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Dead Media Tapes brings new life to analog music

Dead Media Tapes brings new life to analog music

Dead Media Tapes brings new life to analog music
July 22
12:36 2019

As a man born in the 1970s, Dead Media Tapes founder Nathan Brown said he had a front-row seat to the digitalization of music. Raised during the prime of cassette tapes, Brown experienced many digital mediums that came after, including the surge of portable CD players in the ‘90s and the iPod in the early 2000s. Despite the evolution of music technologies happening around him, Brown still had a particular appreciation for classic eight-tracks.

From listening to vinyls and cassette tapes when he was younger to starting his own instrumental band Programme, Brown has always showed a keenness to music. But what reignited that interest was a conversation he had with his wife one day. As they discussed the digitization of mediums like photography, Brown realized that it affected music, too.

“That was the first time that somebody was talking about analog versus digital,” Brown said. “In that process of me and my wife talking about that, I realized that I didn’t have to keep up with what was popular at the time.”

By 2006, Brown had developed an expertise on old-school music mediums. He learned the mechanics of repairing old eight-track tapes to produce new music on them. When thinking of ways to make use of his acquired skills, Brown decided to start his own record label and manufacturer, Dead Media Tapes. In addition to eight-tracks, his company manufactures reel-to-reel tapes and VHS tape releases.

Brown started as a lone wolf remastering music of local bands in his home in Little Rock, Arkansas. He would set up shop at local music events and sell eight-track players and tapes of the performers’ music along with a collection of tapes from other popular bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Brown said that he didn’t expect to gain much traction selling tapes at music venues, but to his surprise, his tapes became popular.

Despite all the new technologies that the new millennium ushered in, Brown said that eight-tracks bring a “classical essence” to music.

Nathan Brown demonstrates how he wipes an eight-track cartridge clean in his garage work space on July 18, 2019 in Denton. He says eight-tracks bring a “classical essence” to music. Photo by Bridnee Bizor

“I recorded bands on reel-to-reel machines,” Brown said. “For me that was important to keep it all analog.”

As the demand for eight-track tapes grew, Brown’s company attracted record labels on the local and national level. Dead Media Tapes became the second largest eight-track producer in the country after another Texas-based media company, Kate’s Track Shack.

Co-owner of Kate’s Track Shack, Kate Gibson, said that Brown shares the same goal of keeping eight-tracks alive into the “21st century and beyond.”

“One of our dreams with this business was to see a new eight-track produced in the 21st century,” Gibson said. “It’s been such an exciting feeling to see this medium go from dead to alive and doing very well.”

Brown caught what he calls the “eight-track bug” during a trip to a thrift store in Little Rock, Arkansas in the mid-2000s. While roaming through the aisles, he gravitated toward an eight-track recorder and a tall stack of tapes. Brown said that he never grew up around eight-tracks and on that fateful day, his curiosity led him to make the most out of the $5 bundle.

Brown moved from Little Rock to Fort Worth, Texas in 2008. Between moving from state to state, working as a server at The Woodshed Smokehouse and preparing for a baby on the way, Brown struggled to find time to produce and sell tapes. To adjust to his new lifestyle, he took a 5-year hiatus from Dead Media Tapes in 2013.

In 2018, Brown received an opportunity that changed the pace of his idle business at Dead Media Tapes forever.

Brown was tasked to produce 1,000 copies of Swedish rock band Ghost’s newest album release, “Prequel.” Optimistic about the future of Dead Media Tapes, the opportunity gave Brown the push he needed to quit his job as a server and start his business back up again.

Given a tight two-month deadline, Brown enlisted his two friends Ben Hance and Ryan Elmore to help make the copies. Hance said that a typical work day consisted of arriving at Brown’s Fort Worth home in the early mornings and scrubbing, repairing and timing “piles of tape” for hours on end.

“We had a lot of fun, but we were always behind on schedule and in a rush,” Hance said. “It was just a huge order for such a small crew.”

For nearly two and a half months, Brown and his friends worked on the project in a cramped workspace in his home for 18 hours a day. Brown said that although the process was “psychologically difficult,” the payback was worth it.

“I hoped that the ride would continue after the Ghost project ended, and it did,” Brown said. “The following job was making eight-tracks and reel-to-reel tapes for Alice Cooper.”

Now, Brown works out of his house garage in Denton. He works on a simple desk table surrounded by a collection of eight-track cassette players, a bookshelf of his reel-to-reel tapes and his 1-year-old daughter’s toys.

In March, Sony and Columbia Records reached out to Brown to make eight-tracks and reels for Grammy award-winning producer, Mark Ronson’s album “Late Night Feelings.” Brown said that this was a “notable” project since it marked the first time a major label like Columbia Records has had an eight-track release in 30 years.

Brown said that the sacrifices that he has made to work a job that he is passionate about have all been worth it. Working from home and being his own boss has allowed him to spend more time with his family as well as work on his own music.

“There’s different levels of listening and appreciating different aspects of things,” Brown said. “If you’re an average listener then who cares what you’re listening to music on if you enjoy it.”

Featured Image: Founder of Dead Media Tapes, Nathan Brown poses with some of the first eight-track tapes he ever produced in his garage work space on July 18, 2019 in Denton. Brown has produced tapes for musical acts such as local Little Rock, Arkansas rock band Crisco Kids and Sony and Columbia Record’s U.K. artist Mark Ronson. Photo by Bridnee Bizor

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Bridnee Bizor

Bridnee Bizor

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