AEI Music Timeless Pop #9380 Propac - early 1990s 4-track cassette tape -- including DJ Mike Brady's notes on Propac cassette production
- Publication date
- AEI Music, instore, foreground music, Propac, Propac 4, 4-track, cassette, soft rock, adult contemporary, 1991
SPECIAL PROGRAMMING NOTE
At the end of this writeup is a very detailled piece written by former AEI programmer "DJ" Mike Brady, posted to Techmoan's Propac analysis on Youtube in 2019. It documents his recollections of behind-the-scenes operations at AEI Music in the 1990s, including how Propac tapes such as these were made. The archived discussion thread will also appear in the "TEXT" download link at right. Thanks must now be given to crainbebo for bringing it to my attention.
This is a cassette tape in a set of nine AEI Music Propac 4-track foreground music programmes I recently acquired in an online sale. The date of all these tapes (including this one) is unknown and no documentation was provided. From the selections I would place it in the very early 1990s, likely 1991 or early 1992.
Being there was no programme name printed on the label, only a number stamped in ink (see cover graphic), I will assume it's another mixed-tempo Timeless Pop tape. The music programme is an adult contemporary soft-rock blend quite suggestive of Muzak's "Foreground Music One" library for much of its existance.
I have not done any processing on these files other than to split the tracks, volume boost and speed correction. No EQ, noise reduction or restoration was done (but maybe could stand to be -- feel free to grab the unprocessed tape-in PCMs and have at it if you want). The audio was recorded at a fairly low level and the tape seems to be well-used, so the noise floor is fairly high (though not as severely as some of the K-Mart tapes!). There is also a faint ~1.3 kHz buzzing which is part of the recording. As with the Muzak "Motown III" tape, all AEI tapes are speed-adjusted; being recorded at 1 2/5 IPS and reproduced for this transfer on a conventional 1 7/8 IPS stereo deck they required a -25% speed reduction to adjust them to the correct playback rate. As was the case with the Muzak tapes the corrected audio was still a bit fast, therefore a further -1.75% adjustment was applied (total -26.75%). It's possible Muzak and AEI used the same type of recording decks to generate the masters, and they likely ran a bit slow.
When downloading this recording e.g. for local listening or to post elsewhere, please select only the original high-bitrate PCM option. The FLAC and lossy VBR MP3 derivatives are acceptable for immediate listening in the built-in Web player above but I do not guarantee their fidelity or integrity, and cannot provide any technical help if you download these derivative formats. Master files for this upload are in 1-channel 44100 Hz 16-bit PCM ("WAVE" option) format. The FLAC files listed are derivatives. The unprocessed tape-in files are also provided for reference.
To stream this programme as a sequence in an external media player (e.g. VLC), open the "VBR M3U" file in your player's playlist editor and select "play". To stream individual files, load the file you want from the "WAVE" option into your player directly.
For private listening (home/headphones/car) and historical-interest uses only. If you want to play this music in a business, you will need to contact Mood Media and set up a subscription.
Behind the scenes at AEI Music, including production of Propac cassettes; documented by Mike Brady (AEI Music employee 1992-2001)
Extracted from comments on Techmoan's "Cassette BGM Systems - how to squeeze 4 hrs of music onto one tape"
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I worked for AEI for 9 years, in the music programming department! Had a ProPac 4 at home, as well as the follow-up, the Pro-Disc.
I worked for AEI Music Network in Seattle from June 1992, through August 2001 in the Music Programming department. It was easily the coolest job I've ever had, and for most of the time I was there, it was literally a dream job.
AEI stood for "Audio Environments, Inc." and was started as a response to the generic elevator music of Muzak, which makes it extra ironic that the only ProPac tape Techmoan has is a BGM (background music) program. Those programs made up a VERY small percentage of what we did, and nearly all of it was handled by our Satellite system. There was no on-premise tape player for those customers, just a satellite receiver in the store, and an AEI-Branded dish on the roof. We had 6 Satellite channels - let's see if I can remember them all from memory... Background Music, obviously, A Country one that I think was called "Heartland", a Feel Good Timeless Pop channel called "Feel Good Music", a contemporary / smooth Jazz channel, a Classical channel, and a more upbeat, modern Pop channel that I can't remember the name - but I'm sure it would probably be cringe-worthy if I could. I think the 6th one was a Nostalgia / Classic Vocals (Sinatra, Crosby, Cole, etc) channel, but I'm not 100% sure on that one. The Satellite channels had their own dedicated programming team that rarely did any on-premise programming, though when the need popped up, or if a catalog program needed to be made that matched their particular expertise, they would cross over and produce an on-premise program.
When I started in '92, all programs were produced on 1/4" reel to reel tape, but they had just installed DAT recorders in all the studios, and I (and another programmer who started on the same day) was the first to use the DAT. Speaking in general terms, the programming staff weren't very technically minded, and were slow to adopt new technology. I, on the other hand, have always been a tech-junkie, and couldn't believe that I got to use DAT on a daily basis. A few years later, I led the charge to replace the DAT decks with studio-grade Minidisc decks, which supported "punch-in" style editing with single-frame accuracy, which meant if we needed to change a single song from a one-hour track, we no longer had to re-record the entire hour. That was a huge benefit, because...
We offered two types of on-premise programming. Catalog, and Custom. Catalog, was just that - you'd get a catalog of the various genres we offered, and within each genre, a list of several programs available. Each program was roughly 4 hours in length, and for the popular genres like Top Hits, a new program was produced every month. We had what was billed as the "Largest Private CD Collection In The World" and SUPPOSEDLY that had been confirmed with "someone" but I can tell you it was VERY comprehensive, and we had a purchase program with all the major labels that let us buy CDs we somehow didn't have, at roughly $5 each. (Some labels were more, some were less) They all sent us promos, so usually the purchase program was used by us programmers to build up our personal collections.
Custom was a whole different animal - it was literally custom programming made to order for a specific account. Some of our well known custom programming accounts were The Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic (all owned by The Gap), all of the Limited Brands stores (Limited, Limited Too, Structure, Victoria's Secret, and many others), Williams Sonoma (and subsidiaries Hold Everything and Pottery Barn) and many, many others. Most of them received a new program monthly, a few would be quarterly, with catalog selections filling the space between. (but those were really rare) These custom programs were worked out by the programmer assigned to the account, and typically the account's Director of Visual Merchandising. In some rare occasions, the DVM was a cool person who recognized that we were experts in our field, and let us do our thing to their general specifications. But USUALLY they were maniacal control freaks who made the job a living hell for the one week per month we worked on their program. It was never my account, but Old Navy was notorious for nit-picking every single song, and complaining to the account manager if more than a couple songs "needed" to be replaced on a given program. And as you would probably guess, a song could be adamantly refused one month, and specifically requested a few months later. Just psychotic behavior. Getting paid to make mixtapes isn't always as glamorous as it sounds.
ANYWAY - when we finished our program, it would be held on 4 DATs or MiniDiscs, and would be turned in to our Mastering team. They produced the 1/4" master tape that was used for duplication (for both ProPac Cassettes, and the earlier cartridge based system that I can't remember the name of. (Size "C" Fidelipac a.k.a. NAB cartridge. -ORT) It used an oversized version of a broadcast cart. Techmoan made a video about Broadcast Carts, but I don't think he had one of ours as an example) The Mastering Studios had multiple DAT decks and a Reel to Reel deck. They would start the Tracks 1 and 3 DATs in sync, duplicate them in real time to the tape, then turn it over and do Tracks 2 and 4. We had to make all of our tracks match within 4 seconds, so there was no excessive dead air at track change time. Tracks were expected to be as close to 60 minutes as we could reasonably get them, without going over. Once you finished Track 1, the rest had to be within 4 seconds of that. This meant our playlist planning forms showed the time of each song, and notes of where to fade, where to begin the segue to the next song, etc, in hopes of NOT doing a quick dump fade in the middle of the last song, to hit the target track length. In fact, if that happened, your program would get rejected during mastering, and you'd have to re-do it. Avoiding dead air was VERY serious business.
Once the master 1/4" tape was done, it was sent across the street to our "Technical Operations Building" or TO Building. There, they had a full-on commercial duplication system, identical to what you'd find at the manufacturing facilities used by the major labels at the time. The 1/4" Master Tape had a "Slate Tone" which was like a 25 hertz tone that lasted 4 seconds, at the beginning. The tape was loaded from the reel, into a vertical bin that kept it from getting tangled, but let it fall freely. It was looped end to end, with a splice right before the Slate Tone. It was then played VERY rapidly through the loop bin machine, and duplicated to several 1/8" Reel to Reel decks that held the tape that would be loaded into the empty cassette shells. I can't remember exactly, but I think it took only 5-10 minutes to duplicate the entire program enough times to fill up the target reels. Those reels were then loaded into the cassette spooler, that was literally one of the coolest things to watch. Empty cassette shells with nothing but leader tape were loaded in to a machine. Arms would pull out the leader tape, cut it and splice in the tape coming from the supply reel, and VERY rapidly wind it in until it hit the Slate Tone, where it would stop, cut the tape, splice in the other end of the leader, wind it tight, eject it, and send it through the labelling system that would slap the labels on it. I didn't get to spend a whole lot of time over in the TO Building, but whenever I did, I was just mesmerized watching these duplication processes.
By the mid-'90s we were developing a CD Playback system that would deliver the same 4 hours per unit that the ProPac (and Cart) system gave us. We ended up developing the ProDisc, which was based on the Philips CD-i system. The players were designed to only play our ProDisc CDs, and only a few buttons on the front - I think a play, and maybe one button for each of the four tracks? There was a secret key that if you pressed the buttons in the right order, it would play a regular CD. At one point, they sold a bunch of these to employees at crazy low prices, and I bought one to give my brother in law for Christmas, along with several ProDisc programs that fit his musical tastes. I put a sticky note on it with the secret button combo to unlock regular CD play, and he used that thing for many, many years.
Shortly after that, we developed our first Streaming device, the ProFusion. Along with that, we had an in-house developed application for producing our programs digitally. It was kind of like a Virtual DJ program, with two audio players, but WAY more customizable. You could set literally every aspect of the song, from start and end points, fade points, trigger point for the next song, and EQ. By this time, my title had changed from "Senior Music Programmer" to "Lead Recording Engineer" and I led a team of 3 guys whose job it was, to rip all the CDs into the digital storage system. The brainiacs who developed the system insisted that we should be using 128kbps Mp3 files, but I successfully demonstrated that there was a HUGE problem with audio fidelity at that rate, and that 256 should be the bare minimum, with some more complex songs going up to 320. It was amazing to me, to watch people who had spent their entire adult lives in this career, looking blank faced as I did an A/B comparison of the original CD and the horrible sounding 128k mp3 file, but I finally got the attention of some upper management who hadn't ruined their ears that put down the hammer and said in no way were we to use the 128k files.
ProFusion changed everything - we no longer had to worry about specific track lengths, and one of the selling points was that the songs wouldn't play in the same order every time. We would design our programs with elemental types - say "A" was an uptempo '80s song, "B" was a mid-tempo '90s song, and "C" was an '80s power ballad. Then we'd say the program should follow AABCAB repeatedly. Profusion would make that happen. And the device would download new music on a regular basis, greatly expanding the on-premise music selections beyond what had been possible before. I assume the stores welcomed that with open arms, but right as it was really being rolled out, it was announced that we were merging "in a merger of equals" with DMX Music, a competing music service started by the Cable TV industry. Soon, it was revealed that "Equals" actually meant that DMX had 51% and AEI had 49%. There were massive staff reductions on the AEI side, and I got a layoff notice, just a few months shy of my 10th anniversary with the company. I stayed on for the transition period, during which I was supposed to be transferring my institutional knowledge to my counterparts at DMX. However, they never called me. Not once. My last day came, I took my severance package and had a tear-filled farewell lunch. Two weeks later I got a call at home from my counterparts at DMX, in a panic, asking about various things. I happily told them that I didn't work there anymore, and perhaps they could have called sometime over the previous 4 months. It was a bitter end to what had been an amazing job.
A few other programming notes:
We paid royalties on every song we used, and nearly all record companies were on board and eager for us to use their product. WEA (Warner / Elektra / Atlantic) had been very successful on the charts for many years, and mandated that if we wanted to use their material, we had to use a minimum of 28% WEA product on all Pop, Country, and a few other genres programs. Because of this, there were songs that weren't actual hits, but were good songs from WEA Labels, that were "AEI Hits" and could be found on virtually every program category.
While WEA wanted us to use as much of their material as we could, ABKCO records (primarily early Rolling Stones) wouldn't let us use ANY of their music. Period. That was neat.
I personally did custom programming for Bennigan's, Steak & Ale, Lane Bryant, Avenue, NikeTown, Williams-Sonoma, and in my "Lead Recording Engineer" role, I recorded (and occasionally voiced) the voiceover announcements that played at Marshall's and a few other stores. (Please use the safety strap when placing your child in the shopping cart, etc)
In the mid-to-late '90s, we started producing CDs for our customers that were given out, or sold in the stores. I produced the masters for all of these, and still have several in my collection. Eddie Bauer's Christmas CDs were popular gifts to my friends and family... the Old Navy "Cool Kids And Groovy Grownups" CDs were fun gifts for friends having kids, and "Old Navy Workout" was my favorite that I produced, as I got to do actual DJ Mixing on it. ALMOST got my name on it, but their Director of Visual Merchandising vetoed it at the last minute.
Postscript: IIRC, the way to enable Red Book playback on AEI and DMX Prodisc machines (specifically the second-generation Plextor Prodisc DS units) was, depending on firmware version, to either set rear-panel DIP switch "1", *or* switches 2 and 6 to "ON" and all others "OFF". At least I believe that was it; it's been too many years. (I had to do that at Red Robin to run the lens cleaner monthly, and their DMX Prodisc DS definitely involved switch #2 and another one being on.) You would then switch them back "OFF" again to re-enable CDI playback. The original first-generation Philips CDI610-variant Prodisc could well have had an actual key sequence for all I know; I've never worked with one.
Mr Brady, if you see this page, and there is an actual front-panel key sequence to enable Red Book support on the DS, would you please kindly post it in a comment below, as it would certainly be of use to collectors. Thanks.
- 2021-07-13 19:02:49
- Run time
- 3h 48m 36s
Subject: Reply to Mike!
There are a bunch of unknown songs on some of these tapes that Shazam and SoundHound can't ID, especially on the Popular Styles tape #5381. You might recognize them from your days at AEI, but I doubt it. I'll send you another reply on that page.
Recently a bunch of Special Program tapes sold on eBay that had, among other things, a special program for Chili's. I had no idea they were using AEI. I wonder how many of those tapes had promo announcements for deals in-store, like a seasonal menu or alcohol offerings. The Red Lobster tape posted here is just straight music.
Great to have you here.
Subject: I'm late to the party, but I'm here!
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