Capitalising on the cassette tape renaissance
Najihah S 
Jessica Chuan learned how to weave cassette tape films from her mother

WITH the introduction of compact discs (CD) and digital forms of music and streaming applications, the once ubiquitous cassette tape might be forgotten. However, it is far from gone.

The audio medium, which debuted in the 1960s, did not strike a chord with the masses until the late 1970s.

Things changed in the 1980s as businesses realised that the low production cost and compact size of cassette tapes should be marketed on a mass scale.

It became the go-to medium in the 1980s and most cars were equipped with a cassette tape player.

Fast forward to this era, and the cassette tape is still in demand by certain segments. FocusM looks at some local companies that are serving this very niche market.


Still standing

Express Audio Industry Sdn Bhd (formerly known as Express Trading Sdn Bhd) is possibly the only cassette producer left in the country.

Its factory in Taman Maluri, Kuala Lumpur, has long been serving fans of cassette tapes who are still interested in putting their music on the medium.

Founder and managing director Chan Tok Joo who started the business in 1978, says it mainly specialises in duplicating recorded audio cassette tapes.

The company experienced rapid growth in the early 1980s and eventually became a leading player in the cassette duplication industry.

It subsequently clinched an exclusive deal with major record label, Polygram, which had best-selling artists such as the US band Metallica, Hong Kong crooner Alan Tam and local pop band the Alleycats.

The company continued its upstream expansion and invested in plastic injection moulding machinery to produce cassette parts and accessories like blank and c-zero cassettes, outer boxes, CD jewel boxes and racks.

Although cassette tapes are cheap and accessible, it is also notorious for getting jammed due to the tangling of the polyester film. Eventually, cassettes were eclipsed by CDs in the early 1990s.

Express Audio, which began as a self-funded company, then ventured into CD replication in 1996.

It built a RM10 mil plant in Hulu Langat equipped with disc mastering machines, and replication and printing facilities to produce high-quality CD-ROMs, and audio and video CDs.

The company now produces CD-ROMs for corporate annual reports. A CD-ROM is a compact disc used as a read-only optical memory device for a computer system.

Although the company’s business is centred on the production of CDs, it continues to employ a person just for cassette tape orders.

In recent times, Express Audio has been seeing a rise in such orders. Marketing manager Christine Chan says that although it is a niche business, it is not too small to entirely halt production.

She says today, cassettes are supplied to independent record labels. This, she says, is the most convenient and economical method to distribute music in physical form.

On a month-to-month basis, Express Audio will receive at least 20 orders for cassette tapes.

Manufacturing costs can be as low as RM3 each with a minimum order of 100 units. And it takes just two working days to get them ready.

Express Audio can also carry out sound mastering at RM75. Another RM40 will be charged for printing on the cassette shell.

Even though most of the machinery for making cassettes are from the 1970s, and mostly imported from the US and Japan, they are still in good working condition thanks to regular maintenance and servicing.

There are basically two types of machines needed to make a music cassette tape. The first one builds the shell or outer layer of the cassette (often made from plastic), followed by the sound duplicating machine.

Apart from the audio-related business, Express Audio also diversified into plastic pipe manufacturing in 1992. Its plant for this purpose is located in Balakong.


There’s increase demand for cassette tapes

Record stores

The revival of music fans’ interest in cassette tapes has created business opportunities for manufacturers, record labels and record stores.

One beneficiary is Radzi Jasni who owns Teenage Head Records in Subang Jaya.

On why he sells cassette tapes, he says: “I grew up with cassettes, and the store reflects my personality. So I wanted to have cassettes, CDs and vinyl – the music formats I grew up with.”

Before opening the store in 2014, Radzi looked for suppliers who could deliver music on vinyl records and cassettes.

After operating for a year, he noticed an increase in demand for cassette tapes. That was when he began ordering them from his supplier.

“It just so happened that my main US distributor (which also distributes in vinyl) had new cassettes in stock.

“So now I just wait for their list of album titles to come out and order the ones I think will sell. The US shipments usually comes once a month.”

Radzi maintains regular transactions with his supplier. And while there are no minimum orders imposed by the supplier, he has to bear the shipping costs.

The retail price for international music cassette tapes ranges from RM35-RM50 while new local tapes are priced at RM12.

Used cassette tapes can range from RM12 to even RM50 each, depending on the rarity of the album or artists. Teenage Head has sold 100 new cassettes and 300 used ones this year alone.

On the type of people who purchase cassette tapes, Radzi says: “They are those who still have their Walkman or cassette decks, and own older cars which only have a cassette player.”

He reasons that there’s the tangible aspect of cassettes that attract people to it. For instance, despite advancements such as e-books, people still buy paperbacks.

The pop culture, Radzi says, is another factor contributing to the rising awareness of cassette tapes.

For example, scenes in movies like Guardians of the Galaxy often showcased cassette tapes. “That movie made the tapes more famous,” he says.

Radzi not only sells new and used vinyl, CDs and tapes, he is also an intermediary between manufacturers, suppliers and musicians.

He has become the go-to person for those interested in pressing vinyl or duplicating cassette tapes.

There is also a worldwide event held once a year to celebrate cassette tapes called “Cassette Tape Day”.

Teenage Head Records is one of the prime venues for it in the Klang Valley.

Some highlights at the event are the sale of exclusive re-issued albums on cassette (international and local) and live performances.

As much as he is optimistic about the future of cassette tapes, Radzi says there are some setbacks to owning the medium.

“Due to the fragile nature of the casing, sometimes it will crack and the film inside will get tangled. Also, not everyone owns a cassette player, so the market is quite limited,” he says.

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 266.