THE humble cassette - that tiny little plastic rectangle containing the homemade mix tapes of yesteryear - is back, joining vinyl as a darling of audiophiles who miss side A and side B.

But as top musicians including Arianna Grande and Justin Bieber release their music on tape and demand continues to climb, the niche revival has faced a global shortage of music-quality magnetic tape needed for production.

Now, two facilities one in the American Midwest and the other in western France - have step in to meet the need.

''It's a good place to be - there's plenty of business for both of us,'' said Steve Stepp, who founded the  National Audio Company in Springfield, Missouri with his father 50 years ago.

He said that around 2000 the ''imperial hegemony of the CD cut his business, which stayed alive as a major manufacturer of books on tape that remained popular.

But despite the astronomical rise of streaming, Stepp said rock bands like Pearl Jam and The Smashing Pumpkins began seeking to manufacture anniversary tapes in the  mid-2000s, launching a  cassette comeback tour.

''That convinced major record labels that there was still life in the cassette as a music form,'' he said.

Several years ago National Audio bought 300,000 reels of tape from a South Korean company that gave up music-grade tape production.

As that stockpile began to shrink, his facility in November 2016 was faced with a choice : either make reels or fold.

His business invested several million dollars buying up old equipment from defunct production facilities, and last year National Audio manufactured 18 million audio cassettes, Stepp said, selling to  3,500  record labels globally.

''I think it's got a bright future,'' Stepp told AFP of the cassette market. ''It died in 2000, as far as conventional wisdom was concerned, and it has made a strong comeback since.''

''Reports of its death were greatly exaggerated.'' [Agencies]


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