Reflecting on the Experience

Overall, this internship has been a very rewarding experience. Having worked in the field of digitizing analog audio as an amateur for over 10 years, I already had a good understanding of the basics for this field coming into it, but I still learned a lot from this internship. Among other things, I learned some of the finer points of how various analog media formats work, and considerations for what can happen to them as they age and how to preserve them. I also learned about professional approaches used in digitizing media, and how to implement such a project on a large scale. I have already begun to incorporate many aspects of MDPI’s approach to digitization into my own digitization process. While I could have learned many of these things on my own, I wouldn’t have gotten the information directly from people with a high degree of expertise in the field. There were also many things I would have had difficulty learning elsewhere, as being at MDPI gave me first-hand experience with equipment that I cannot currently afford.
At times, I wished there could’ve been more variety in the tasks that I did while I was there. However I realize that what was available to do at a given time wasn’t under my control, as pretty much every task was dictated by what the team was focusing on at the time.
I enjoyed my time at MDPI, and I recommend to anyone who is interested in working with a recorded music collection.

Week 13: Last Day

Tuesday was my last day of my of my internship at MDPI. Duty-wise it wasn’t too different from my previous days here. I spent most of the day cleaning records and preparing cassettes for digitization.
In the afternoon I had an evaluation meeting with supervisor to talk about what they thought of my performance over the last few months. Overall, they were quite satisfied with it. Their only minor criticism was that I occasionally focused on the details of a task to the point of perfectionism. This is a trait that I was aware of prior to this experience, and I will continue to work to improve on it in the future.

Week 12: Shadowing

This is the last full week of my internship at MDPI. I spent most of Tuesday shadowing two of the audio engineers. The first one I shadowed has recently been focusing on digitizing lacquer records. His approach was fairly different from mine both in terms of equipment and technique.
As I expected, the equipment-based differences mostly lay in the fact that he has access to better equipment than I do. His turntables have variable speed (while most records were made at 78 or 33 rotation per minute, they did not always have the ability to ensure a specific speed, and sometimes engineers would change the speed on purpose to save space or to make a musical performance sound more impressive), and he has a large variety of needle sizes to best accommodate the width of the record’s grooves. He also uses a standalone analog/digital converter instead of one that is built into the turntable or the amplifier, as well as pre-amplifiers that can make more specific equalization adjustments. This allows for more alteration to be made, and it can allow for a cleaner signal.
The main difference in technique with their digitizations is that they are aiming at having the digital copy sound as close to the original as they can. This means not applying any kind of post-processing and saving the transfer as a single audio file. I tend to prefer not using post-processing as well, however with older recordings like 78 rpm records I will sometimes use equalization curves to reduce noise if it is heavy enough in the original to impair the listening experience.
The second engineer I shadowed has been focusing on digitizing cassette tapes. Although he also uses pre-amplfiers and standalone analog digital converters, his approach more closely resembles mine than the approach to record digitization does. The tape deck he uses is fairly similar to mine, and I have begun incorporating some aspects of his approach to my own transfers. Such as cleaning the tape deck after play and using Dolby noise reduction when the tape appears to have been made with that standard.
On Thursday I returned to my more usual tasks of cleaning records and preparing cassettes for digitization.

Week 11: Variety as the End Approaches

This was my penultimate full week at MDPI. As this experience begins to draw to a close, so does the routine of quality control and cleaning records. The record cleaning and cassette tape preparation did continue, but I also did some new things and some things I had only been shown previously.
On Tuesday the thing I did in this category was inspecting records. The main purpose of inspecting them is to determine which needle size the engineers should use when digitizing it. This process involves measuring the width of the grooves of the records by looking at them with a microscope. I had been shown this process several weeks ago, but it had been long enough that I needed a quick reminder of how to do it at first. Looking into a microscope to measure the width of a bunch of small lines can be hard on the eyes, but I got the hang of it after a while.
On Wednesday I shadowed the video engineer while he digitized some VHS tapes. He walked me through how the process works, and then I helped him prepare a box of tapes that still need to be digitized. Later that day, I was shown how to splice broken cassette tapes back together. I had done that before with my own tapes on occasion, but I’ve done it without access to the kinds of tools they have, so it was good to see how it’s done with the ideal equipment with guidance from those who are more experienced with it than I am.

Week 10: Continuing Routine and New Tasks Ahead

This week was similar to previous ones, my main tasks were cleaning records and running quality control on some cassette tapes. The records I cleaned were sixteen inch instead of the usual ten or twelve inch ones I’ve been working with before, so that was a slight change of pace. Most of the tapes I worked on were from the University Archives and instructional tapes from Wells library.
On Thursday I talked with one of my supervisors about the possibility of shadowing the A/V engineers later this month. The two main people I’ve been working with will be out of the office in future weeks, so that will be a good opportunity to work with them. I’ll be meeting with my main supervisor on Tuesday next week to talk about the details of this change. I already have some experience with digitizing analog recordings in my own collection, so I’m looking forward to seeing the differences and similarities between our approaches.

Week 9: Short Week

Independence Day was on Thursday, so I was only at MDPI for one day this week. Because of this, I have less to talk about. I finished replacing sleeves for the records with acid-free ones and packed up their boxes to prepare them for their return to their respective collections. I also finished running quality control on those Esquire magazine interview tapes.

Week 8

This week was a slight return to previous routines, but with some new tasks as well. I spent some time running quality control on some cassette tape recordings. The quality control process for this format is much faster compared to video quality control, but the tapes were somewhat interesting so I listened to more of them than I needed to. They were interviews with writers for Esquire magazine from the 1960s.
The other main task I did this week was putting finished lacquer discs in their proper boxes. Each digitized item has a barcode to make it easier to track in a database as it proceeds through the digitization process and ensure that it gets returned to the right place when MDPI is finished with it. Because of this, when I’m putting items away for them to be returned, I can’t just put them in a random box. Each item is assigned to a specific box, so the first step when repacking them is to scan their barcodes in the database to see where they belong. I also spent time replacing the sleeves of the records with acid-free ones.
On Thursday morning I went to a brief meeting with my supervisors to talk about issues we’d noticed when running quality control on recorded DVDs. I had run into more problems that most of the other folks there, so my input was quite useful for this issue.

Week 7: Learning More

This week at MDPI started out like the previous ones, but it became more varied later on. On Tuesday I did my usual routine of video quality control. The videos I looked at were somewhat interesting. My queue included underwater footage of a shipwreck, a Russian film from the early 1990s, and footage of events held by the Black Filmmaker’s Hall of Fame during the 1980s.
Later in the week on Thursday, after a morning of disc cleaning, I learned some new things. While I had lunch I attended a presentation from MDPI’s film department, where they explained their approach to digitizing IU’s film collections. I don’t have any experience with film preservation and digitization, so it was useful information. Later in the day I was shown how to inspect open-reel tapes to prepare them for digitization. I had operated an open-reel tape machine only once before, so I still had to deal with a learning curve, but the constant playing, winding, and loading that the process involves will allow me to get familiar with this format pretty quickly. It is likely that this will become one of my other common tasks, and I look forward to doing more of it.

Week 6: the Routine Continues

This week I continued working on the tasks I’ve been doing over the previous few weeks. Mostly quality control on videos and cleaning records. This is the first week where I was working on these tasks on my own without being shown anything new from my supervisors. So far I feel like I understand the tasks I’ve been given fairly well. One of them told me they’ll have some audio for me to run quality control on next week, so I’m looking forward to learning some new things in that area. My supervisor who is involved in inspecting and preparing recordings for transfer was out of town this week, next week he should be back, so he may be able to show me some new things then too.

Week 5: Starting a Routine

With my first month at MDPI having passed, I am mostly done with onboarding. Last week I was trained on 2 of my main tasks: cleaning records and running quality control on transferred videos; this week I spent most of my time doing those tasks on my own. I get the sense that this will be my routine for most of this internship.

You may be wondering what I mean by running quality control. MDPI works with a company called Memnon that makes mass-transfers of from less at-risk media (recordings that don’t require close supervision from an experienced audio-video engineer during the digitizing process). People in quality control are sent a random sample of recent transfers and they have to look them over to make sure there aren’t any mistakes in the metadata (information about the file) and to check for defects in the transfer. This process gets kind of repetitive, but the media involved can make it interesting. Lately Memnon’s been transferring VHS tapes and burned DVDs. I’ve quite enjoyed looking a the tapes from IU’s music library and the DVDs of independent and foreign films from the Black Film Archive, however the DVDs of 10 year old CSPAN broadcasts of congressional sessions I’ve also had to watch have been less exciting.
Cleaning records is more straightforward. I apply a tergitol solution to the records, rinse it off with water and then I put it on a high-speed turntable that sucks up the water with a small vacuum.
I’m starting to get used to this routine, but I’m looking forward to any other projects that will come for me in the future.