Magnets Magnetizing

Ghosts on Old Audio Tape

When I was a kid I liked to play with magnets. I remember buying some small bar magnets and finding all the different things they would stick to. One of my favorite things to do was put them in the dirt in the back yard. The magnet was instantly covered with some sort of iron that resembled straight black hair.

One of the other interesting things to do with a magnet was to magnetize another piece of metal. If you rub a magnet along certain types of metal, eventually the metal will pick up magnetic properties. One place this phenomenon is used is in screwdrivers. The metal tip of a screwdriver is magnetized in order to hold onto screws.

The longer you keep the magnet touching the metal object, the more magnetized it will become. Interestingly this phenomenon exists in the world we operate in at Audiomover.

Audio cassette tape is often referred to as “magnetic tape.” This is because audio tape is generally made of iron oxide or chromium, both magnetizable material.

When you record something onto a tape the tape machine literally imprints a magnetic signal onto the oxide. And the play head on the tape deck reads that magnetic signal in order to play the audio back to you.

But there is a downside to this technology that very few people ever had to deal with. Primarily because they never had tapes around long enough for this to happen. But because we deal with aging media every day, we see this periodically.

It is an interesting phenomenon called print-through, ghosting or bleeding. Sometimes, when magnetic tape sits wound tightly for a long time, the magnetic signal from each layer of the tape begins to magnetize the layers above and below it. When this happens you will hear a faint copy of the audio in the background. Of course it wasn’t on the tape when you first recorded it, but years and decades of storage can cause this to happen. This can vary from tape to tape based on how tightly it is wound, how thick the tape is, the brand (formula or oxide or chromium) of tape, how long the tape has been sitting in that position, etc. and it will just get worse over time.

Just like rubbing a magnet over a piece of metal eventually magnetizes the metal, leaving audio tape in the same position for decades can create this problem with the audio.

We worked on a project this week where the problem was very obvious. When you listen to this mp3 you will hear a faint echo during the silence between his sentences. Have a listen.

Click here to listen to the MP3

Unfortunately  completely fixing this problem is impossible. At the studio we can sample it and minimize it to some degree, but because the faint echo is really just a copy of the audio we are trying to preserve, sampling the echo out can cause damage to the good audio too. And although applying a noise gate can help a little in some spots, it's impossible to remove all of it.

There is an obvious object lesson here.

We as humans tend to take on the traits of the people we surround ourselves with. And the longer you are around a certain person, the more their traits will rub off onto you. Just like the tape, the longer it sits in that one spot, the more it picks up the magnetic signal from the layer of tape sitting closest to it.

Be careful who you surround yourself with. As much as possible, make sure those people have personality traits that you admire or wish to have yourself.

If you need to make changes in your life, change the people you surround yourself with. Make sure the people immediately surrounding you are worth mirroring.

  • If you want to be reduce stress, spend more and more time with people who are calm and slow to react.
  • If you are a negative person, spend your time around people who are optimistic. Interact with people who constantly smile and say positive things.
  • If you want to be more patient, avoid the kind of people who are always complaining about the shortcomings of others (Don’t be around people who honk their car horn a lot).
  • If you want to be more kind, spend time watching Fred Rogers :) , or be around people like him.   
  • If you want to be more friendly, surround yourself with people who are genuinely loved (not just respected, but loved) by others.

This same principle tends to apply for business or financial success, leadership skills and so on. Of course it's unlikely you will find all of the traits you want in one single person, so create a diverse group of people who succeed in the areas you want to strengthen. And minimize the number of people in your life who bring nothing you wish to exemplify.

In my opinion, one of the goals of life is to continually improve yourself. And one of the best ways to do it is to magnetize yourself with those who you wish to emulate.