Digital Archiving: Audio
This month, we continue our series on creating a digital archive and take a look at how to handle cassettes, vinyl and almost any other type of recorded audio. So, if you have oral histories, music or more you want to digitize from an older format, read on.
First, a quick note about oral histories and other spoken word recordings before we get to the technical details about digitizing audio. For these, you want to keep in mind that a written transcript is often the best way to preserve the content of the recordings and make them accessible to other users. Poetry, short stories and oral histories in text format can be published, posted to a website or collected in a printed volume. In most cases, you may not want to keep replaying the original as you transcribe, so you will want to digitize first. Digitizing may also make it easier to do the transcription, since you can use an mp3 player or your PC to play back the audio.
Now on to the digitizing! The first key is to have a playback device that fits they type of media you are starting with, so you will want to dig out your turntables and cassette decks. It is best if the device has a line out audio jack on it. This would be a jack that looks like a headphone jack, so it would be a single round hole that you could fit a set of headphones with a standard 3.5mm stereo jack in (think iPod headphones). RCA jacks for connecting to a stereo system (larger red and black or white) could also be used with an adapter.
The next item you need is a cable. Your computer will most likely have a microphone jack in it, so you need the correct cables to connect the turntable or cassette deck to the computer's microphone jack. If you have a line out jack on the playback device, you just need a simple male to male stereo cable. Plug on end into the line out jack on the playback device and one end into the microphone jack on the computer. If you have the red and white (or red and black) RCA jacks, you will need a male to male RCA to 3.5mm stereo cable or adapter. Plug the RCA ends into the device’s output and the stereo plug into the computer’s microphone jack. You should now be set-up to record from the playback device.
You will then want to install software to do the recording. There are many packages available, but one of the best is available for free, Audacity. The program is fairly straight-forward and it is easy to get right to work. If you get stuck, there is an online wiki with detailed instructions. One note of caution, make sure to turn off your screen saver or any power settings that might cause the computer to hibernate or go to sleep if you have a long recording, or else you will get cut-off.
The main layout of Audacity includes a set of on-screen controls that look like what you would see on a cassette deck, so digitizing is a lot like making a mix tape. You want to click record on Audacity (red button) and hit play on your playback device. If you get some blank space at the beginning of the recording, you can cut it out later.
Note the volume control next to the microphone icon, this can be used to adjust the input volume.
If you are used to working with recording levels on a cassette deck, those are here as well. When your original is finished playing, hit the yellow stop button on Audacity. Next, go to file, export and, in the save as box, pick mp3 as the file type. Once you hit save, you will get a pop-up that lets you fill in artist, title, etc.
You should now have digital copy of your audio. If you want, you can use the tools in Audacity to cut out dead spots and adjust the audio to clean up, most of these are listed under effects and detailed information on how each works can be found on the help wiki. At this point, you can now transfer the files to an mp3 player or burn CDs using your favorite CD software.
- Laura N.