Monday, January 17, 2011

Adding albums to the music mix

I spent some time over the holidays updating the music on my iPhone. That’s something that I do periodically, as it has far less capacity than would be required to hold my music collection and I like to vary what I listen to. The sources for the tracks are varied. Some I download from iTunes and other sources. I often digitize music that I have on CD. Less often, I digitize music that I have on vinyl albums or 45s, and doing so recently got me thinking about mix tapes.

I’ve created them, in the distant past, and enjoyed the reverence for the form in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity (in both novel and film versions). Still, it had been many years since I made a mix tape, and even a few years since my last round of vinyl digitization. In the intervening time I had filtered from my memory just how out tedious it can be to digitize more than a few tracks. I retained only a fuzzily idealized notion of savouring each track while it is transferred to digital form (or, as I did in days gone by, cassette tape). That notion holds for the first few tracks, but the novelty does wear off! Here’s a simplified version of the steps required to digitize a track:
  • Connect the turntable to the computer.
  • Pull the record from it’s sleeve and put it on the turntable.
  • Start the turntable and drop the needle on the track; set recording levels to be loud but not so loud that distortion is introduced during the loudest passages.
  • Once levels are set, drop the needle again, but before the piece starts.
  • Start the digitizing/recording.
  • Enjoy the track while it plays.
  • When the track has finished, stop the digitizing/recording.
  • Remove the record from the turntable and replace it in its sleeve.
  • Edit the digitized track to eliminate any silence at the start and end of the track.
  • Add track to iTunes and add meta data to taste (Track name, Artist, sleeve art, etc.)
  • Repeat as necessary.
Obviously there are workflow optimizations available (e.g., record a batch of tracks, then edit them, then add meta data), but it’s still a laborious process. It was even more so in the past when the target was a cassette tape and the process included selecting tracks to efficiently fill a fixed length tape, manually minimizing silence between tracks, and creating cover artwork by hand.

Anyway, in the end I realized that I don’t at all miss the tedium of creating mix tapes the old-fashioned way, or digitizing analog formats. I do, though, love listening to the iPhone-age equivalent of mix tapes.

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