Neurotic Mix CD Making

Having made a lot of mix CDs over the past decade — especially for the various PDP exchanges — I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about ways to improve how I make them.

My main goal with mixes has always been to make the listening experience better and as effortless as possible. I’ve refined the production process and continued to tinker until I have a system that I think works pretty well. With an eye to the future, where PDP exchanges are likely to be all digital affairs, I thought I’d share my steps.

A couple caveats. I use iTunes on a Mac. I’m assuming that the steps work the same on PC versions but may need some adjustment if you make CDs using other audio software.

Create a playlist that I obsessively tweak for weeks/months, trying to balance accessibility, exclusivity and an enjoyable music experience.

I generally shoot to make a playlist the full 80 minutes of a standard play CD. My PDP schtick is to include a hidden track, which with the exception of PDP1, is a cover song. (For PDP1, it was a Lewis Black comedy track about Starbucks, since both Dan and Carmen worked there.) I’ve always enjoyed good covers and I love when bands play a cover as part of their fake “encore”.

Once I’ve got my playlist set, I’ll use Audacity to combine the final listed track and my chosen cover song. It’s pretty straight forward. Import the tracks; add some silence at the end of the song; copy and paste the cover song; export. Then import into iTunes and Bob’s your uncle. I’d suggest making sure the total playlist isn’t more then 79:53. Even when burning with no  gaps between tracks, cutting it too close to 80:00 and iTunes says it won’t all fit.

I’ve also used Audacity to adjust the volume level of an mp3, along with trimming some time off tracks that have too much silence at the end. It probably does a bunch of other things but this is all I’ve ever used it for.

Burn the playlist to CD.

I always use the slowest speed possible to try and get the best quality. Which probably doesn’t make that much of a difference, since my mixes are often made up of a motley collection of digital tracks and imported CDs of various bit rates.

Once the CD is burned, I fix up the tracklisting. Alex Walker in PDP7 was the first PDPer who’s CD auto-loaded track names when inserting into iTunes. I’d previously tried it unsuccessfully  — obviously — but after I knew it could be done, I kept experimenting until I figured it out.

One of the things I liked about Alex’s system, other than the fact it fetched names automatically, was that he’d included the album the song came from. He put that information in the artist field though, something I didn’t care for because it would create another artist when using the browser function. Instead, I decided to add the album to the song title field.

So, first step is to select track one and open the ‘Get Info’ (⌘ – I) dialogue box. Go into the ‘Info’ tab and copy the current album title and paste it into the song field. I usually separate the two with a hyphen. Go to the next track and repeat process. You could manually type in titles but that seems like too much work to me.

Once you’ve got the song titles with album names, you’re ready to select all the files on the CD for disc wide changes. Year is an obvious one, along with album title. I set the composer field to my name, the same way that I do when importing other peeps’ PDP albums. Sometimes I like to listen to all albums by a specific person, whether I’m working my way through the back catalogue or I just feel like listening to that person. (Currently, I’ve got Ben’s stuff on my iPhone — mostly because I wanted to listen to Twenty Aught Six, a non-PDP mix.)

I also check of a lot of other fields like album artist and comments but don’t add any content, instead looking to strip any data that remains in iTunes from the original file.

I then set the genre to soundtrack. Once I import albums, I change the genre to the PDP exchange. It’s an easy way to use the search function to find all the PDP3 albums at once. But you can’t upload tracklistings to the database with custom genres. I could probably leave it blank but I figure soundtrack is the most accurate option of the the default settings.

The last item is to select the actual CD on the devices menu on the left of iTunes so you can set the CD as a compilation. This is an optional piece (as, I guess, are most of these steps) but I’ve found that it makes it easier to find albums on my iPhone’s iTunes, since I can quickly click on the compilations browsing button.

Double check all the individual tracks to make sure they’ve got the correct information and no extra fields populated.

Under the ‘Advanced’ menu, select ‘Submit CD Track Names…’.

Burn another copy of the CD and then under the ‘Advanced’ menu, select ‘Get Track Names’. This allows me to double check that things worked well. Actually, I usually pop the CD into my MacBook Pro to make uber-sure that things worked out okay. Then I’ll rip that CD and, once imported, change the genre to the appropriate PDP.


Bonus Step.
I’ve primarily used iTunes Mosaic print function — modified, of course — to print playlists. But it’d look horrible with album names. Hell, it looks bad sometimes with long song titles or band names. But if you have it just in the data, you’re fine. So I’ll usually print the tracklisting from the iTunes playlist that I used to burn the CD. Just change the view options so there’s only the artist and song title field showing.

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