Friday, September 21, 2007

Digitizing the Analog

I spent some time over the last two days learning to use some of ECIT's audio equipment and software. I decided to learn how to digitize some analog material and so brought in a live recording of the band I played with during my freshman year of college: The Shriners. This was the first recording we'd made other than setting up a bad tape recorder at the back of a venue where we were playing. We used a DAT deck, routed through the sound board of the place where we performed, and then used the recording to make 300 or so shiny red cassette tapes that we sold for $2 each.

Not wanting this piece of nostalgia to degrade any further than it had after 12 years, I brought the tape into ECIT. Using a tape deck, a sound board and Sound Forge, I recorded the tape into a digital file. It took a little bit to figure out the levels of the input because I wanted to avoid clipping, but within 10 minutes I was up and running. After inputting the entire tape (the tape deck I was using was nice and automatically flipped the audio to the other side while I was recording so I only had one track), I used Sound Forge to trim down the silence that began and ended the recording. SF is an very powerful tool, but since I mainly wanted to archive the audio, I used it to save the track out to a WAV file (which is lossless [meaning it captured perfectly the imperfect quality of the tape]) and was more or less done.

I then moved on to another computer to play with Audacity, which is also sound-editing software. My goal here was to change take the WAV and save out individual tracks to mp3. I could have done this with Sound Forge as easily as Audacity, but I went with the latter for a few reasons. First of all, it's a tool Shannon and Wayne have wanted me to learn to use. Second, what's great about Audacity is that it is free (as opposed to SF's $300 price tag), it's cross-platform (SF is Windows only), and it is open source (meaning that it's constantly getting improved by a collaborative community of coders).

I thought that I would have to manually split the tracks of the WAV into chunks before encoding it into mp3, but Audacity has a tool to analyze for stretches of silence. Using this, the program found the breaks in my file, allowed me to label them with the titles of the tracks, and then export to mp3. The process took at most 3 minutes. And you can hear the results here. Just think of the career I gave up in upbeat-based music to come and spend time at Emory.

In any case, the lesson learned is that it's VERY easy to come in and digitize older materials (LPs, cassettes, VHS, etc.) for archival use (if you own the copyright) or for use in the classroom. As Emory moves more toward iTunes U, these tools will also help us splice, edit, and improve (or add wahwah) to the recordings we are making.

1 comment:

rachel said...

My husband Brian uses a lot of this audio software for both moving LP's to the computer and for writing music. I know he likes SF, but I think has found Ableton's Live to be more of a one-stop shop. It is not, sadly, free.