Saturday, February 16, 2019

ripping music the old-fashioned way

In the beginning (well, my beginning anyway) there were LPs and my parents old 33s. Then cameth cassette tapes and behold the radiant wonder of the CD. Upon this time was a golden age of mixtapes, whereupon one might assemble a cherrypicked selection of tunes (and come on - some may disagree but wouldn't you say most albums are a few good songs and a bunch of filler?) for thine only pleasure or to pitcheth a bit of woo... (gettest thou to the High Fidelity if you are ill-informed of this most wond'rous art.)

There was a brief interval when "mix-CDs" were also kind of a thing - an impressive feat to make one in the mid-90s, when blank CDs were like $25 a pop and a "buffer underrun error" would leave your CD as nothing more than a pretty coaster or frisbee...

But then things went digital even before portable MP3 players (most famously the iPod) really took off. And when laptops were still price luxuries... not sure how we listened to our music, maybe with computer desktop speakers? Anyway, "Napster" was the darling of the turn of millennium - a  co-operative venture that would let you nab pretty much any song you could think of. That was amazing! But, it failed to produce a good method of getting money back to artists...and so Napster was crushed, and for a while there was nothing that replaced it - if you read about a tune and wanted to hear a sample of it, you were probably out of luck.

Eventually, things got better. Online music stores emerged (and Apple dropped its DRM), Youtube coverage of esoteric tracks got about as complete as Napster was, and then came the rise of streaming - a trend I still don't really get. (I sort of see the appeal of customized robo-DJs, but man, I just don't want to encounter that much new so-so music all the time. I prefer buying MP3s, listening to my "recently added" playlist to get acclimated to songs, and keeping all my music even if I stop using a service.)

ANYWAY. There are still some songs or amateur-musicaly-things that aren't available for purchase or other legit download. For a a long while Convert2MP3 did a good job of ripping tracks, but with the rise of Youtube's own attempts at subscription music services, this no longer works for most music tracks (I think it still is an option for some other things that Youtube doesn't categorize as music.)

I figure that with my multiple laptops and tablets I would be able to do rips manually - that a stereo wire with a plug on both ends would let one device playback and the other to record. Turns out it wasn't quite that easy? There are some rumors that Macs' lone audio port used to be able to be used as an input device, but maybe later versions of the OS stopped supporting that. An old Windows 8 laptop didn't seem much better about it.

So not wanting to resort to "be in a really quiet room and use the built-in mic for recording", I bought a USB mic and speaker dongle for like $7, and was then able to use Audacity. I have one wire from the headphone jack on an iPad and it goes right into the microphone dongle, so there's no room noise. I wasn't quite sure how to set the levels, but fiddling with the iPad volume while recording some throwaway tracks 'til the visualization showed consistent filling of most but not all off the space seemed to work ok.

I do worry over time this path will be shut down somehow - already it was awkward. I would have needed a dongle to do it from my iPhone, of course, and if my main Macbook was newer I wouldn't have needed a USB-C dongle for that as well ... and that's beyond obscure technologies that will strive to prevent this kind of shenanigans (like if you try to record video from a secure playback source, or for that matter how photocopiers will recognize currency and decline to duplicate it...)

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