There are about a dozen tunes on most music CDs, but usually only a handful of tracks command attention. Now, thanks to the falling prices of CD-R (or CD-recordable) drives and software, it's easier and cheaper than ever to create custom music CDs that contain only the tracks you want to hear.
To open your own virtual recording studio, you'll need a standard multimedia computer packed with at least 32 megabytes of RAM and a CD-R drive. Not long ago, the price of CD burners hovered in the $2,000 range. Today you can pick up a decent unit for about $350.
Among the more popular CD-R drives in this price range are the Mitsumi CR-2600TE ( 648-7864; http://www.mitsumi.com); the Smart and Friendly CD-R 2006 Plus ( 959-7001; http://www.smartandfriendly.com); and the Hi-Val 2x8 ( 953-3000; http://www.hival.com).
While shopping, keep in mind that you could easily spend $600 or more on a drive, depending on the brand and features. There are many big-name manufacturers, including Hewlett-Packard, JVC, Sony and TEAC.
One important point: Don't confuse CD-R and CD-RW. A CD-rewritable drive uses special CDs that can be reused, much like a floppy disk; CD-R discs can be recorded on only once. While you can pick up a 10-pack of blank CD-Rs for about $50, CDs for CD-RW drives can cost five or six times more. And CD-RW discs are not compatible with other CD-based drives.
Along with a CD-R drive, you'll need special software. Software bundles that come with most CD-R drives have only limited tools for copying music CDs. You may want a more robust program to create jewel-box inserts and labels, to easily manage music collections and to remove pops and hisses.
The Easy CD Creator from Adaptec ( 568-5525; http://www.adaptec.com) lets you easily commit your favorite music--whether it's on CD, vinyl or cassette--to a CD-R. Included is CD Spin Doctor software, which allows you to digitally filter out pops, hisses and other noises.
Easy CD Creator, which is available only for Windows 95/NT, sells for $99. Adaptec also makes a CD-R software package for the Mac called Toast. Although it's the same price as Easy CD Creator, it doesn't have all of the recording features or printing abilities as its Windows counterpart.
Another software package worth considering is Justaudio from CeQuadrat ( 843-3780; http://www.cequadrat.com). This software offers essentially the same recording features as Easy CD Creator but costs $20 less. It, too, is a Windows 95/NT package.
One unique feature of Justaudio is its built-in music database. When you insert a music CD into your CD-R drive, Justaudio tries to match it to a record in its database. If the software finds a match, it displays artist and track information, which can then be used to create a jewel-case insert.
That brings up another important point. There's more to creating a music CD than just laying down tracks. You may want to create liner notes, jewel-case inserts or CD labels. With these Windows-based packages, you can create custom packaging for your custom CDs.
Jewel cases can be purchased at your local office supply or music store, where you can also buy blank CD labels and jewel-case inserts.
Throughout this process, there is a caveat: How legal is it to make CD copies of prerecorded, copyrighted music? Re-recording music--for example, taping music from a vinyl LP onto a cassette--is nothing new. But with older media, each copy of the musical content was less clear with each generation. So by the time you made a copy of a copy of a copy, the music sounded pretty bad.
But with a digital medium like CD, each copy sounds at least as good as the original--sometimes better with editing software. This gives record companies and trade groups legitimate cause for concern.
So with respect to copyright issues, treat each song on a music CD as a separate application program. If you want to make a copy for your own enjoyment and use, go ahead. But if you make copies to give away to friends, you're breaking the law. And if you make copies and actually sell them, you are not only breaking several copyright laws, you're likely to see the FBI and other government agencies knocking at your door. And certainly, you'll be hearing from a multitude of lawyers representing the artist's and record label's interests.
Kim Komando is a TV host, syndicated talk radio host and author. You can visit her on the Internet at http://www.komando.com or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.