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  From the Archives: Audio Cassette Mastering Tips
 

If you don't mind some tape hiss, cassettes actually sound better (if properly aligned) than your iPod (unless you store your cassettes on top of your speakers, in which case the magnets in the speakers are slowly erasing the clarity of the audio). When you put in a cassette, you're listening to an album, not 1,000 songs shuffled into eternity. Set the cassette deck on auto-reverse and let the mood fill the evening!  So...

1. Think about the order and the length of the songs ahead of time. It adds time to your mastering bill if we sequence your cd, only to find out that Side A of the cassette will be three minutes longer than Side B. Lots of things can be done if that happens, and you don't want to change the order on the cassette: Clone a couple extra chorus' from a couple songs to add to the length of Side B; Add an instrumental version of one of the songs; Add a "Bonus" song to Side B; Edit intros, extra chorus', solos, and fades on Side A; Edit a "single version" of one of the long songs and add it as a bonus to Side B, etc. The timing differences from Side A to Side B should be 20 seconds or less, and even that's pushing it.

2. Master just as you would for CD sound, but be very careful about sibilance! A CD that is mastered for hot levels will be easy to duplicate because the unexpected peaks will be leveled for the cd. This will make your cassette relatively hiss-free because the duplicator can cut the cassette hotter without fear of distortion. EXCEPT for sibilance (the ss sound) in an upfront vocal or big cymbal crashes or peaky percussion or drums. Make sure your mastering engineer is conscientious about using a de-esser if it's needed.

Key: De-essing is the most commonly left-out processor for vocals. I can't tell you how many countless projects I've done that needed de-essing! I don't know why, but many studios don't have de-essers, or the engineers don't use them. One of the coolest ways to get more presence in a vocal is to bring up the high's or upper mids while de-essing those spitty-sounding peaky ss's! .

The first frequencies to distort on a cassette are the highs! Use the best quality grade of duplication tape that you can afford. The highs will be better, there'll be less tape hiss because it can be cut louder, and you'll have an edge over the tapes that aren't as well prepared

3. If the total length of your CD is under 45 minutes, consider putting all the songs on both sides of the cassette. Nothings worse than being at a party, and your cassette is in the auto-reverse cassette deck, and there's two minutes of dead air at the end of Side B. Dead air at a party means someone comes over to the cassette deck and either (1) hits the reverse button, or (2) puts in another cassette.

What to know: The cost difference between a C-40 and a C-76 isn't that much. Let's say your album is sequenced so that Side A is 20 min. and Side B is 18 min. The duplicator company charges you for C-40 cassettes (20 min. each side). If you put all your songs on both sides, you'd have 38 minutes each side for a C-76 tape. The effect of the tape will be better without the auto-reversing in the middle of the order, the tapes will last longer for your customers, and since each side will be exactly the same, any dead air will be minimal.

The "tune-out" factor is less if your album doesn't switch from A to B in the middle. ESPECIALLY if you're submitting your tapes to a management company, record company, or publishing company. Often these people take tapes in their car to audition. The easiest reason to take the tape out and stop listening to it is a lot of dead air that happens when the cassette reaches the end of Side A and is switching over to Side B. Weigh the cost difference to the tune-out difference and see what will be best for getting your goals.


Date created: 7/15/99 • Last modified: 03/30/02
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