(The original version of this article was first published on the Mp3 Backing Trax website circa 2006 – 2012)
Converting your minidisc backing tracks to mp3 isn’t as difficult as you may think.
If you’ve read some of my other articles, you’ll probably know by now that we at MP3 Backing Trax favour the mp3 format for the playback of backing tracks in preference to all other backing track formats (including CD, Minidisc, Cassette, DAT etc).
If you’ve come to the same conclusion as us (and we can’t think why you wouldn’t – mp3 is a fantastic format!), then it’s time to go about the task of converting your present library of backing tracks to mp3.
For the purposes of this article, I will assume that your backing tracks are currently on Minidisc, but even if they are on cassette tape or DAT, the process of converting them to mp3 is still the same.
There is no “quick” way of recording from Minidisc to mp3 but there are a few tips we can give and software that we can recommend which will make the job a whole lot easier and save you a lot of time, trouble and headaches!
The process of recording your backing tracks from Minidisc to mp3 involves “playing” each song on your Minidisc player and “recording” the resulting audio in to your computer (ie a laptop or a desktop PC). To do this, you need to connect your Minidisc to your computer via a suitable cable.
The type of cable you need will depend entirely on the output jack(s) that your Minidisc player uses and the input jack(s) your PC or laptop uses. Many Minidisc players have Optical/Digital outputs (and some of the more expensive PC sound cards have Optical/Digital inputs) but most standard PC’s and Laptops have simple audio ins and outs, so for the purposes of this article, we will be connecting the Minidisc player to the PC or Laptop via an audio cable.
Most PC’s or Laptops have a 6mm stereo line-in jack, so the cable you use will need to have a 6mm stereo jack (often called a mini-jack) at one end. PC soundcards do differ though, so make sure you check before buying the cable.
It’s also important to note that many cheaper PC’s and laptops have cheap soundcards installed so the inputs may NOT be stereo which means your backing tracks will only be recorded in to the computer in mono and you really don’t want that – in fact using a cheap soundcard will seriously affect the quality of your recordings so should be avoided.
If you’re unsure about the type of soundcard and inputs it has, refer to the owners manual that came with the soundcard or the computer and check the spec to make sure it supports “stereo in”. If you find you have a soundcard that can only record “mono in”, consider replacing the soundcard or buying an external sound card.
Most Minidisc decks use two RCA jacks for the output (these are sometimes referred to as PhonoPlugs). However, smaller personal Minidisc players (Walkman types) usually have a 6mm stereo mini-jack output. So, again, check the output before you buy the cable.
Once you have determined the type of output jack(s) of your Minidisc and the type of input jack(s) of your PC or Laptop, and bought the proper cable, it’s time to connect them together.
One end of your cable should be connected to the “output” of your minidisc player – the other end of the cable should be connected to the “input” or “Line-In” of your PC or Laptop.
Before you can record the audio from your Minidisc player to your PC, your PC needs some sort of software program which can record audio. Windows already has a built-in sound recorder (you’ll find it at Programs/Accessories/Entertainment), but the bad news is that, not only is it not very good, you will still have to convert the audio to mp3 even after Windows has recorded it.
You can save yourself a bundle of time, frustration and a thousand headaches, by using a proper dedicated program like Soundforge or Wavelab or the free Audacity recording software to handle the recording.
They are pretty much an ALL-IN-ONE solution which will do just about everything – they’ll record your songs from your Minidisc and convert them to mp3 for you.
Once you have your chosen recording software installed and you’ve read through the operating instructions for the software, you can now begin to record your backing tracks from your Minidisc player to your PC or Laptop.
Press “Record” on your PC or Laptop to begin recording. At the same time press “Play” on your Minidisc player. The Minidisc will begin playing the first song and at the same time your PC will begin to record the resulting audio.
You may have to adjust the volumes of the PC or the Minidisc player (or both) until you get a good signal/volume. Try to get the input signal on the PC as near to 0dB as possible but don’t go over this as it will cause your recording to distort. Just as a quick aside – 0dB does not mean zero or silence(!), it means just the opposite, it is the maximum signal you can achieve before you risk distortion and discolouration of the sound.
Remember also that the loudest parts of a song often come near the end of the song, so although you may think you’ve got a good healthy volume setting at the beginning of the song, you could end up with a distorted recording when the “dynamics” of the song increase towards the middle or end.
Your PC recording software should give you some sort of indication as to the input volume you’re getting (usually it’ll show little red lights when the signal is too high to warn you that the volume is peaking).
Repeat this process for every song you want to record, saving each song to your PC or laptop hard-drive as you go along.
Tip- save it to a folder you’ll remember like My Documents/My Music or alternatively you can save it to the recording softwares default folder.
And, that’s pretty much it…
It’s worth bearing in mind that most software recording programs (such as the built-in Windows Sound Recorder) only allow you to record in WAV file format. This means you will need another different program to convert the WAV file to mp3. That’s giving yourself a lot of work – you also need loads of hard-disk space on your PC or laptop, and to be quite blunt, it’s really not worth the trouble.
You would be far better using all-in-one program like Soundforge or Wavelab or the free Audacity, especially if you intend doing this type of recording process regularly.
It will take you some time to record all your Minidisc songs on to your PC or Laptop – each song has to be recorded individually and in real time. Unfortunately a 4 minute song will take you 4 minutes to record. However, the benefits of having all your backing tracks saved on your PC or Laptop in mp3 format are immense.
As well as being a better way to work when you are performing live onstage (see my article on Using a Laptop Onstage), one day you may be very glad that you have all your backing tracks backed up on your PC.
We’ve had a customers in the past who have reported experiencing a Minidisc cartridge fall to bits in their hands(!) or had all their musical equipment stolen and lost ALL their backing tracks – don’t let that happen to you!