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Creating Audio CDs from Any Source

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Mix tapes are a thing of the past. Today, it's all about mix CD's, and in this chapter, Bob Starrett and Josh McDaniel give you the basics of burning a music CD with a minimum of judgment regarding your musical tastes.
This chapter is from the book Chapter 1: Diving Right In

Chapter 1: Diving Right In

In the grand tradition of Western Epic, after Homer, Virgil and Milton, we shall begin in the middle of things—in medias res, as the Latins would put it. We expect to find you rarin' to burn, but not sure of the next step, your will in search of a way. With that in mind, we'll begin with a whirlwind tour of the recording process.

We'll also start by assuming a few more specific things about you:

  • You don't have a chitinous shell protecting your innards (see Figure 1.1).

  • You've got music stored on some kind of medium, whether that be an old, battered record or a hard disk.

  • You've got a computer, with a drive capable of recording CDs.

  • and

  • You'd like to use that drive to create audio CDs.

Beyond that, we assume nothing, and won't cast any judgment about genres, bands, songs, operas, or concertos. We'll talk more about the how, why, what, and where than The Who.

Figure 1.1Figure 1.1 We're landlocked and, consequently, cannot get a live photo of a Rock Lobster, so this photo of Goldie The Rock Lobster Cat will have to do.

Our book concerns itself primarily with acquiring music from any of several sources, converting it to a digital format as needed, then moving that music (or speech, or whatever sonic stuff you like) over to CD-R in a manner that conforms to the CD-Audio standard. You may then play these creations in your car stereo, your home entertainment system, or your boom box in the park over slow-roasted chicken filets, coleslaw, beans, and a nice Chardonnay. (We recommend Kendall-Jackson, a bountiful mid-range bottle, more toward butter than oak, at least in the recent vintages.)


We're going to go ahead and use "recorder" or "burner" in place of "CD-R/RW, DVD-R/RW, DVD+RW, or other device capable of recording CDs." It's not laziness; it's just that we don't want to go through every writable drive out there when we have to refer to your recording device. That would get on everyone's nerves, we're guessing (and Josh is easily confused to boot).

That said, here we go.

Find Your Tunes

As we mentioned, we assume you've got some music lying around. In this book, we'll show you not only how to get this music to CD (by burning it, as it's commonly known), but also how to transform your analog material—vinyl records and cassette tapes—into digital audio. We'll also show you how to edit, clean, and sweeten digital audio, as well as a few funky things you can do with your creations.


The difference between analog and digital material boils down to this: analog material—such as the songs on a record or cassette tape—is recorded and played back in time, chronologically. Digital material, the music on your CDs, for example, is a binary representation of analog material that is interpreted by your playback device back into analog material.

There are many big advantages to CD-Audio, but two in particular stand out here: binary data isn't fettered by time (which is why you're able to select a track to play with the touch of a button), and nothing except the light of your playback device's laser touches the CD, which results in little wear and tear, if any. "But my CD skips!" you say. That's the fault of the manufacturer, or possibly even you, naughty person. By the way, in Chapter 3, "Copying Audio CDs," we'll show you how to fix a skipping track.

Some of you kept the vinyl. Good on you. No matter what, it's worth something, either in a sentimental, financial, or just plain "it sounds good" sense. One of the wonders of vinyl-to-CD transfers is that you can actually make it sound better. Two chapters address the intricacies of this process. The first is Chapter 2, "Hardware and Software," where you'll find a couple things you need for that kind of project, specifically a preamp and digital audio editing software. (You may have those things already and you just don't know it, or you may have to go get those items, in which case we've got a bunch of recommendations.) And in Chapter 7, "Recording and Restoring Vinyl," we'll show you how to preserve these treasures by copying them to CD and, if you have the inclination, how to digitally remaster them, removing clicks, pops, hiss, and even scratches.

Dollars to doughnuts, we'll bet you own at least one music CD. In Chapter 3, "Copying Audio CDs," we'll show you how to duplicate any CD in your collection, as well as how to extract (also known as rip) single tracks so that you may move them into a compilation CD. It's been our unfortunate experience that one good song on the radio doesn't translate into a good 11-track CD. In fact, that one good song is often the only good song on said CD, which is reason enough to start improving your CD collection by consolidating the keepers.


If you're leaving CDs lying around outside of their jewel cases, sleeves, and so on, leave them music-side (the shiny side) down. Contrary to popular belief, air and exposure to the elements will do more damage to your CD than a tabletop or carpet.

If you've downloaded (legally or not) any music from the Internet, you're probably already familiar with the term MP3. Ah, MP3, that small item that's pitted the record industry against, well, pretty much everyone else alive on Earth, including bands, fans, and 12-year-old honor students. We'll touch on the furor briefly—along with industry-sanctioned MP3 sources—in Chapter 4, "Recording MP3s to CD," but we'll focus primarily on how to "decode" MP3s so they can be written to CD.

Got a favorite Internet radio station? You can easily record streaming audio and burn it to CD for later listening. Chapter 5, "Capturing and Recording Digital Streams," shows you what you need to know.

Time was when cassette tapes outsold records and CDs, and you probably bought your share in those strange transitional times. Tapes are really easy to work with. In Chapter 6, "Restoring and Recording Cassette Tapes," you'll learn how to transfer your tapes to CD, with only a minimal amount of digital restoration necessary.

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