So, let me begin by saying that I sincerely hope I’m overreacting and that I can laugh about this in a few months. But on the off chance I’m not overreacting, here’s the story of how and why I sacrificed my vintage Tape Op Con/Mercenary Audio T-shirt to make a face mask from. And, as somebody who hates having my photo taken, why I’m willing to share these really embarrassing photos. 

Like most people right now, I’m anxious and concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic, but also trying to do my best to stay positive and healthy. I try to avoid television news, instead looking to reputable online news sources around the world, but the other day I came home and my wife Maria was watching Rachel Maddow interview Tom Bossert. Mr. Bossert would have been the person heading the USA’s response to this pandemic, if he hadn’t been fired by the current administration. The same administration that then proceeded to close the department that would have been preparing for a scenario like the one we are in now. I don’t want to get into politics, but I’d hope that we can all agree that we want to keep our families and loved ones safe during this crisis. Plus, Tom Bossert has spent years studying how to respond to emergencies such as pandemics, so I think he likely knows far more than I do about this scenario. When Rachel Maddow asked him, “What are the three things we’ll wish we’d done now in two weeks?” he replied, “Personal protective equipment, personal protective equipment, and personal protective equipment,” referring to things like masks and gloves, and even more so for medical personnel. 

Wading through the vast array of news reporting, most sources are saying we don’t need to wear masks yet, and it’s certainly not going to make you 100% safe, but most people in China did wear masks during the outbreak there and it seems to have slowed down there now. And if Tom Bossert is saying we should consider wearing masks, I feel like it’s worth thinking about. But on the other hand, unless you are actually sick, you do NOT need a mask as much as medical professionals do, as there is currently a shortage of masks at hospitals and health facilities. So PLEASE do not go out and buy a bunch of masks and help to create a shortage of masks like we have with toilet paper. Think about other people who need them more than you do. 

So with that in mind, I found a cool online article about making your own DIY facemask, so I sacrificed my Tape Op Con t-shirt and made a mask. The article is here:

The article by Jen Murphy (photo below) is well researched, co-written by a medical professional, and lists sources at the end for further research, but I’ll reprint the text from the end of their article here:

Photo Courtesy of Jen Murphy

“We make NO CLAIMS that these masks will protect you from COVID19. Use at your own risk.”
It is also very important to note that wearing a mask will not make you invincible and you should still practice social distancing and wash your hands.

I spent some time yesterday with a needle and thread and a pair of scissors and proceeded on my DIY mask project. Here are a few notes from my experience:

If you don’t have a sewing machine you can still do this, it just takes longer and will look pretty janky. Trust me, this is easier than mixing a record. 

One advantage of using a T-shirt is that if you align the bottom of the shirt to the sides of the pattern, then the hem of the shirt creates a pre-sewn path for the elastic bands and is one less thing you have to sew. 

I made the first version from the article with the pocket that you can slip some kind of filter material into. Check the article for ideas on filter materials. I cut up an older mask I had lying around after the wildfires were burning in much of Northern California last fall. Again, please don’t buy up a bunch of masks, health professionals need them!

I did my first grocery shopping trip yesterday with my DIY mask and gloves. I felt like an idiot, as I was the only person in the store wearing one, but the checkers at the grocery store – who were also wearing masks – seemed to appreciate my effort. I found that one of the benefits of wearing a mask is that everybody looks at you like you’re crazy, so it’s much easier to keep your six foot distance. 

When I get home I take out the filter material and spray it with an aerosol bleach spray, letting it dry overnight. I then wash the mask itself with soap and water. 

As I was doing this project, I thought back to the first two Tape Op Conferences we did in 2002 and 2003 in Sacramento and Portland respectively. It was post 9-11 and that was another event that was difficult to process and get through, but we did. I remember the conferences as being really amazing events that helped bring people together. This is bigger, but we’ll get through it, and when we do the sense of the community we all have as music makers will be important to share with each other again, although how we actually share is yet to be seen. 

So, please be nice and compassionate to all your fellow human beings, and let’s all get through this. 




Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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