Thursday, December 28, 2017

Entering the New Digital Age

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

Like historical music? How about old radio broadcasts or oral histories? CCHS has them all. In fact, we have over 300 audio recordings in a number of formats including wax cylinder, record, reel-to-reel tape, 8-track, and audio cassette.  The problem is, we don’t have the necessary equipment to actually listen to half of it, let alone share it with the world. Now, thanks to several recent technology donations, we can finally play our reel-to-reel and cassette tapes. More importantly, we can digitize them.

Why is it important to digitize our audio recordings? Because they are inherently fragile and each play back risks damaging the original. As anyone who remembers destroying their favorite tape can attest, audio cassettes can unspool, tear, or become demagnetized. Reel-to-reel tapes are especially vulnerable to tearing as they lack the cassette’s protective shell. Digitization also makes it easier to share. Save a tape as an audio file and it can be burned to CDs, stored on a flashdrive, or posted on-line somewhere. Our mission as a museum is to share the history of Chemung County and digitization allows us to do that easily with minimal risk to the original recording.

The great thing about audio digitization is it’s not even that hard!

Step 1 – Acquire the right equipment. This includes not only the playback equipment, but also a computer and the necessary cables. Our cassette player was donated by the late Lee Kiesling while the reel-to-reel tape deck was donated by my parents. They each have different audio outputs and required different cables to connect them to the computer. The cables ranged in price from $6 to $12 and were available on-line and at Staples.
Reel-to-reel tape deck with appropriate wires.
Audio cassette player with appropriate wires
Step 2 – Acquire the right software. We use Audacity. It’s a free, open-source audio recording/editing software available for download for Mac and PC. There are on-line training videos plus a handy help guide. I hardily recommend it, but if you have another program you like, well, you do you.

Step 3 – Que up the tape. Before you record, take some time to listen to the tape. Make sure the volume is just right. Make sure it’s rewound to the right place.

Step 4 – Connect the player to your computer. The cable should go from the audio output of the player to the audio input on the computer.

Step 5 – Start recording. Make sure you have selected the right audio input in the program and then hit record. Always hit record before you hit play on the tape or you’ll miss the first few moments. Yes, I learned that the hard way.

Step 6 – Press play and let the digitization begin. Once you press play, you can just sit back while it records. Be sure to check in occasionally to see if it’s done. Then press stop on both and rewind the tape.

Step 7 – Save and edit your audio file. Save the file before you make any edits. Give it the most detailed descriptive name you can including what the recoding is and when it was made. Then you can edit the file. Hitting record before hitting play leaves a bunch of dead air at the beginning, but you can just cut that out. You can also create multiple tracks, play with sound quality, or add effects. Be sure to save again after every modification you make.

I’ve talked specifically about tapes here, but you can follow these steps with any audio format. Speaking of which, if anyone has a working phonograph, record player, or 8-track, we would love to have it.

No comments:

Post a Comment