The ABCs of Making Your Own CDs

2002 Music Support Supplement

Volume CII, No. 11November, 2002

Frank Vento

The incredibly competitive nature of the music industry makes it increasingly more difficult to successfully make a living. In times gone by, record companies would groom, record and promote singers and musicians. As far as live entertainment, I remember when it was all over the city. In the 60s through the 80s, single engagements were quite plentiful, along with dozens of clubs and discos that were buzzing and employing a ton of musicians, singers and dancers. In more recent years, this bustling trend has waned due to the onset of DJs, a relatively sluggish economy and the biggest offender of all: technology. However, if we’re conscientious – and a bit clever – we can turn this last would-be enemy into one of our greatest assets. Let’s make a CD!

The first thing to decide is which musical selections best show off your wares. If you perform a cross-section of musical styles, then you may want to diversify your presentation.

The second important consideration is the running time of each offering. It is highly preferable to incorporate short snippets (under one minute), as opposed to full-length selections. This discourages listener boredom and increases the likelihood that your audience will listen to the whole thing.

Now, the big question: “How do we get the CD produced and duplicated?” I will let you in on some of the little (but important) things I’ve learned over time, in my quest to make the perfect CD.

If money is no object, you can simply go to a reputable studio and record your carefully pre-planned program, remembering that promos are best received when they are under 20 minutes. If the cost is a consideration, you may want to go with some recordings of your product that already exist, possibly a decent cassette recording from a gig or even a rehearsal. But how can you present as your promo an old cassette full of hissing? The answer is digital remastering. In other words, technology can now be our weapon!

Digital remastering allows us to improve the sound quality of older, degenerated, poorly-made tapes and records. It provides us with the virtual tools we need to perform a vast number of attenuating functions. Let’s pause here and define some of these tools:

  • Noise reduction. This is the ability to remove tape hiss and other constant ambient sounds that insidiously lessen the fidelity and clarity of the recording. You can take a “snowstorm” of noise and make it sound like a listenable selection, once again.
  • Level maximization. Older forms of recorded media (cassettes, vinyl records, open reels) do not have great capacity for holding level or volume. It is not uncommon for a CD that is digitally remastered from an LP record to have 6 to 12 db greater volume than its vinyl counterpart. This can also be done to your cassette.
  • Equalization (“EQ”). In the remastering process, any deficiencies in bass, treble or mid-range response can be attenuated and thus compensated for. We can actually shape the “color” of the overall timbre, playing up the good aspects and ducking the undesirable.
  • Compression. This is a tool to be used with the utmost discretion, as it can play many roles. Its primary function is to stabilize unwanted extreme peaks to allow enough average general volume throughout. It can also be used to pump up areas that may be too soft and getting lost.
  • Magneto. This is a pet plug-in of mine for digital recordings. It’s used to simulate the sound of 2-inch analog tape, running either at 15 or 30 inches per second (“IPS”). It really fattens up a thin-sounding take.
  • Stereo imaging. This allows us to expand or narrow the stereo field and gives us the ability to convert mono to stereo and vice versa.
  • Digital surgery. Your 10-minute jam can be smoothly edited down to under a minute, if needed. This is done by opening up the wave file, locating the exact points to be joined or cut, and carefully auditioning the result. So the bottom line is that, technically, any edit is possible, as long as it makes musical sense.

After using one or more of these tools and successfully remastering your music, the next thing to decide is whether you need CDRs or factory CDs. Factory CDs are a bit more durable, as they are glass-mastered as opposed to burned. (Most commercial CDs that you’d buy in a record store are factory CDs.)

Whether your music is recorded on a factory CD or a CDR, it will sound exactly the same. So the determining factor is the amount you need. Factory CDs generally require a minimum order of 300 pieces, while CDRs can be ordered as few as needed. The prices vary with the volume. One can generally get 50 CDRs with artwork, in jewel boxes, for about $5 each. Factory CDs are more cost effective, especially when you order 1,000 or more.

Artwork is the next consideration. The key is to make sure you have a good picture to feature; if it’s professionally taken, that’s even better. It is a good idea to have a graphic designer do your CD layout. There are some companies, like mine, that specialize in full-service CD production, which includes the design. Once you have your source photos and graphics picked out, a consultation with one of these outfits can be the final coordinating tool you need to make your CD a reality.

Three years ago, I started Miles of Style Productions for that very reason. Since then, we’ve rendered over 200 products for artists varying from classical ensembles to jazz bands to heavy metal rock. We offer individuals, entertainment agencies, school teachers and other independent producers a surprisingly affordable way to record, digitally master and duplicate onto CD. Whether it’s a band promo, compilation sampler, client souvenir, senior show or orchestra concert, there is no better way to present your audio product than a professionally-mastered CD, adorned with eye-catching artwork! If you have any CD needs or have questions about these processes, please feel free to call me at (718) 761-9035 or e-mail I would love to help you make music.

When it comes time to hire musicians to perform on your recording, Local 802 has various union agreements that could be appropriate for your project. Contact the Recording Department for more information.