Loose Wire -- Burning for An Eternal Flame
By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 17 October 2002 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Those of you who spent your lovesick adolescence painstakingly making compilation tapes for your paramour, wasting hours hunched over a record deck deciding on a perfect segue to Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin exhaling their way through Je t'aime . . . Moi non plus, I'm happy to report that technological advances now make the process a less exacting experience. It's nothing particularly revolutionary, but recent improvements in software and hardware have made compilation CDs something you can create at home, quickly and easily. Here's how.
What you need are a CD writer, some music and some software. For Windows users I'd recommend Cakewalk's new Pyro 200
3 ($25 for a download version from www.cakewalk.com/
pyro), but you might also try Ahead's Nero (about $40 from www.nero.com
) or Roxio's EasyCD Creator (about $90 from www.roxio.com
First, the music. If you're using CDs, programs like Pyro will convert them to a format that can be stored on a PC. These are either MP3 files or rival Windows Media Audio (WMA) files -- a compressed format that loses a little of the original sound quality -- or a wave file, which retains all the original range of sound, but makes for a whopping great file. Want to use your LPs, or a cassette? Pyro will handle those too, basically by having you plug the relevant machine -- turntable, or tape player -- into your PC, and playing the track so the PC can record it. Pyro can also remove any clicks, pops or other sound quirks that were either on the original, or which appeared during the transfer to PC.
Pyro does all this quite intuitively, which is why I'd recommend it over other more feature-heavy, but less user-friendly, programs. That's not to say Pyro isn't powerful; Cakewalk made their name in music-recording software for pros and Pyro is a spin-off from that technology, so you're in good hands. Once the tracks are in a format that Pyro can deal with, you can view them graphically as waveforms, like the jagged signals on heart-monitoring equipment. This is great for arranging the order of songs, and sorting out how you want them to follow on from one another.
Once again, Pyro makes this very easy: Click and drag a horizontal line over the waveform to set the volume of each song, and drag the ends of the same line to alter fades in and out. Drag the song's waveform to alter the gap between each song, or overlap them for that wild party feel. In my day you could only do this with two turntables, fiddly cassettes, a mixer and a lot of patience, and if you got it wrong the first time there wasn't much you could do about it except curse Serge Gainsbourg.
Once you're happy with sound levels, segues and the overall brilliance of your compilation, it's time to burn it to CD. This is also pretty straightforward, though I ran into some minor problems, probably as a result of my CD burner more than Pyro. Pyro could have done better on the error message, which ventured little more than something like 'You've got a problem, dude.'
On balance, though, this is an excellent way to make CDs and it's not as time consuming as it sounds. If halfway through you decide to add a song from elsewhere, Pyro handles it without any kerfuffle. If I had any complaints, I'd like to see better contextual help, which though innovative is too patchy to be helpful.
Programs like Pyro also make sense for the growing number of folk downloading music off the Internet, whether it's from the dark and illegal world of post-Napster file sharing, or the uncertain, but legal, world of on-line music subscription. If you haven't tried the latter, I'd recommend Emusic (www.emusic.com
), which, for a monthly fee of just $10, allows you to download an unlimited number of MP3s from its sizeable library. You won't find everything you're looking for, but it's a great way to check out new stuff, or come across some forgotten favourites. This isn't for hi-fi perfectionists, but it's a worthy successor to the grab-bag tapes of old.
Finally, suggestions please for what song should follow Je T'aime. I'm considering Eric Carmen's original of All By Myself, but I'm open to suggestions.