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Value Beyond Cost  (February 2019)


In my initial posting Me and My Blog, I noted that I had converted several hundred of my recordings and those of family members, but I didn’t mention the reason I initially got into this.  My amplifier had died, rendering my turntable and reel-to-reel tape deck temporarily useless, and at the time I couldn’t pursue replacing the amp.  But I still wanted to listen to my music, and converting it to digital format presented itself as a means of doing so, as well as a new challenge.


I got started by investing in a new cartridge, a variable output pre-amp, and audio recording/editing, noise reduction, and equalization software.  I then launched into a several-month period of recording, noise reduction, waveform editing, and burning CDs.


What I got out of all this was much more than what I expected.  I certainly ended up with music in a more accessible, portable, and durable format, as I had intended.  That the music had a much cleaner sound than what was on my records turned out to be a gratifying bonus, and I learned how to approach conversion, noise reduction, and waveform editing and, just as importantly, what not to do.  But there was more.



During my project, I discovered that a couple of my records had been damaged to the point that they sounded horrible and couldn’t be salvaged with any amount of noise reduction and waveform editing.  Hoping to purchase replacements, I instead confirmed a nagging suspicion that some musical pieces and albums are “out of print.”  That’s when it dawned on me that digitizing audio recordings also functions to preserve music that is no longer available.


That value of preservation was driven home as I was converting my reel-to-reel tapes.  I came across some personal and irreplaceable recordings that I had forgotten about, including musical performances in college and graduate school, my mother singing, my father giving presentations, and a string quartet composed by my mother and a church piece that I had composed, both of which were performed and recorded only once.  I shared several of these with family members, since I knew the recordings would be meaningful to them as well.


I have encountered similar circumstances in my business.  Several customer records have been badly worn or warped (including seemingly inflexible 78s), and there have been numerous examples of personal, one-of-a-kind recordings, such as a 1983 cassette of a customer’s father telling stories and singing songs for his grandchildren, conversations with parents and other elderly relatives about family history, and a daughter’s voice recital playable only on a Digital Audio Workstation.  Moreover, as some audio formats have given way to newer ones, many people have abandoned their older technology and no longer have turntables (especially those capable of playing 78s), reel-to-reel tape decks, or cassette players, and devices they still might have may no longer be functional.


Emotional Connections to Recordings

As I had anticipated, it was wonderful rediscovering music that I hadn’t listened to in decades.  But I was unprepared for the emotional impact imparted by many of the recordings.  Listening to the records that my parents played in our home and tapes of the family celebrating Christmas brought back memories of my boyhood.  Hearing my now-departed father’s presentations helped keep the connection alive.  Likewise, several customers have told me about their special attachment to recordings played or made by family members, especially parents.


What really surprised me, though, was how listening to certain songs would magically transport me back to times in my youth—to gatherings of friends, parties, dates, all-night study sessions, long drives at night….  Some of the memories are cherished, some bittersweet.  Some of these songs are classics; others have little redeeming musical value.  None of that seems to matter.  An article I recently read suggested that these music-induced “flashbacks” stem from connections made during one’s formative years—from early teens into one’s mid-twenties.  It’s a time of growth and maturation from adolescence into adulthood when one develops intellectually and emotionally and where one is surrounded by friends and shared experiences, including music.  As above, customers have related their joyful “regressions” when listening to music I have converted for them.



I enjoy the process and challenges of conversion, noise reduction, and waveform editing functions and providing customers’ music to them in a new format, and it’s nice getting paid for having fun.  But the real satisfaction I derive is from preserving customers’ music that would otherwise be lost to them, and from customers’ palpable pleasure in being reconnected emotionally to their cherished recordings.  This is what really keeps me going.


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