help w-pricing-digitizing old reel to reel audio recordings



Please assist with figuring out how to charge (and suggestions on the amount to charge) an aquaintance to digitize his box of about 71 reel to reels of people giving talks at religious conferences back in the '70's (more info. below)

* I live in the Southeastern region of the U.S.

HARDWARE BACKGROUND: I have a basic DAWs system with the M-audio Delta-66 and Omni studio audio interface, and sony's soundforge audio studio, and only I-tunes to burn a group of tracks to a CD- because soundforge audio studio does it one track at a time (also have Sony-Acid Pro,and Cakewalk Homestudio).

EXPERIENCE LEVEL: I'm somewhat of an "intermediate newbie" with all of this.

*QUES: how to charge my aquaintance for this enormous project (BY:-flat rate/by the hour/OTHER)? I want to give him a cheaper price than professionals as well. (I haven't got quotes yet from local studios, but online companies in California are charging between $35-75 an hour and only say they can negotiate if in bulk but no pricing)?
* I also need to decide to:
1. just do staight transfer and conversion of sound. then,
break up into files,then burn to CD's.
2. or transfer and then convert, edit, break up into files,
then burn to CD's.
* he has let me use his old Sony 4-track recorder to play back his reels to record the info.
* He has about 71 of these reels (mostly 7-inch reels with 1/4 inch x 1800 feet of tape, AND some smaller reels as well). of the few reels I've already converted, I’ve noticed he didn’t always use all 4 tracks, but each track can have about 3 hours worth of audio on it, which amounts to a lot of wav data and will eventually amount to a lot of CD's!

* there's no mixing of tracks from the reels: he just filled up each track one by one while recording various speakers at conferences.

Please help & thanks


Hey Dude

I work for a record company and spend quite a lot of time transferring old reels and making new masters for them. Gerneally my process is about 2 and a half hours, that would be transfer the whole thing first (this is a good thing to do , don t stop the reels once there going, tape breaks etc, just get it into the computer)

anyhow, after that I cut all the files and then export them, crop the beginnigs and fade/crop endings. then burn three copies at 4x or lower.
of course this is music stuff.

you should try to keep the sample rate to 16 44 so that you dont waste a bunch of time doing sample conversions.

I would think you should figure out how much approx you would like to be paid per hour x how many hours it takes to do one. then add about 200 bucks for cds, and an extra bit for yourself .

if you work it out to $15 an hour @ 3 hours a reel x 71 reels = $3195 already . I wouldnt do it for any less its a lot of time


thanks so much

hey gilligan204,

thanks so much for that info. this is very helpful.

i'm wondering if my friend even realized that it would be that expensive.

let me ask you with the total 2 1/2 hours of your time, are you counting the time that you are just capturing the audio? because i figure that i'm not really doing anything at that time (it's just recording by itself), so perhaps i should only charge for the actual editing and burning. of course i don't think i would want to use my computer during this recording time either, so perhaps this is a kind of burden (since i would be doing it for large periods of time every day or so for quite a while)?



Well-Known Member
Sep 26, 2005
I did a similar project a few years ago for the Ayn Rand Institute. Because these recordings were from the 1950s/60's, air checks from broadcasts and many college lectures that lasted more than 80 minutes, I could not fit some even on a single CD! I had to put my thinking cap on. What I suggested to them, of the more than 50 recordings, was that I could deliver all of them on a single CD! Since these were all spoken Word recordings that did not involve any music, high fidelity was not a factor, only intelligibility. The transfer process was like a "Ronco", "set it and forget it", tabletop rotisserie cooker. Start the computer and the recorder and come back later. I did the standard trim at the beginning and the end and recorded it all into the computer at 16-bit 44.1kHz mono. I then compressed everything to 16-bit 11kHz mono, MP3 (8-bit sounds awful)! Utilizing the 11kHz sampling rate, actually worked almost like noise reduction because of its limited bandwidth, removing much of the tape noise and other junk! Pretty cool! I also utilized a hardware equalizer on the front end into the computer for some intelligibility touchup.

Now this could not be played in regular CD players, only computers or MP3 compatible CD players, it could just as easily have been produced for "I-pods" if they had existed then. They thought this was pretty cool (and this was a bunch of guys that worked for Northrop Grumman)! I made a couple of grand and they thought it pretty cool that everything fit onto a single, over 11 hour CD. This may be a viable option for you and your friend? Everybody likes things that are smaller and more compact these days so, MP3 and forget it!

It's from Ronco and it really really works!
Ms. Remy Ann David


I like remy's idea, what you could do is, do all of the tracks at a touch higher mp3 quality, maybe 128, and then burn a DVD, that would make him happy. If you have a nice DVD authoring program, you would be able to put a nice menu, with dates and etc. Could be cool. Defenitly set and forget.



Well-Known Member
Feb 15, 2006
tabletop rotisserie cooker

Remy's post reminded me of something!!!!! How were those tapes stored??? What brand of tape??? Do they need baking??? Play one back on the recorder, if it suddenly stops with an awfull squeal after a minute or so, and the pinch rollers guides, and heads are clogged with some weird sticky stuff, it called "sticky shed syndrome".
That will have to be a factor in your quote.
(Look up the "Food Dehydrator" method for an idea on the time factor)

To reply to Remys MP3 idea, I would see if the client would be content with just an MP3 archive, I personally would record to 16/44, and convert later.
But being speech, MP3 might be fine!!!!


Well-Known Member
Dec 20, 2004
Either show your friend how to do it himself, or explain to him that it will be more expensive than it is worth to him. I've done a bit of transferring myself of various things: 1/4" 4-track reels recorded slow speed (90 minutes per track!) similar to what you describe, cassette tapes, audio from 8-hour surveillance videos, R-Dats, etc. and it is alway a time-intensive process.

For cassettes, I have 4 decks set up that I can record at one time onto a harddrive with one computer. When that pass is done, I swap the harddrive to the 2nd computer so I can start editting while I record the next pass onto a 2nd harddrive with the first computer.

For the reel stuff, sometimes I record all 4 tracks into the computer at one time. Often on non-critical stuff I play the reel back at double speed, record onto a 88.2 audio track, and when it is done I just change the sample rate to 44.1K - no resampling needed and it plays back normal speed.
But yeah, it is a pain when people want this stuff on an audio CD because you will have like 80 minutes on disc1 and 10 minutes on disc2 .

One tool that I really dig with soundforge is if you have a giant chunk of audio and you need to split it up into tracks, all you have to do is skim through the audio, find a good space, hit M to place a marker, and once you have all your markers you go to Convert markers to regions, and then Extract Regions as separate wav files.

Another fun tool for this kind of stuff is using something like CoolEdit/Adobe Audition to batch process stuff. You can write a script that does noise reduction, compression, and normalizing or whatever; set up a batch of all your audio files, hit Begin, and let your computer crunch on numbers for hours. You come back in a few days and your tracks are all processed and ready to be burnt to disc. The results are not always as elegant as giving each track the personal touch, but if time and cost is an issue it is a life-saver.

Happy transferring! Don't go too crazy!



thanks so much y'all for taking the time out of your busy schedules to provide so many points!

this person doesn't really use a computer, therefore. i'm pretty certain that he wouldn't want this data put into mp3 formats. i will mention it to him though.

also, we both have the idea of using some of the better conference talks as fundraisers in our religious community. so, this would be another reason to burn them as .wav files onto CD's.

i'm finished with calling around to local studios and out of state websites to get an idea of pricing, and to reduce that to a "mate-rate" wich for me will be about $10/hr. i've estimated about a total of 850 hours worth of transfer time (the real time recording) and editing time with the noise reduction, setting markers, and burning to CD's. so with 71 reels with 4 tracks each (potentially, 3 hrs for each track ), that's still a lot of money. i'm suggesting that he talk with the speakers that are still alive to assist him with ideas on how to do fundraising with various groups or something else for this project if they all think it's worth it; or for him to just choose the most cherished reels and let me work on those.

about recording all 4 tracks at once:

all i have to use as far as playing his reels is the sony recorder itself. both reels (the full one and the blank one) move in the same direction. also, i have to manually switch to each track (in mono) and can only listen to one track at a time. also, there are only two choices for output, wich are for "external speaker" or "monitor" both of which have the headphone jack sized plugs which i have adapters for to plug into my omni studio.

this would be great if i could record all tracks at one time. one company i talked to briefly tried to mention how they would do this but i didn't really get to hear the whole explantion.

here is the model recorder he has: Sony "Tapecorder" TC-105.

so, please let me know and point me to links/other sources if you all still think i can record all tracks at the same time based on my above description and the previous description of the hardware and software config i have on my computer.

thanks again.


so far they work

in response to the "baking post":

hopefully most of the reels will work.

so far all of the reels work when played back (about 6 reels i've played)


Well-Known Member
Dec 20, 2004
Well....with a project this size, I think it wouldn't hurt to invest in some equipment to speed things up. Such as: a 4-track reel machine that has outputs for each track, and a multi-input soundcard. Trust me, you are entering a world of pain if you try to tackle all of this one track at a time.

The best idea is probably like you say picking the most cherished ones and just do those. Can people really be expected to want to hear 800 hours of this stuff anyway? I think a couple really good hours oughta do it. :wink: