How To Create a Compilation CD

I find very few CDs these days where I like every track. I tend to listen to the whole thing at first, but after a while, I start skipping over the tracks I don't care for. A much better solution to me is to burn the tracks I like to a different CD along with tracks from a similar CD. Or you may want a compilation of songs for, say, a party. It is easy to create a compilation CD following the steps below. 

  1. Identify the songs you want on the CD. Calculate how many will fit. Most CD-Rs hold 74 or 80 minutes of music. Don't forget that there will be a couple of seconds of silence between tracks. Also plan the order of the tracks (if you care). Be creative! This is your CD.
  2. Locate the original song source. The original CD is the absolutely best quality source for your tracks. Second choice would be iTunes. Find tracks you like, buy them, and then you can even use the iTunes interface to burn the CD. It is rather clumsy, but it does work. The last choices for your compilation CD track source are MP3 or WMA. These are compressed audio formats. Compression reduces the size of the file so that it takes less time to download, but compression also reduces quality somewhat. This may not matter much if your hearing is not so good or you are only going to play the CD in the car. Remember: you can legally burn to CD only the music that you bought and own.
  3. Choose your ripping and burning software. I mentioned iTunes. iTunes downloads songs in a proprietary format called M4P. You have to convert M4P to a different format to burn the downloaded song to CD, or just burn to CD using the iTunes user interface. I archive my downloaded iTunes songs to CD in no particular order for safekeeping. Then I rip the tracks to hard disk for burning to a different CD. Lots of excellent software is available for ripping and burning. Some of it is free, and many brands allow you to download a trial copy. There are the more expensive "Swiss Army Knife" packages that do everything conceivable with both CDs and DVDs. Then again, the software that came bundled with your burner may be perfectly acceptable for you. Go with what works. I won't recommend a specific package, but I will toss out some ideas for you to try at the end of this article.
  4. Rip and burn your compilation CD. Ripping is the act of digitally extracting the audio, still in digital format, from a CD to your hard drive. Burning is the writing of digital information to a CD-R. Good ripping software will create a bit-for-bit exact copy of the original CD track. Bad software may "rip" the song in analog form, and you will end up with an inferior copy on your hard drive. Ripping software may store the ripped tracks on hard disk as uncompressed Windows .wav files, or it will compress the track to MP3 format, depending on the settings. I recommend not compressing if you want a high-quality compilation CD. Once the tracks are on your hard drive, your burning software may or may not require you to first decompress compressed formats before burning. Often you can just specify which tracks to burn to CD-R, whether they are in .wav or .mp3 format, and the software will decompress the track on the fly. I prefer to convert .mp3 to .wav first. There is less chance that way that the burner will outrun the source. When that happens, you get the dreaded "buffer underrun" problem. This results in a very shiny and not very absorbent coffee table coaster that will not play. Good commercial software has buffer underrun protection, which helps eliminate the problem. The best way to avoid coasters is to defragment your hard drive every once in a while, and don't do anything else on your computer while it is burning. Line up your tracks in the desired order, and burn your compilation CD with the software you have chosen.
  5. The final product. You have burned your CD. Now label it. Be as simple or as fancy as you choose. You can label it with a felt tip pen, print a label for it (use only labels designed for CDs), or even print onto a printable CD. Avoid anything that might scratch or mar the top surface of the CD. Enjoy.
  6. Some software to try. Audiograbber, CDEX, Easy Media Creator, Exact Audio Copy, MusicMatch, and Nero. There are dozens and dozens more. Try the free stuff first, especially for CDs that are a real problem to rip. 

Once you find out how easy it is to burn a CD with tracks that you really want to listen to, you will be making more of them. For the ultimate compilation CD, get a player that plays MP3s. Then your CDs can have 150 songs instead of just a dozen or so!


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