Sounding Off: Archiving a collection

Collector and Goldmine reader Jerry Touchton archives his music collection by saving multiple albums onto DVDs and using album art to create disc labels. (Courtesy of Jerry Touchton) I graduated from high school in 1975, so I grew up in an LP world — like, I imagine, most of the readers of Goldmine magazine.
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By Jerry Touchton

Collector and Goldmine reader Jerry Touchton archives his music collection by saving multiple albums onto DVDs and using album art to create disc labels. (Courtesy of Jerry Touchton)

I graduated from high school in 1975, so I grew up in an LP world — like, I imagine, most of the readers of Goldmine magazine. 

I remember the first CD I bought in the early 1980s and how remarkable it was to hear the music without surface noise. I can remember thinking how nice it would be to be able to record your own CDs, but that it could never happen because you’d need a laser lab in your house!

I had a Denon three-head tape deck with which I dubbed CDs onto TDK tape for playing in the car. In those days I lived in a big city where long commutes were common, and listening to music made the gridlock bearable. As soon as auto CD players became affordable I wished again to record my own CDs. I was so sure it would never happen that I began archiving my LPs onto tape.

When it became possible to record CDs I was one of the first in line for a burner — I remember paying $400 for the first one. It was supposed to come with a $100 rebate, but the company stiffed me. I built my own computers, and every time I made a new one I got a newer, faster and better burning deck. The software was a bit undependable in the beginning and the hardware had trouble keeping up. I made a lot of coasters, but gradually things improved and my collection of burned CDs grew larger. 

The titles on CD in the early days were limited — I was convinced that a lot of the music I listened to would never appear on CD. So I became a collector of LPs because I strongly believed their availability was going to quickly decline.

When I lived in Tampa, Fla., I used to haunt several stores in Tampa and St. Petersburg. While living in Georgia I took weekend jaunts to Macon, Savannah, Atlanta and Columbia, S.C. I would get the Yellow Pages for the towns I wanted to visit, scope out the music stores and use street maps to locate them. Searching for music and book stores was like treasure hunting — and a nice byproduct was that it led to my becoming familiar with other aspects of these cities as well. I had never been much of a traveler, and music collecting helped get me out into the world a little more. It was a very enjoyable time of my life. 

By the time I moved to Houston, vinyl stores began disappearing and used-CD stores became more of a focus. Chains and independent stores began to spring up all over, and for a while I was looking through thousands of CDs per week — I developed a rapid two-handed method of going through the racks. Gradually, though, I began to see the signs of age. My eyes would get blurry after a few hours of this, and my back protested at the hours of leaning. It seemed like my days of treasure hunting were numbered.

Then suddenly there was the Internet. Gradually, it became possible to look through thousands of records and CDs online and have them sent right to your door. The growth of the Internet may not be good for the independent record stores, but it has been a boon to us old codgers. We can look until we get tired, then take a coffee break and go back later.

Lately, my focus has been collecting the complete works of artists I admire and archiving the work chronologically. I love LPs and still have hundreds of them, but my focus has always been on the music itself rather than the physical medium that carries it. I love Roger Miller because he rhymed “groceries” with “no, siree!” and not because of the medium he did it in. CDs are not subject to physical wear and have no surface noise — for the purposes of archiving they are far preferable to either LP or tape. So I’ve been gathering as much material on CD as possible from used sources whenever I can. The items I cannot find on CD I digitize from either cassette or the cleanest LP I can find. Sometimes I have to go through two or three LPs to get one that suits me.

For recording LPs I placed a small stereo system next to my computer and wired it to my sound card using a y-adapter. I use a pair of programs from CFB Software called LP Recorder and LP Ripper, which allow me to record an entire side of an album and break it into tracks. I also use a program called Goldwave to edit the files for noise if necessary.

Selecting the format for archiving took some time. My requirements were that it had to save space, as well as allow me to preserve as much of the artwork as possible. And I wanted to be able to display the product on a shelf, not hide it away in a file drawer. I settled on the Unikeep-10 system, a hard-shell wallet that holds 10 CDs and booklets and has a clear outer sleeve for artwork and spine labeling. Shown is a case for part of my Tom T. Hall collection. I developed a template in Microsoft Publisher for a wrap-around cover that includes scans of all the album covers as well as a spine label: I print it on legal-size paper and cut it to fit.

For the Hall collection many of the CDs were burned from LPs out of necessity, so I used the album art to create disc labels. If I couldn’t find the album art on the Internet, I had to scan the album cover in two passes and seam them together, a tedious process. If the album was available on CD, I archived the CD itself. All of my archive CDs are recorded in full WAV format without compression. The software I use for capturing CD music is the capture program in the Easy Media Creator 7 package. For burning CDs I prefer Nero Express.

But I like the MP3 format because it’s long-playing. Each of these archive wallets contains 10 albums, and that’s about right for compiling to an mp3 CD at 192 kb, the highest compression that still retains most of the sonic quality. So after I finish a 10-CD archive, I convert all the songs to mp3 and compile with Nero a single MP3 disc that I use for casual playing — yes, all 10 albums fit on one CD! I also do a nice jewel case with artwork for them. If I play the MP3 disc in my DVD player, I get an onscreen menu and I can use my remote to select the albums and songs I want to play. But mostly I play these in my portable.

To top it all off, I make an eight-page CD-sized booklet containing pictures of the album covers and song lists. This booklet goes inside the wallet and serves as the front cover and booklet for the MP3 disc.

The final problem to deal with is the necessity for backup — discs inevitably get damaged or go bad. I discovered that a DVD used in data format can usually hold about 10 albums’ worth of uncompressed songs — perfect! Should more space be required, I use a dual-layer DVD. So the last step in archiving is always to burn a couple of DVD archives and store them away. 

I have archived a number of my favorite artists in this fashion, and am very satisfied with the results. It has certainly opened a lot of shelf space.