Making Custom Mix Cds

Tired of taking twenty CDs with you everywhere you go? Make custom mixes of your own choosing so you only take one or two.

You love most of your CDs, but not necessarily every single track. There are times when you wish you could make your own "best of" album for an artist who hasn't released one yet. Sometimes you think it would be great to make custom mixes of different bands and artists, all on one or two CDs.

All you need is a computer with a CD-R drive (also known as a CD burner), a few blank CDs and a little patience. If you don't want to use a computer for the job, you can invest in a CD-recording deck for your home stereo system. If that's the case, you can simply read your instruction manual for the basic directions - and most of the following tips will still apply.

NOTE: Downloading music without paying for it is illegal. If you want to get tracks this way, use a pay service. You can still burn the tracks to CD, but you won't cheat hard-working musicians out of what is rightfully theirs. Use Internet searches and message boards to compare and contrast the different services to find the one that's best for your needs.

The easiest way to make a mix CD is to find a program that does the hard work for you. Pay-service software doesn't necessarily require you to buy any music from them, but you CAN rip (copy) your CDs to your hard drive and use said program to burn them however you want. The programs are usually free: an Internet search will lead you to several sites for further information.

If you choose this option, the program is usually fairly user-friendly: the icons are clearly marked, and the Help files will tell you exactly what to do. Because each program has different steps, icons and settings, be prepared to learn a few new things each time you switch to new software.

If you don't want to do this, you can use CD-burning software. This is usually the easiest because many computers come with it pre-installed on the hard drive. Ask your retailer for more information about the installed components on your system. When you know what to use, you can start making CDs of your very own! Again: this requires reading the Help files and looking at the icons. Each program is different, so don't expect it to be an exact series of steps.

Here are some tips to start you on the road to making better music CDs:

Set your burning software to finalize the CD. This means you can't add any more tracks to it later, but this setting makes the disc compatible with home stereo equipment and car CD players. This means you have to have to be very sure of what you want before you click the "burn" or "write" icon, so make your final decision before you take the plunge.

If you have this option, set it to burn track-by-track. This prevents it from either a) mixing all the audio files into one track (meaning you can't skip tracks) or b) making it harder for home stereo equpiment to read the disc properly.

Burn your files in .wav, not .mp3, format unless unless you only want to use the disc in .mp3-compatible players. Most programs will give you information about the file type - and some will convert it for you. If neither of these is true, Windows users can right-click on the file icon for the track and bring up its properties. Use a .wav converting program (available to download online). Don't worry if this is starting to sound more complicated than you want it to be: most users don't have to deal with this, especially if they use pay-to-download software.

If you have .mp3-compatible players, consider creating .mp3 CDs. If done correctly, you can fit several hours' worth of music on one disc. This is ideal for road trips, commutes, and any time you'll be out with a portable CD player. It's also a convenient way to backup your ripped/purchased songs just in case you experience a system crash.

Don't use anything but a soft-tipped marker to label the disc. If it's an unlabeled disc, be sure you don't write on the tinted side.

When creating your playlist, don't hesitate to experiment. You can make and save playlists, then play them back on your computer, without ever burning them. This makes it easy for you to see what tracks work best (and in what order). When you've found the order and songs that really work well together, you can burn the CD.

Stock up on blank CDs when they're on sale or come with rebate offers. Once you start making mixes, it's often hard to stop! You'll be happier knowing that you won't have to tote half of your favorite musician's collection around in your car or backpack every day now that you can create a precise mix of your very favorite songs.

Try different brands of blank CDs to find the ones that work best for you. Many of the cheaper brands and varieties don't last long. They scratch very easily. The label starts to peel up, which ruins the CD because it needs it to reflect the laser beam back. Some brands also tend to have a higher miss-versus-hit rating: if you buy a twenty-pack of CD-Rs, you might have fifteen burn properly, even if you're doing it right and nothing is wrong with any of your hardware or software. It pays to invest in higher-quality CDs, especially if it's a mix you know you'll want to play for months to come.

Some ideas for good mix CDs:

Read the music charts to find the top singles in your favorite genre. Use a combination of your own albums and pay-service downloads to create a "Chart-topping mix" for that month, half-year, or year.

Create a mix of favorite love songs and put it in when you're with your partner or spouse. Even better: ask for his or her input so you can both enjoy the music.

Think of mixes that fit your various moods. Have a CD that you can put in when you're happy, another for the sadder moments, one for fits of anger, and any other emotion you can think of. Note: it's not advisable to make a mix of songs for road rage, because that could just get you into even more trouble!

If you hate the outcome of the latest music awards show, create a CD of songs that you think should have won. If you're feeling HIGHLY upset about it, you can mail a printout of the track listing to whomever it was that voted for those horrible songs to win!

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