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Convert cassettes into MP3sIf your analog music collection still contains some precious cassette tapes, here's your chance to make those recordings relevant again. Dust off your old cassette deck and watch as Donald Bell explains how to make digital copies of your old mix tapes.
There are some great recordings out there that are trap on cassette tape. To rescue them, I'm gonna show you my preferred method for turning tapes into MP3's. Now there are dozen ways to do this but I like this one because it's free and it's fast. First step, make sure you're dealing with a recording that you can't easily buy on CD or MP3. Check eBay, check iTunes but avoid the hassle of converting if you can. Next, find the tape deck and the best case scenario you can find one like this one that has RCA output and is in good condition an old Walkman will do too if you're not too picky. Now figure out how the deck is gonna connect to your computer. In this case, I have RCA outputs coming out of the tape deck and a mini jack stereo mic going into the PC. If you have an older PC with a blue line input, that's the preferred way to go. If your computer doesn't have a line input like this Mac, you'll need to get a USB audio adapter. Don't go overboard. You can find solutions for under $50. Next, install a free program called Audacity which is available for both Mac and PC. Once, that's installed, let's do a sample recording to make sure everything is working. Check up here to make sure that the recording input is set to where the tape deck is connected. If you're using the mike input, turn that mike in all the way down to line level, now hit record and hit play on the tape deck and if all goes well, you should see the wave form of the tapes audio right in front of you. After a few seconds, hit stop and listen back to the recording to make sure it sounds okay. Assuming it does, you're ready to do the whole thing. Rewind the tape, hit record on Audacity plus play on the tape and now just let the whole side play through. Don't forget to stop recording when it's over. Now listen back to the recording to make sure everything checks out. To maximize the volume, I'm gonna go into the edit menu and select all and then go into the FX menue and select amplify. By default it will set itself to the maximum amount that recording can be boosted before distorting. Hit okay. Next comes the real pro moves that will cut the project time in half. Instead of individually copying and pasting each songs into each own file, we're gonna drop markers at the beginning of each song and then export them all in one batch. Find the beginning of the first song and click on the wave form to place the cursor there. Then go to the tracks menu and select add label, add selection. Since this is the first song, I'll label it number one. Now, do this for the rest of the tracks, numbering them as you go. Typically, you can eyeball this by looking at the spaces between tracks but be sure to double check your markers. A dramatic pause in the middle of the song can easily fake you out. If you wanna do this really fast, learn the keyboard shortcut for adding a label. On a PC, control V will let you fly through this. When you get to the end, trim the silence off of the last track by selecting the silence and hitting delete. Finally, use the export multiple command in the file menu. You'll seen an intimidating screen of options but all you need to worry about is that export format is set to wave and at the export location is somewhere handy. I would opt for a new folder on your desktop. Hit export and you'll be shown a series of windows where you can enter in track information. I have a better method for adding track information which I'll show you at the end. So, for now make sure that the numbers you labeled to each track uppers here as the track names. If so, just hit okay on each one of them to close them. Now, Audacity will export individual wave files for each of the tracks you labeled on the side A. Now you can flip your tape over and go to the same recording process with side B. Just make sure you pick up the number in where you left off at the end of side A. Once you get wave files on both sides of the tape, it's time to start archiving them and converting them into MP3. Now, there's a few tweaks you could have so that you're exporting Mp3s right out of Audacity. For me though, I'm gonna make iTunes my last opt so that I can archive my high quality wave files to CD, convert to MP3 and add track info more quickly. So, let's do it. Make a new playlist and name it after your tape. Drag your files on to this playlist to add them to iTunes and wait for them to pull over. Make sure they're in the right order and then right click on the playlist to burn the files to CD. You'll see options here to burn them as either an audio CD that you can play on a CD player or a data CD where you can copy the files to another computer. Either one is fine for the job of archiving so it's up to you. Burn it, label it, file it away. Now to convert this to MP3, go into the iTunes preferences, open the import settings and make sure that the import format is set to MP3 at whatever quality you want. Hit okay and go back to your playlist, select all of the tracks, right click and select create MP3 version. When that's done, click on your musical library and sort by date added to see the MP3 versions of the songs you just created at the top of the list above the high quality wave versions. Select just the MP3 version by holding down the shift key and then go up to the file menu and select get info. Now you can enter in the artist and the album info for all the tracks at once and even add cover art then hit okay. To enter the individual track names, select just one of the tracks and get info. Go info pane and answer the track title then hit next to enter the next title all the way through to the end. When you're done, hit okay. That's it. You're done. You have an MP3 version of your tape, plus the playlist and a backup CD of the high quality wave files. For more tips like these, visit howto. CNET.com and if you have any tips for me or request for other how to's, you can find me on Facebook and Twitter. For CNET.com, I'm Donald Bell.