Last year, Nathan Brown, founder of Dead Media Tapes, was cooped up in his Fort Worth home with two friends, producing 1,000 copies of a new release on eight-track cassette for a band in Sweden — one of the company’s biggest orders to date. Now living in Denton, Brown is wrapping up a much smaller order for Sony Music Entertainment and Columbia Records, 40 eight-track copies of U.K. musician Mark Ronson’s new album Late Night Feelings, featuring Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys.
It’s one of the first eight-track releases by a major, old-school label like Columbia in 30 years.
In 2006, Brown’s company became the second-largest producer of eight-tracks next to Kate’s Track Shack in Arlington. Over the years, his business gained the attention of label executives. Ronson's album was released in more conventional mediums, such as streaming platforms, CDs and vinyl, but the companies also wanted to test the waters with eight-track and reel-to-reel releases.
Toward the end of March, Brown was contacted about the new release.
“An executive told me that they were mainly interested in doing some eight-tracks,” Brown says. “He said he was kind of working on some of the other executives to get them to go for the reel-to-reel stuff, but I guess they just kind of wanted to test the waters with (eight-track).”
Brown finished the eight-track production about two months later. The album was also put out on cassette and mini disc. The mini discs and eight-tracks sold out quickly after the album was released. But that’s generally how these more obscure releases go, Brown says.
“They do a pre-sell, they sell out and then there are people who are upset that they didn’t get a chance to buy one,” he says. “There’s constantly people upset that (these releases) are sold out."
A lot of Brown’s clients take this approach because his productions are often more expensive than expected, and they don’t know how well their eight-track releases will do. But recently, Brown has recommended his clients have fans pre-order the eight-tracks, paying for the production and getting a more accurate count of how many will be sold.
Even though he wasn’t obligated to, Brown also produced a few copies of the album on reel-to-reel to send along with his eight-tracks.
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“I said, ‘Do what you want with them, but my suggestion is to give one to Mark Ronson if he’s willing to accept it,’” Brown says. “‘Then, if you want to use it as a promo thing, give one away to a lucky fan or something.’”
Overall, Brown says it was good to work with Sony and Columbia, and he hopes this recent project will lead to more work in the future. However, if eight-track becomes “a thing” again, Brown says it could bring negative consequences to companies like his or Kate’s Track Shack.
“If other major labels see that eight-track is doing well and think, ‘Let’s do that,’ and it gets to the point where the presses start getting jammed up, maybe some manufacturer in China will decide to start (mass producing) eight-tracks again,” Brown says. “Of course, this is probably very unlikely, but the worst-case scenario would be me being put out of a job, ultimately.”
But, until that unlikely future, Brown will keep looking for and rewinding old tapes to put new releases on.