Digitizing my music

Posted by on Oct 30, 2016 in Brian's Blog, Music | 0 comments

For the past couple of months, I have been going through my old cassette tapes and transferring the music to iTunes, using a process I will describe later in this post. I recommend that anyone with a collection of cherished music on cassette do the same if you want to preserve your tunes for posterity – or at least for the next generation of audiophiles.

I found, to my distress, that the audio quality on some of my cassettes – many of them more than 40 years old – had deteriorated to the point where the music was unplayable. In other instances, the plastic film had separated from the retaining spools, which rendered the cassettes unplayable.

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But in one instance I felt the music was too important to let a defective cassette prevent me from playing it again, so I fixed the cassette – with some effort because I don’t have the hands of a watchmaker or a surgeon – by removing the five tiny screws from the plastic shell, sticking the film to the retaining spool with a small piece of scotch tape, and closing up the plastic shell again.

I salvaged some wonderful selections of music, some of which I didn’t even know I had in my possession. One was the Mercury Songbook: 100 Jazz Vocal Classics, featuring songs by Dinah Washington, Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan and other jazz greats of the past. That recording is now available on CD, and audio purists will tell you the analog original had a “warmer” sound. My ears are not good enough to feel the warmth, but I was glad to discover that my analog version of the music had no scratches, hisses, pops or distortions.

Another great discovery, for me, was a selection of Irish ballads I recorded in 1968 for the Smithers, British Columbia radio station, CFBV (now called The Moose), when I worked as a reporter with the local Interior News weekly. The owner of the station, Ron East, welcomed contributions from the community and was pleased to feature me every week presenting this short musical program that I called Ramblin’ and Rovin’. I had completely forgotten about the program until I found the 48-year-old cassette. Bob Nunn, the CFBV deejay who taped the program for me, had taken the 36 recordings before the station recycled them and transferred the music to cassette so I would have a permanent souvenir of the program. Happily, the audio quality of this cassette remained pristine, even if my guitar playing and singing occasionally left something to be desired.

So how did I transfer the music from cassette to iTunes? This was a bit of a challenge at first because Apple always likes to stay ahead of the curve, whatever that might look like, and has recently decided there’s no future for analog on any of its devices. There’s no headphone jack on the latest iPhone, for example, and my two-year-old iMac has no audio input. I tried to get around this problem by playing the music on a regular cassette player and recording it to my iPad with an app called SmartRecord. But this wasn’t very satisfactory because SmartRecord picked up all the ambient sound in my office along with the sound from the cassette player’s speaker, so I looked around for a better solution.

When I discussed the problem with the people at The Source, they told me I might have to purchase an analog to digital converter, which could have cost me as much as $400. No thanks.

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Then I discovered a $15 solution, a USB stereo audio adapter that works like a charm. The sound is clear as a bell when I transfer the music by cable from the cassette player to the iMac, and a couple of inexpensive applications on the computer do all the rest of the work for me.

One is a program called Audio Hijack that I use to record the music on the iMac. The other is called Fission. It allows me to edit the audio file and insert splits between the tunes before importing them into iTunes.

The final steps in the process are to rename the song titles in iTunes – because they all come with whatever name I have given the audio file as a whole –and create a smart playlist for them in iTunes so I can easily access them. The tunes are then available on all my devices. I can bring them with me wherever I go. I look forward to accessing the newly digitized music on my iPad the next time I go away on holidays. If I hadn’t decided to take on this labour of love, the old cassettes would still be sitting in a drawer somewhere, unplayed and forgotten.

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Copyright 2016 Brian Brennan - Writer

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