Monday, June 27, 2005

So You Want To Digitize Your Record Collection, Advice From Some Guy With A Blog

by Tom Bozzo

1. Don't.

2. Seriously, determine whether the material you will be digitizing is available via the iTunes Music Store or another service of your liking. (*) Ninety-nine cents per track is a relative bargain if you value your time and/or sanity at more than $20/hour or so. (**)

3. OK, so your college-era musical tastes are so out-of-print that Apple will have taken over Microsoft by the time the songs you're looking for show up in the iTMS inventory. What do you do?
Slog through it all, and you can have your vinyl rarities on your iPod in the time it takes to play back the songs, split the digital recording into individual tracks, type in the metadata, and convert the files to a useful format! What could better illustrate why we love non-secure digital media?


(*) Don't steal music, blah blah blah. I've never used any of the software sometimes used for extra-legal file sharing as a matter of computer security paranoia, so I couldn't begin to tell you what the likelihood of finding high-quality encodings of pre-digital-era esoterica on the net would be.

(**) Hence, I'll buy Section 25's From The Hip, which inexplicably is available at the U.S. iTMS, rather than make what might be considered in some districts "fair use" of the copy that's hanging on my office wall.

(***) Example for illustration only. Really. No broader offense to Duran Duran fans intended.
I bet you could find some young person who was willing to make nice mp3s of all your vinyls for less than $20/hour.

Work from home, paid in cash. Actually sounds like the perfect job for a retiree who wants to keep full benefits of SS, while making a few extra bucks on the side. But you could never be confirmed as Treasury Sec.
I'm not sure a young person would know what to do with the records, and not just in the sense of not knowing what B-sides are gems and which are junk. So it would probably have to be the technologically-savvy retiree's job.
If you had a list of these "gems" I bet someone could get a good chunk of them to you at less than 99 cents a song....
Anon: See footnote 1, and I wouldn't want to make Grokster's situation any worse than the Supremes' remand makes it. An interesting question is to what extent others have digitized analog-only recordings from the eighties CD transition era and made them available through various media.

Also, as it happens, I never formally inventoried my record collection and so couldn't provide a list either of what I have or what I'm likely to digitize. However, I have already managed to digitize one obscure 12" single ("Pool Valley" by Blow Up) whose A-side happened to be on a CD compilation I own.
I had my dad digitize some of my old vinyl while he was doing his own. A nice deal if you can get it. But the sound quality was still not so hot -- I didn't do a great job of storing that vinyl.

Wishing that iTunes had more obscure 80s gems...
Shatter my dreams, why don't ya... So you're telling me the only way to preserve the vinyls is to ... keep them and the ugly phono to play 'em with? No way!
Nina brings up a good point. Isn't the only true way to listen to a vinyl is on a record player? I think the nostalgia alone makes up for any lack of its portability to digital media.
Phantom: I'm getting what seems like decent quality, though as I noted, it takes a fair amount of attention to get the recording levels right. The input and output settings might affect that, too. I find some MP3s to have a rather harsh and two-dimensional sound.

What would be nice with iTMS would be an easy way of tracking additions to the store. Browsing is just information overload.

Nina: It's not that bad, you just have to want to listen to the records, plus spend a bit of time handling the files. If time is the scarce resource, then keeping and playing the records is the thing to do. There are cool-looking turntables out there, though they tend to be shockingly expensive.

Bryan: There is something to be said for that, and indeed I did suggest that there was no good substitute for the 12" vinyl packaging here -- you can also see from the earlier post that I've changed my tune a bit on the sound quality of 128kbps MP3s.
I can state the following as fact without further comment:

1. Warren Zevon's _Stand in the Fire_ (which I own on vinyl) has never been released on CD.

2. All tracks from it have been known to float around the share services.

3. I don't have the technology to convert from vinyl to mp3.
Ken: Since Zevon has a nontrivial following, even if he's not a completely mainstream musician, one of the interesting questions is where (if anywhere) in the 'long tail' of the popularity distribution of analog-only recordings digital availability starts to wane.

How's the sound quality of those files, BTW? I was getting some amusement out of the faithful digital reproduction of various vinyl sonic flaws in the tracks I've worked on so far. (Have to resist the urge to crank the music during playback --> feedback through the phono cartridge.)

I've also been noticing via discographies that there's a bit better CD coverage than I'd thought of some of my targeted material, though the CDs are sometimes rare. So I need an excuse to get to NYC so I can flip through the used-CD racks at Other Music, or failing that find the nearest Chicagoland alternative.
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