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Audio Tape Preparation

Courtesy of Mike W. Burger

Aloha. Had a great time at the ConVention, glad I went, though it was a bit far and I never will learn to love those 8-12 hour stays in an 18 inch wide airline seat that a vent figure would rate as "no leg room".

I was allowed to help with the sound board several times Friday and did notice something. We got some headphones to help que up tapes, but then found no good place to plug in. The tape player had not headphone jack. There was only one on the board and it was a house monitor and could not be used without sending the same feed to the main speakers. A "monitor send" that was not in use would have been nice. The equipment was good and the setup was nice, but every setup will have some little problem like this you have to work around or live with.

So, with things rolling right along by this point, and tapes appearing minutes before the junior contest, and confusion rapidly rising as everyone got ready, I ended up taking perfomers at their word that tapes were "qued up".

They were cassette tapes. I discovered several things, some of which can be dealt with, all of which can be fixed if there is some way of checking the que point offline of the main house speakers, if there is time!

1. Remember that cassette tapes run at only 3 3/4 inches per second. As I discovered, a second is a LOOOOOONG time in the sound booth with an audience of 400 waiting and vent in a spotlight glaring at you wondering when you are going to start their music. Especially after they have just given you a que as non-obvious as "PLEASE START THE MUSIC" over a 500 watt sound system. Yet that is only about four inches of tape or clear leader. I can suspect that on stage, in the spotlight, with 400 vents watching while "dead air" floats about instead of the intro to your song, a second is MUCH longer.

Make certain tapes are tightened up on the takeup reel, and the leader has been mechanically advanced to the beginning of the physical tape. Some tapes were handed over almost scrambled because only one person had a case. The cases have little tabs that go in and lock the cassette. If you carry it loose in a pocket or purse it will jiggle around and loosen up. It does not take much to introduce a long second. It is unpleasant to be watching a tape roll right on que, seeing the knobs in the right places, checking the levels and hearing nothing and seeing the meters pegged on zero while the show stops around you. Peformer, sound man and audience are not having fun yet. I caught many of the leaders and advanced them, I tightened all the tapes, but some were still several seconds into the tape and handed over completely rewound.

2. Use BIG labels. Lighting at the sound board is certain to be bad. All tapes should be labeled with performer's name as it will be announced. Use big bold printed letters that can be read by someone with inch-thick glasses in the dark, like me. The box helps keep the tape from unwinding, but you should remove all paper, labels or anything else from the box if you use one. Make it clear plastic only with no markings. That way the sound person will have to read the label on the tape. Tapes cannot get in the wrong box and be grabbed out and loaded without checking the name on the cassette itself one last time. Try to get clear boxes instead of fancy smoked ones so even in bad lighting you can see the tape in the box and read the Big Bold label.

3. Put only one song on a cassette, especially if you only use one in your act. Put it at the beginning of BOTH the side A and the side B identically. That way if the tape is at one end, it will work. Try to use the thicker based, shorter cassettes. It can take forever to rewind a tape even on an A/C deck. Most songs are all of three minutes long. Why use two hour cassettes? The tape is much thinner, less rugged, has more crosstalk and takes two days to rewind if it is not ready to go. After rewinding make certain to manually advance the tape back to physical start of tape at least. Leaders are more than a second long.

If you put the song at the beginning of both sides of the tape, one source of terrible error is eliminated.

The Puppetry Home Page
Last updated 8 July 1996