify or iTunes. It’s multi-faceted. It’s a branding tool. It’s everything that you want out of a piece of artwork that will really do the work for you and help you sell stuff at the merch table.
Danny: Oh yeah, I definitely agree. I find usually when I go out to shows, to see someone perform, if they have a cassette on the merch table, chances are I am probably going to get it.
Malin: That’s essentially one of the important things with starting the shop here too. Making sure we are able to get cassette players and get these old vintage units, like boom boxes and the sort, and getting them into the hands of people so they can start playing the cassettes. It keeps the ball rolling in that sense too. We make the cassettes, we get the players in the people’s hands, they come and buy more cassettes. So, that was a really important thing when we started (The Dupe) Shop is that we were able to have an in-house technician and also a plethora of decks and boom boxes that people can purchase.
Danny: What would you say is the main demographic of people who buy cassette tapes or released music on cassette tape?
Malin: Oh gosh, I wish I could put my thumb on it. We get folks in here who are in their first band, some of them are still in high-school and they are just putting together a little release. Generally, it’s a DIY venture, which is another thing that cassettes really cater towards. The fact that you can get all these different colours, match them with different colored cases, print on the labels, draw on the labels and marker on them. They let you turn this into a totally unique piece of artwork that band fans and so on can enjoy. So, we get kids coming in here, and we get people coming in and doing official releases. We did a release last summer for Demi Lovato, when she released her single, “Sorry Not Sorry”. She put it out on cassette. It’s really a whole mix of genres, people and demographics that are getting into this awesome product essentially.
© Demi Lovato | YouTube
Danny: Malin, how many tapes would you say that The Dupe Shop has sold in the last year?
Malin: I wish I had a proper number on the total sold. We do orders between twenty-five to two hundred-fifty tapes almost on the hour. There’s eight to ten hours in a work day, maybe more depending on how long we’re working, so we’re getting between ten and sixty orders of cassette tapes per day. We are just being absolutely bombarded. The store itself, we have these big bins that hold… I mean we’ve got 26 letters in the alphabet and maybe 30 or 40 tapes per letter, so you do the math. I think those bins empty out at least once every two weeks. So we are constantly filling in titles, and keeping the Instagram posts going, and excelling out of titles and reaching out to more labels. It’s compounding, it’s definitely compounding. Since 2008, and at this point it’s still a very small margin, for cassette sales I think it is 0.1% of all titles sold in the United States and Canada are cassettes. So we own a fraction of the market still. But, the compounding interest has increased sales three-fold every year. I think the lowest year, which was in 2008, there were six hundred orders for the year and now we are processing that amount every month. So it’s getting so big. I wish I could put an actual number to it, like we produced 150, 000 cassette tapes this year so far, but I don’t want to spew any incorrect numbers. We definitely have been getting really busy.
© The Canadian Press | YouTube
Danny: Would you say it’s relatively easy for an independent artist to get their music recorded and released on tape?
Malin: We try and make it as easy as possible. We have a really, really great online order portal that allows you to go through and customize every step of the way, with proper instructions and proper pictures of how things can look. It really makes it super straightforward. So if you can in your mind put a CD order together, or even on the website put a CD order together, you are more than capable of putting a cassette order together. In fact, arguably it is easier. You get more surfaces to put artwork on, and what’s not fun about that!
Danny: Malin, can you tell us what you think is the best method for recording ones’ music onto a cassette tape?
Malin: That’s definitely the biggest question. People come in to make a mixtape for their loved one or they want to put together a mix of their favorite band or something like that. The best method would be these old vintage Cascan units, like the porta studios, and you can find them on Craigslist or Kijiji for a couple hundred bucks when they’re working perfectly. You bring that home and hook up some microphones and you start having fun! It doesn’t stop until you want it to stop, and you get to build all of this stuff on cassette, and bounce it over to another cassette recorder. The hardest thing about recording to a cassette is using some scotch tape to cover up the tab. If you can get around that, you can put your own cassette tape together. It’s really that simple.
Danny: Say we have a small group of maybe 15 or 20 tapes and you’re an independent artist and you want to get those out into the world and sold. What is the best way to do that?
Malin: The best way to do it is to play shows. You can put your album up online and share the link around and I’m sure all your friends are going to listen, and maybe one or two of them will buy the tape. But, the way that people are selling records these days is by playing shows. That’s the most important thing. You become a better musician, you become a better salesperson. After the show you’ve got to sit at the merch table and sell your tapes. You learn how to talk the talk and you meet people and they get excited about you and about your music. With the cassette tapes sitting on the merch table, it becomes a conversation starter and you’re like yeah: “I made all these tapes by myself, it took me so many hours and blah, blah, blah…”, and it becomes a real part of the conversation piece. And then, when people say: “This is a unique piece of art, not only does he play guitar really good, he hand-makes all these cassettes.” And then the excitement goes around, and before you know it, you are making cassette tapes for all your friends.
Danny: Are there other places in the city that are cassette tape friendly other than The Dupe Shop that you can go to, that take in tapes, also sell tapes or know a lot about this stuff too?
Malin: Great question. When we first opened the shop, we were here with another shop called Faith Void. I think they are just down the street from us actually. Between us and them, some independent record stores may have had one or two titles kicking around on cassettes, but really no one touched the things. I now know that pretty much every record store in Toronto has a tape collection, or at least a tape bin, that they are willing to huck. The research into cassette tapes is booming. Elitists and so forth can plug their ears and say, “la, la la” all they want, but the reality is that people want cassette tapes and they are coming back, and people are willing to pay money for them. And if people are willing to pay money for them, we’ve got stores willing to sell them. I would be hard-pressed to find a record store now that doesn’t sell cassette tapes. Even as big as Sonic Boom, I know that they have a quite a cool collection. They’re big and they’re a real business, and the amount of cassette tapes that duplication.ca is manufacturing, is a testament to that.
Danny: Malin, where can people go to find out more about The Dupe Shop? Or figuring out how to create cassette tapes or even just find helpful resources?
Malin: Check out duplication.ca. We have a lot of really, really cool little calculators in there. Beyond the calculators is all the information about cassettes. We also have a mailing list too that you can subscribe to. Not only do you get all the hot products, we also try to throw technical information in there. So if you want to learn well about what a Type 3 Cassette is or what have you. We throw a lot of really cool information up on the website and put it out there for the world because again, we want people to get excited about it. We want people to know more about the cassette culture, if you will and get on board.