Bringing music from an old cassette tape to life again
May 6, 2017 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Who can convert music from a cassette tape to either a digital format or a CD?

The scenario: We have a cassette tape of folk and children's songs in my MIL's native language. We would like to share the music with the next generation, but we can't because nobody has a cassette player!

It's a somewhat uncommon language and we can't find any other copies, cassette, digital, or otherwise. We unsuccessfully tried to contact one of the people involved in making it. We are unsure of the copyright status. (It was recorded by a group that got a grant from the Canadian government, if that matters.)

We don't have any recording or audio equipment, so we would need someone to do it for us. The few places I have asked have said they won't transfer any music at all because of copyright concerns. We would only be using the copy to share within the family and not for any commercial use.

Can anyone recommend a service that would convert the cassette to either a digital file or put it on a CD? We are in the San Francisco Bay area, but would be willing to mail-order it elsewhere in the United States.
posted by bbq_ribs to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I just started converting some cassette tapes to my hard drive and it is super easy to do yourself with a minimum of equipment!

I bought an old Sony Walkman used on Amazon for under $20 and a normal double-male headphone jack for less than $5. Then just plugged the Walkman into the microphone port of my laptop. Wah-la, I can successfully record the tapes directly onto my computer. And now I have a Walkman which is kinda fun.

Step-by-step instructions:

Also, if the Walkman or tape deck investment isn't worth it MeMail me I'd be happy to convert it for ya.
posted by forkisbetter at 6:10 PM on May 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

We've used our local Home Video Studio franchise (in Maryland) to copy a cassette tape onto CD. You might check with one in your area and see what they say. It looks like these folks might be an option. We don't have a car so just sent our stuff to the place via UPS.
posted by gudrun at 6:45 PM on May 6, 2017

Be aware that old cassettes that haven't been played for years can be very fragile indeed. Generally the pinch rollers or felts or hubs or adhesives will often fail even before the tape. The tape is likely to have serious print-through. Doing it yourself may be fine or you may encounter a problem that requires repairing the tape, or even re-housing the tape. A cheap player is not a good idea for this and other reasons. Are you sure the recording is not available digitally on the market? The scarcity of the original should determine how much care you take on doing this right the first time, because sometimes you get only one chance before old tape disintegrates.

If this is a First Nations indigenous language I may be able to help you directly. I also may be able to advise you on other sources of recordings that might be available to you in the language. And there is some chance this recording might be valuable for a FN community if it is not otherwise known or available or archived. This (archiving of Indigenous sound recordings and endangered language work) is my main line of work. Memail me.

If it's an immigrant language like Gaelic or Ukrainian the same issues may stil apply. There's a lot of recent work on pulling together Gaelic stuff in particular.

Anyway of the tape is precious to you I recommend having this done professionally. A suggestion is to ask a local university librarian for local vendors they use. This is an art and not just a technical skill. I've been doing it for years and cassettes present unique issues. If you can afford to lose it or don't care that much about preserving quality, 9 times out of 10 a cheap home setup will work to give you an adequate dub. But if it's unique or important it's best to insure against a worst case scenario.

You'd be amazed at what has been digitized and archived though. You may be able to acquire a digital copy legitimately.

There is no real copyright issue if you're making a single dub of a recording you own for preservation purposes. There may be deeper issues if the recording contains traditional music but that goes beyond the scope of your situation (and is the other side of my line of work).

And by the way what you're doing is important. The reason I work with this stuff is so that future kids will know something of the way their ancestors spoke and sang. Bravo/a.
posted by spitbull at 7:58 PM on May 6, 2017 [9 favorites]

Similar to the first suggestion you could also just get something like this: USB Cassette player
posted by miles at 9:48 PM on May 6, 2017

Check your MeMail, bbq_ribs.
posted by Rash at 8:36 AM on May 7, 2017

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