Personal Digitalization, or Converting Cassettes and LPs

While I’ve been off work recovering from surgery this fall, I’ve been trying to spend some time on digitizing my audio cassettes and LP records.  I’ve been working on cassettes for a while before this (and not quite in time for some of them; flexible magnetic tape has a finite life span and some cassettes didn’t make it).  Since then, I’ve been adding more.

The catch was, my poor old turntable did not hold up well to having a 13 pound cat jump up on it while it was trying to play. (Don’t ask.)  There went that piece of hardware.  (Oh, well, going by LOL Cats, I’m not the only one … )

Receiver/Amplifiers built lately (like 21st century, I think) don’t often have a pre-amp for use with turntables, generally speaking, and my old one (circa 1970s) was pretty much out of service as well.  Well, once you get past 30-some years old….

I got the package from DAK which includes a high-quality turntable, a pre-amp mixer, and software called Audio Workshop.  I also got a converter to send the sound through a USB connection, rather than struggling with the microphone connection on my all-in-one desktop, for better sound.

So, I tried the Audio Workshop, which worked well for recording, noise reduction, and creating MP3 files.  For singles.  When I tried it with an entire album, however, it got complicated.

When you record an entire side of, say, six songs, and ask the Audio Workshop to divide it up, I couldn’t find a setting that got me less than 42 divisions.  That’s a LOT of editing.  And I still had to input the MP3 information such as song title, artist, the album… you get the idea.

I’d seen a recommendation on Amazon for a different turntable, from somebody who was using software called VinylStudio.  The functions are there, but VinylStudio is better about dividing because it allows you to download the album info from Amazon or other sources, so it knows how many divisions you should have, and fills in much of the info and album cover.  Of course, it’s actually using the CD version since that’s what Amazon or another source shows with a complete track listing, but as long as it is close enough, I have all the information I need.

It works just fine with the turntable, etc.

I “create” a record for an album, I check the levels to set the mixer at, and then start recording.  I pause it to turn the record over, and then resume.  While that’s going on, I can look up the tracks and the album cover (from different sources, if necessary), and import them.

Based on the downloaded track listing, VinylStudio tries to set track breaks based on the listing and its guess at where the tracks separate.

bad track guess


The flat part is the silence between tracks.  As you can see from the vertical line, the software tends to be close but never hits the mark.








So, I move the line over to where the silence begins.

corrected track split



From here, I hold down the Shift key and start with the green arrow at the top.  I drag the line over, creating a complete track split.







created track break



The diagonal slashes show that the software acknowledges this part as the split between tracks and will not include it when saved.

I repeat this for all the tracks, which doesn’t really take that long.

There may be a way to adjust for this more accurately, but I haven’t experimented with it as yet.




There’s a click reduction feature, which is actually pretty sensitive to things like percussion and such, so it seems to do pretty well at cutting down on noise, at least from LP records.  I haven’t tried it on any cassette yet but there’s also a hiss reduction to try on those.

click analysis

Here’s an example of the click analysis.  The fact that percussion and brass are accounted for and not repaired seems fairly impressive, and the results have been good.




So, while I don’t officially endorse the equipment or software, this is how it worked out for me.  It’s going to be a loooonnnnggg project, because I’ve got a lot of old albums and cassettes.  Since this is ONLY for my personal use, and I continue to own the originals, I am not stepping on any copyrights.

Side note: recently saw the movie “The Martian” — remember the complaining about the commander’s addiction to disco music?  At one point her husband holds up a vintage record album he found for her in a garage sale or someplace.  I had just digitized that one a few days before!



Cataloging (the) blues

[updated 2010.5.25]

So, I’m cataloging a huge batch (over 1700!) of CDs donated by the family of a man who used to do radio programs on the blues.

It’s not easy, folks.

To do these properly and make them a truly useful reference for people doing research on blues music, I’m trying to make sure that every bibliographic record has (a) a complete list of the musical pieces on it (for keyword searching), and (b) a subject line for the blues artist(s) on it (for grouping by the individual artist or group under a standard entry).

That means that I need to download authority records from OCLC to our catalog, so we can have a standard authority for each person and cross-references to nicknames, aliases, etc.  It avoids variations in spelling, nicknames, etc.

Now, if you know blues names like “Muddy Waters” or “Little Joe Blue”, you might expect these would be easy to find.

Try this one (yes, it’s copied directly from a real authority record) for Robyn,  William:

SUBJ AUTH    Robyn, William, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Bennett, Bert, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Brown, Tom, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Conroy, Frank, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Conroy, Fred, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Crane, Thornely, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Ender, Jack, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Foster, Al, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Franklin, Fred, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Gravelle, Buddy, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Hamilton, Edward, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Hamilton, Ray, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Mack, Bobby, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Manning, John, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Norton, Walter, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Powell, Ray, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Powell, Roy, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Ray, Walter, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Robinow, William, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Robinson, William, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Robyn, Willie, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Ruban, George, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Rubin, William, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Rubinoff, Mario, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Rubinoff, William, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Scarpioff, William, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Scarpioff, Wolf, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Scott, Henry, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Shaw, Eddie, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Smith, Harry, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Spear, John, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Stanley, William, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Waters, Frankie, 1894-1996
SUBJ S FRM    Wee Willie, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Allison, James, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Bolton, Jamie, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Clarke, Walter, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Forsythe, Reg, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Francis, William, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Hart, Charles, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Henderson, Larry, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Henry, Lawrence, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Hillman, Bob, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Johnson, Al, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Lee, Albert, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    O’Shea, Allen, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    O’Shea, John, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Playman, Edmund, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Remick, Walter, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Richards, Edgar, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Richards, Walter, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Rickman, Eddie, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Roberts, Billy, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Roberts, Lewis, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Robin, Wyllie, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Thomas, Brian, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Turner, Ray, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Weston, Les, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    White, Jerry, 1894-1996.
SUBJ S FRM    Young, Louis, 1894-1996.
NOTE    William Robyn oral history interviews: label (William Robyn) transcript (Wolf Scarpioff, Mario Rubinoff)
NOTE    Enc. of rec. sound, c2005 (Robyn, William; b. Latvia 1894; d. Englewood, N.J., 12 Apr. 1996; tenor; born William Rubin he used more than 50 pseudonyms on recordings published by Victor, Columbia, Cameo, and approx. 50 other labels between 1919 and 1931)
NOTE    Pseudonyms on American records, c2005: p. 401 (Bert Bennett ; Tom Brown ; Frank Conroy ; Fred Conroy ; Thornely Crane ; Jack Ender ; Al Foster ; Fred Franklin ; Buddy Gravelle ; Edward Hamilton ; Ray Hamilton ; Bobby Mack ; John Manning ; Walter Norton ; Ray or Roy Powell ; Walter Ray ; William Robinow ; William Robinson ; “Wee” Willie Robyn ; George Ruban ; Cantor William Rubin ; William Rubinoff ; William Scarpioff ; Henry Scott ; Eddie Shaw ; Harry Smith ; John Spear ; William Stanley ; Frankie Waters ; Wee Willie)
NOTE    ARSC journal, v. 23, no. 2 (1992): p. 223 (James Allison, Jamie Bolton, Walter Clarke, Reg Forsythe, William Francis, Charles Hart, Larry Henderson, Lawrence Henry, Bob Hillman, Al Johnson, Albert Lee, Allen or John O’Shea, Edmund Playman, Walter Remick, Edgar or Walter Richards, Eddie Rickman, Billy or Lewis Roberts, Wyllie Robin, Brian Thomas, Ray Turner, Les Weston, Jerry White, Louis Young, Olympia Quartet (member))

He used more than 50 different names?!?!?!  (I have to wonder, was somebody chasing this guy all the way from Latvia?  Or, whose decision at the record label(s) was it to create yet another pseudonym?)  Maybe this was simply to avoid legal encumbrances made under other names, but come on!

And then we have all the short, fairly common names like “Joe Martin” or “Henry Gray” (and actually, those are relatively easy — less than ten different authority records to check to find the musician among them).

And THREE, count ’em, THREE different Howlin’ Wolf guys.   There’s J.T. “Funny Paper” Smith a.k.a. the Howling Wolf, and Chester Arthur Burnett, and neither of these should be confused with “English rhythm and blues singer Howlin’ Wolf”.  Go figure.  So, I’m paging through each little CD notes booklets to figure out which one is playing on this specific CD….

This is why Hollywood makes each performer have a slightly different name, to avoid this kind of confusion.  Good thinking!

Anyway, it will be a useful and valuable collection when I get it cataloged.  But it is going to be a long, slow, very picky job.

And that’s what catalogers have to be good at doing.


Having griped about William Robyn, I find that his pseudonym Eddie Shaw is not even the correct Eddie Shaw!  Turns out that Eddie Shaw 1937- is the blues musician I needed.

Catalogers got the right to sing the blues, all right….

(Thanks to the person who emailed me with the alert to check this!)