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Don't miss our article on how to choose the right CD recorder!

There are two main ways to get CDs made from your oh-so-carefully-mixed song tapes:

  • burn (sounds much cooler than, but means the same as, "record") your own on your computer with a sound card and CD-R recorder (CD-R = CD-Recordable). You will need special software (often available free or as a bundle with the hardware) to do this; you can't just copy WAV files! You'll also want to make sure that your hardware and software are up to "Red Book" standard so that they can be played by any audio CD player, though almost all of them meet this standard these days. Here's a great article on selecting the right equipment, and here's the all-important and definitive FAQ that you should read before buying anything (hardware, software, media, anything...this page has it all!) in the CD arena.
  • burn your own on an external audio CD recorder such as a Philips CDR-880. Note that these units, while handy to use, require special blank CDs which are hard to find and much more expensive than the normal CD-R blanks sold for $1 each almost everywhere (which work fine on computer-based CD-recording equipment).
  • pay someone else to make them for you. This ranges from people working out of their homes with their own CD-burning equipment (as above) to companies who will make dozens, hundreds, or hundreds of thousands of CDs for you, including art and packaging. You have to supply them with your already-mixed songs, of course, which you can do using DAT tapes or a CD-R you burned yourself. Some of these places can also take cassette and even HiFi VHS tapes.

Hint: if you plan to make multiple copies of your one-off CD-R via a CD publishing house, that CD-R must be burned in disc-at-once mode, which is not the way most audio CD-Rs are usually made. Read your software manual before you do it!

And yes, recording to a CD-R is a great way to mix down if you have a decent sound card and software (even basic 2-track recording software will do for this). But don't actually mix down to a CD-R directly! Mix down to a stereo WAV file, and do this for each of your songs until you're happy with the result...then make an audio CD from the finished tracks.

By the way, burning a CD-R does involve using a relatively high-powered laser to write data onto the disc, and if you wonder why it's called burning, you won't when you do your first one...you'll smell it!
-- Dragon

Looking for the Mastering page?

All About Disc-at-Once vs. Track-at-Once

The normal setting on most CD burning software gives you a 2-second gap between tracks when you're burning in "normal mode" (track-at-a-time, or track-at-once).

If you burn "disc-at-once", you will not get any added gaps between the tracks, so if you want time between the tracks you have to add your own silence before and after.

You will always get track markers whenever you have separate tracks identified in the software, so that you can jump directly to any track you wish.

As a corollary of the above, if you want an uninterrupted 55-minute dance mix, but still want to have track markers between tracks, you have to split the music into separate WAV files, not add any silence to them, put them into your CD layout as separate tracks, and burn in "disc-at-once" mode.

Still confused? Check out these great FAQs and info from Adaptec!

Doing the WAV

Unless your CD burning software has lots of extra features, the only audio files you can put on an audio CD are standard 44.1 KHz stereo uncompressed WAV files (if you're on Windows, this means PCM, not ADPCM, and if you've never heard of these terms don't worry about it). So if you drag and drop your MP3 files into a CD layout, don't be surprised if the resulting CD only plays on your computer, because you probably just made a data disc.

On the other hand, deliberately burning WAV files onto CD as WAV files (rather than as an audio CD) is an inexpensive way to back them up!

How to Save Lots of Money

Too many people buy $350 audio CD burning programs when virtually every CD-R drive sold comes with Adaptec Easy CD Creator (or similar), which works perfectly fine for burning 99.6% of any audio CDs you'll ever want to make.

CD-R Q&A etc.

Dear Dragon: I was wondering if you knew any good programs that I could use to make CD tray cards. I just got a CD burner for my computer and I want to make professional looking CD covers for the CD's. Microsoft Publisher has something for making the booklets but I haven't found a program for making tray cards.

How bout free? :-)

Also, I want to know how do you connect your stereo equipment to your computer because I want to record beats from my drum machine to the CD burner. Please help.

What part of that involves stereo equipment? Just send the audio output of the drum machine into your computer sound card, record stereo WAV files, and burn 'em!
-- Dragon

The Monkey Method

I haven't tried this myself, but I think it's brilliant...originally suggested by Monkey on our BBS.

Let's say you want to record an event live in digital, just in stereo, but you don't want to buy a DAT or record on MiniDisc or lug your computer-based digital audio workstation to the concert. Bring all your mics and stands and mixer as usual, but plug it into a standalone CD recorder, and go directly to CD-R! And you won't erase them by mistake, either :-)
-- Dragon

New! Mad Scientist's Guide to Burning CDs!

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