In a back room of a janky old house in Fort Worth, Nathan Brown, founder of Dead Media Tapes, and his two friends, Ryan Elmore and Ben Hance, mass produce eight-track cassettes by hand. In what Brown calls a “sweatshop,” the trio work on their biggest order yet — 1,000 copies of a new release by the Swedish band Ghost. The floors are covered in plastic wrap, and the walls are lined with boxes of cartridges and loose tape.
Tape recorders click every few minutes as '80s music plays in the background. Brown sits in his chair across from his two employees. He takes apart cassettes, occasionally pausing to sip on a can of Lone Star, while he rocks his daughter back and forth in her chair with his foot.
“[It’s] mainly just trying to keep my ass from hurting as little as possible just sitting here,” he says.
Brown originally became interested in eight-track cassette tapes through his wife, who studied photography at the Savannah College of Art and Design during the last semester the school taught analogue photography, Brown says. In her growing knowledge of film, Brown began drawing comparisons between film and cassette tapes.
“She was saying how much better film was than digital, and so that kind of left an impression,” Brown says.
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Brown and his wife were roaming around a thrift store in Little Rock, Arkansas, when he found an eight-track recorder and a few tapes for about $5. He was destined to find it, he says. In the '90s, Brown made several attempts to upgrade to the increasingly prominent digital mediums. However, he kept finding himself back with his collection of cassettes.
In 2006, Brown founded Dead Media Tapes to begin producing eight tracks for local and national acts. This made him the second-largest producer next to Kate’s Track Shack in Arlington. After a while of doing this work, he decided to give it a break. He passed the years that followed with countless hours of working as a server at the Fort Worth restaurant The Woodshed.
Eventually, Brown got a wild hair to start his company back up, he says. He began taking more and more time off to produce tapes until he finally decided to do it full time. Ghost’s record label reached out to Brown through Facebook in the midst of this change in his life.
Originally, the band asked if he could sign on to make 2,000 tapes of its new release. However, given the deadline, they settled on 1,000. Brown decided that he could not do this order by himself, so he enlisted the help of a couple of friends.
“He texted me and asked me what my work situation was, and I said ‘bad,’” Hance says.
Hance and Elmore were both working with a company that organized estate sales at the time.
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“There’s no new eight-track shells being made anywhere," Brown says. "There are people looking for molds, or there are machines corporations [or] record labels would use to make tapes. Nobody knows where it is. It was probably just scrap metal at some point.”
Before too long, Hance and Elmore decided their estate sale gig was taking too much of a toll on their cars and made the move to work for Brown. Now, the two are employees of Dead Media Tapes. They spend most of their time measuring tape and polishing cassettes. The trio’s lives now consist of early mornings and late nights.
“It’s a good chunk of change in a short amount of time,” Brown says, “but the amount of work I’m doing greatly reduces that per hour.”
In this phase of production for Ghost’s new release, Brown records, splices and cuts tape, so it will be the correct length for the album. He hopes to continue doing this work full time. His next project will be a special release of a live performance by Alice Cooper for Good Records in Dallas.