I am beyond delighted to be sharing this guest article with you! Sophie Denman, my friend and course-mate, writes an archives blog over at sophiearchives.wordpress.com. I am so excited for this article, because I have a cassette (pictured above) that is really special to me. It contains a recording my now-20-year-old brother as a baby telling me a story about "The Scary Owl". Thank you so much for this, Sophie!
Digitising audio cassette tapes
If, like me, you’ve been eagerly following Charlotte’s great posts here on Archive Robin, you’ll know that she is on a mission to help us save our digital treasures, and today, it’s the turn of audio cassette tapes.
Audio cassettes are one of many formats which have become superseded, are now rarely used, and which likely contain information which cannot be easily accessed into the future. Many people have home recordings on cassette tapes which can now only be accessed by using a tape player, and that’s not something that many of us have lying around the house. But in the words of Douglas Adams (hello Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy), Don’t Panic! Cassette tapes can be digitised, and your treasures can be saved! In my job as an archivist for a luxury London retailer, I’ve been researching the possibilities of digitising a collection of tapes which hold oral history interviews, and armed with my new-found knowledge, Charlotte has asked me to share a little guide on digitising audio cassettes with you.
What do I need?
- Your audio cassettes
- A cassette player
- A laptop or computer with a Line-In Jack
- An inexpensive male-to-male Stereo Jack cable
- The free, open-source software, Audacity for converting your tapes into digital files.
What do I do?
Step 1: Pop a tape into your tape player, and attach the player to your computer by connecting the cable between the player’s headphone socket and the computer’s Line-In Jack. Easy so far, right?
Step 2: Time to get the software linked to the tape player. Open up the Audacity application. Select Edit>Preferences>Devices and in the Recording section, open the Device drop-down menu and select your input source, which will probably be called Line In. Now click OK.
Step 3: Testing testing! Before we start the conversion process, let’s just check that everything is working. Press play on the cassette player and on Audacity click the microphone icon on the top banner and Start Monitoring. The sound levels should start to fluctuate, and you can adjust the sound levels with the Recording Volume slider on the left. Once you are happy that everything is working, press the microphone again and Stop Monitoring.
Step 4: It’s time to start digitising! Rewind the cassette back to the beginning, press play on the tape player and the red Record button on Audacity and let the tape play until the end. This will happen in real time. When this process has finished, press Stop in Audacity, and to clean up the recording select Effect>Normalise.
Step 5: Some tapes may have periods of silence at the start and end of the recordings, but this can be easily removed through a bit of housekeeping. Simply highlight these areas by clicking and dragging and then press delete. If you’re been a bit over-zealous with your clicking and dragging and accidentally delete too much, then just press Ctrl and Z on your keyboard to reverse this deletion and you can have another go.
Step 6: You’ve made it! It’s the final step! Click on File>Export>Export as WAV, and save this file with some appropriate metadata in a secure location. Save another copy as an MP3 for the purposes of access.
You will need to repeat these 6 steps for each tape that you would like to digitise, and remember that cassette tapes may have content recorded on each side, so make sure that you check both sides of the tape so that you capture all of your audio treasures. But wait, we’re not quite over yet! Your new digital files can provide access to your great audio content, but we want to make sure that we can continue accessing the content into the future. This is where I hand over to Charlotte and her great article How to Save Your Digital Treasures, where you can find out how and why you should look after your digital files.
Thank you again to Sophie for this guest article. If you liked it, please do tell her so on twitter!
Check out her blog: sophiearchives.wordpress.com
And follow her on Twitter: @sophiearchives_
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