This node is going to guide you in making a compilation, or mix CD, of your/your lover’s/friend’s/anyone’s favorite music. This is assuming you have copius amounts of music already on your computer, and that you know how to use your CD burning program of choice (I use Ahead’s powerful Nero Burning ROM).

Start out by listening to music. You've obviously done this already, but once you’ve decided to make a CD, and you’re serious about making this a flowing compilation of music, you’d do the music more justice by putting some thought into what order the songs go in, how the keys, tempos, and genres mix and compliment each other, and the length of time the compilation takes up. I personally start by finding a group of songs that I feel fit together well and then trying to find as much music to fill up an entire 80 minute blank CD, while also keeping in mind how all the songs sound together.

There are different ways to accomplish this. A guide referring explicitly to mix tapes can be found at Chihuahua Grub’s excellent writeup, The Art of the Mix Tape. A lot of general information pertaining to the sequencing can be found there, as well. This guide will deal more with working with the physical music on a computer, and crafting a CD, rather than a linear cassette tape.

First of all, you have to know what you’re working with. Most likely, the songs that you are listening to will be either Ripped from a CD or Downloaded off the Internet (naughty, naughty!). Either way, you’re bound to run into certain types of problems associated with the medium you’re using, the computer. There is more problem with downloading music from the Internet than ripping from CD, because you can control a lot of the variables associated with ripping from your own CD’s. You can combat scratches, copy protected CD’s, and bad compression on your own system. With downloaded MP3’s, you have no control over what the downloaded music is. You are at the mercy of those who use bad codecs, scratched CD’s, falsely (re)name files, and just plain mangle music. On almost all the MP3’s I’ve downloaded, there is at least half a second of silence at the beginning, and at the very least, 2 seconds of silence at the end. Which, if you’re making a mix CD, can screw up a segue, or can ruin the flow of the CD entirely. I’ve noticed on several MP3’s I’ve downloaded that there are compression artifacts, manifested as blips and pops in the song, from a bad compression codec, or a bad render.

Basically there are 2 ways of making mix CD’s.

1. The Easy Way (Segues? What are those?)

Throw all the songs you like on one playlist. This can be in Winamp, if you’re using a CD burning program that doesn’t support MP3’s, or it can be in the program itself. You don’t have to pay any attention to how music flows, or how segues match, or fix different volume levels from track to track. Hell, you don’t even have to make sure that you’re using the entire length of the blank CD! Just throw them songs in there, and hit the Burn! button.

2. The Hard Way (Measure, Trim, Mix and Burn)

This is a little harder, as the title references. However, you will recieve more satisfaction listening to your CD after all the work you did on it!

First, choose your music, and decide what order the songs best fit in. Theme compilations are popular, and a lot of fun to listen to, if done correctly.

The best way to do this, I’ve found, is to take songs into Winamp (or your preferred media player), and pay attention to the length of the playlist. (This is assuming you’re aiming for a complete 80 minute CD, if not, ignore the references to length.) Once you have all the songs you wish in the list, and the length of the CD is to the max (or over, depending on whether or not your CD Writer supports Overburn), play around with the order until you have a rough idea of how you want your songs to play out as the CD progresses. I say rough, and I mean leave yourself some room to play with the order.

If possible, dump all of the songs in WAV format to a designated folder on your hard drive. This will take up about 700 to 1000 MB depending on track lengths. Winamp uses the Disk Writer output plugin to accomplish this, your media player may not include a feature like this, if nothing else you might just have to copy the MP3’s themselves to a folder, which will save disk space, but will make the songs slower to work with, MP3’s require a lot of processing power to edit.

The next step is to clean up the songs. Obviously if you’ve been listening to the songs for awhile you know which ones you need to really clean up (or redownload, in the case of some badly encoded MP3s), but all of the tracks will be opened and edited in a sound editor. I reccommend GoldWave, or Sound Forge. You’ll want to be able to work with and edit the waveform itself, and GoldWave does a good job with caching and deflashing. This is why I prefer to use WAV’s, they are huge files, but they use lossless compression, and don’t produce artifacting. Plus they don’t take as much processing power to view and edit.

Using the sound editor, you should be able to see where the waveform begins, and in my experience, I’ve had to open and edit every single song I’ve downloaded, to cut out blank space at the beginning of each file. Read the documentation on your program, and once you learn how to, cut out any silence at the beginning of the song. (This is assuming there is not supposed to be silence, or that you’re not using it for effect, though you could do that by adding seconds to a track in your CD burning program later.) After you cut the silence off the beginning, skip to the very end, and make sure the fadeout doesn’t cut off, and that the file ends at the fadeout’s completion. This way, there is no distracting silence between tracks, and you may actually be able to gain about a minute or so by processing all your files in this manner, before you burn the CD.

Once you have cut out silence, and you’re sure there is no skipping or artifacting in your file, consider the age and variety of the songs you’re using in relation to each other. If you’ve used files from a lot of different sources, or time periods, or even genres, you’re going to be dealing with files of varying dynamics and volume levels. You may end up having to go over each song in your playlist, noting variances in volume spikes, and compensating accordingly on songs that don’t match, or songs that require a volume adjustment while initially listening. Remember, we cut out silence on all the tracks, and if you’re listening to a quiet song, you’re not going to have a buffer time to turn down the volume before a loud song comes along and blasts your eardrums or speakers.

After you’ve fine tuned the files, and resolved volume and skipping issues, take a good media player and put all your files into it, and order them again, or re-order them if needed. Listening to the beginning and end of each track has changed my mind about a lot of segues. Listen to your compilation, if you wish, in the media player. If you have a gapless plugin that precaches the next song, use it, so you can get an idea of what the CD will sound like.

After you’re happy with the order, and have resolved any problems that have become apparent, you’re ready to open your CD burning program. You may want to number the songs (with a leading zero on the first 9 tracks) so you don’t have to tediously re-arrange them in the burning program. If you have any effects you want to add in the way of extra seconds before a song plays, like in the case of a bonus track type effect, you can add them now. Make sure to remove any 2 second gaps your burning program may add (Nero has a 2 second gap by default between each new CD track). After you’ve completed this, you’re ready to burn.

The CD drive spits out a masterpiece. Congratulations! You’ve created a Mix CD!

Some more tips:

I find that if I have a group of songs that I like, and want to make a CD of, it’s helpful to create a preliminary CD, with no pre-processing of the tracks, and a rough order, and listen to that for a couple days, so I can get an idea of any problems with gaps, segues, artifacts, volume/dynamics, and skips in tracks. That way, problems with certain tracks and volume levels make themselves apparent, and you don’t have to hunt for them when you go to process and tweak the files.

Also, if your CD Writer has an Overburn capability, use it! You might be able to fit one more song on that 80 minute CD, for a total of 82 minutes. I’ve been able to fit both discs of Pink Floyd’s The Wall on one 80 minute blank CD, using my TDK 24/10/40 VeloCD drive and Overburn.

One more thing. Be creative. Try new things, maybe play around with stereo effects, or try crossfading songs. An easy way to do this is, after you’ve cut any extra silence, cut a small part of the previous song off, and overlay it on top of the very beginning of the next song. This creates a very quick and dirty crossfade, if you remember to take out any gaps in the final burn.

What I find fun, and this works if you have a movie that you can watch in your head as you listen to the audio, is to take a movie (captured onto your computer in WAV format, or a sound file from a DivX rip), split it up into tracks, and burn it to CD (or multiple CD's depending on the movie's length). Obviously, sight gags are lost on the listener who hasn't seen or isn't familiar with the movie, but it's pretty cool to be able to listen to your favorite movie. This works particularly well with movies with a lot of stereo action, or movies such as Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail that include just as many dialogue gags and silly sound effects as they do sight gags. I took the entire length of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and split it into tracks to listen to on a trip I'm taking soon, it takes up 2 CD's (approx. 50 minutes each). It's a nifty little project if you've got the time on your hands.

Have fun!

Creating a good mixed CD is one of the most vital components of the business aspect of being a DJ. You can be the best DJ in the world, but without a good demo, you can only look forward to a long life of playing sets for your cat. Not that there's anything wrong with DJing for your cat; hell, I do it on a regular basis. But most DJs (and myself) have higher aspirations than playing high-BPM lullabies for their pets for the rest of their lives. Eventually, you have to move past being bedroom DJ, and in order to do that, you need something to showcase your skills.

So you're going to need to make a mix CD. You could make a mix tape, or a mix minidisc, but there's several advantages to using a CD. First, the sound quality is higher on CDs than on tape. Second, just about everyone has a CD player, while tape players are quickly becoming defunct. Minidiscs just aren't common enough. So a mix CD is obviously the way to go.

But how to start?

First, you're going to need to do a bit of experimentation and planning. Mixing a CD is a bit different than mixing from the hip in that if you butcher a particularly tricky mix, you can try it again. You also have a bit of freedom in the sense that you aren't beatmatching against a timer, so you can pull some pretty interesting techniques when recording a mix CD. So fire up your equipment of choice, pull out your music collection, and do a bit of experimenting. Keep a notebook handy, and write down the names of tracks you want to use, how you want to mix them, pitch fader and trim settings, times to drop beats, etc. You're still experimenting, so don't worry about mixing a continuous set. Pull off tracks, fire up other ones, start tracks over, and drop mixes in odd places that would be inconvenient for a live mix. Be creative. Write down what works, write down what might work, hell, write down what doesn't work so you can make it work later. A mix that you couldn't work live to save your own skin may be golden if you have a chance to work with it. Just go for it.

After doing this for a while, you should be getting an idea of the soundscape you're looking for. What are you going to use as your opening track? Closing track? How do you want to peak the set? How do you want to break it down? Take these things, and write them down. Pretty soon, you should develop a tracklist that looks something like this:

Track #. Artist - Title - Pitch fader setting - ETA to next mix

1. Miranda - Eyedentify 2004 - +0.4% - 4:31
2. Wizzy Noise - Demented Drum Pt. 1 - +4.8% - 5:18
3. Infected Mushroom - None of this is Real - -1.3% - 6:24
4. Parasense - Love to Hate - +0.2% - 5:41
5. Distortion Orchestra - Sidewinder - -1.8% - 4:02

etc. 

(This is called programming a set. You can do it for live shows too.)*
Now. You've got the perfect set planned. It's going to drop the jaw of anyone who hears it. You had to repeatedly wipe the drool off your mixer as you planned it. Now you just have to record it to CD.

Here's what you'll need:

  • A PC, preferably with some good equipment in it. A decent sound card is a must, as well as a large hard drive. You will also, of course, need a CD burner and software.
  • Your DJ gear. You should already have this.
  • An RCA to Stereo 1/8" adaptor cable
  • Possibly two RCA Y-Splitters, with two female ends and one male end.
  • Some audio capturing software. Audiograbber is a good freeware solution for this.
  • Some audio editing software. Wavepad is a good freeware solution, but if you have money or a predisposition for casual piracy, Sound Forge is excellent.

Take a good look at the output jacks on the back of your mixer. With any luck, you should see a pair labelled something to the effect of: RECORD, REC, RECORD OUT, REC OUT, etc. If those aren't there, try looking for BOOTH or BOOTH OUT. If those aren't there, try looking for MONITOR OUT. If any of these are there, plug the RCA connectors from your RCA-1/8" adaptor into it, making sure to match the colors. Make sure your computer is powered down, and then plug the 1/8" stereo jack into the "Line In" jack on your soundcard. You can find this on the back of your computer. (Note: Do not plug it into the Mic Input. This input is very sensitive, and you may fry your sound card.)

If you don't have any of the above outputs, you'll need to use the two RCA Y-Splitters to split your master output. Plug one Y-Splitter into the red MASTER OUT jack on your mixer. Plug the red jack for your master output source into one of the free jacks on the Y-Splitter, and the red jack for your PC into the other. Repeat this process for the white MASTER OUT jack.

Done? Good. Now you'll need to head to the volume control panel in your system, and set the volume levels for recording. Make sure the volume is turned up in the recording controls, and make sure the "line in" box is checked. Now play a record or CD on your DJ gear. If you hear it coming out of the PC speakers, then you're good to go.

Now, head into the recording program of your choice, and make sure your bitrate and sampling rate are set to 16 bits, 44,100 Hz (44.1 Khz), Stereo. There's no sense in lowering your sound quality.

Now, you're ready to record! What you're going to do is perform each mix individually, and use your sound editing program to splice them all together. For example, play your first track. Mix into the second track, and then cut the recording. Put the resulting file in an easily accessible location. Then go ahead and start the second track over, and mix into your third track. If you mess up the mix, trash the file and start over again. You have as many tries as you need. Once you have all your mixes recorded individually, you can use your sound editing software to splice them all together, creating the illusion of a continuous mix. You may want to give the finished result a run through with your sound editing software, and make sure all the levels are where you want them to be.

Update: In retrospect, it's much more effective to just mix the set live, and go back with your sound editor to smooth over the rough spots. It's much less time consuming, and has a more natural feel than the aforementioned method. You can do whatever you want, though. Either way technically works.

Now, burn a lot of CDs. (Please don't burn it as one long track. Please. Promoters hate that, and so do most listeners. So don't do it.) Make some really cool cover art. Distribute the hell out of it. Get famous, and then get disowned by your cat. You can thank me later.


Sources:

Just J, "setting up to record your mixes," DJ Forums. <http://djforums.com/tutorials/recording.php> (17 September 2004).


*mkb says: re How to create your perfect mix CD: programming like that for a live show is cheating!

I partially agree. While 'cheating' is a fairly subjective term in this context, the offense that I take to the practice is that the ability to read your audience and select tracks on the fly to please them is REALLY important. Programming your live shows takes away this ability. I, personally, don't think it's worth it, but you can do whatever you like.

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