How to Burn Your Tracks onto CDs

Danny Tenaglia and his CD walletsDanny Tenaglia sure knows how to burn his CDs. If you are a CD DJ, chances are that you'll be buying the bulk of your music from digital download sites such as Beatport or Juno Download. Now, to be able to play those tracks on a club CD deck, you'll need to burn them onto CDs. In this guide, I'll go through the strategies and tactics that go have to do with burning the discs.

Arranging the Tracks on CDs

There are three widely used approaches to arranging your tracks on CDs. Here they are:

MP3 CDs. In this approach, you burn your MP3s as files as opposed to audio tracks. You'll probably want to group tracks belonging to the same release into folders so the CD is easier to navigate. If you're dealing with 192 kbps MP3s, you can fit about 7.5 hours of music on a single CD.

Of course, you'll need to burn two copies of each CD so you can mix tracks that reside on the same disc. Also, don't forget to print or jot down a tracklist for each CD just so you know what's in there.

By the way, if you prefer to buy WAVs, you'll need to compress them into MP3s before burning an MP3 disc. Make sure to keep the original WAV files, though: MP3 compression is lossy, which means that some sound information is lost forever during conversion.

In reality, DJs rarely burn MP3 CDs because the level of MP3 support varies greatly from one CD deck from another. Most new models will play MP3s no problem; some older ones may only play constant bitrate MP3s well; and yet others won't play MP3s at all. Given how cheap CD-Rs are these days, DJs prefer to keep things simple and burn the universally supported audio CDs. How? Read on:

Audio CDs, several releases per CD. Instead of burning data CDs with MP3 files on them, you burn your music as audio tracks. Audio CD is the original standard that’s guaranteed to be supported even by the oldest CD players. One audio CD holds about 80 minutes of music.

Burning such a CD is simple. You burn several releases – such as singles or EPs – onto a disc, one audio track after another. So, for example, CD tracks 1 to 4 will come from one single, tracks 5 to 7 from another, tracks 8 to 11 will come from an EP, and so on.

With this approach, you’ll also need two copies of each CD, plus a tracklist for each pair.

Burning several releases per audio CD is my preferred way of arranging music. It doesn’t let you squeeze nearly as many tracks onto a CD as you would by burning an MP3 disc, but on the other hand, you don’t risk ruining your night if the club’s decks turn out to be too old to support MP3.

Audio CDs, one release per CD. In this approach, you only burn audio tracks from one single or EP onto a disc. It’s unlikely that you’ll want two tracks from the same release to follow each other in a set, so you can safely burn only one copy of each CD. On the other hand, if you don’t buy full releases but only one or two tracks that interest your most, you may waste a lot of CD space this way. It’s your call.

Processing the Tracks Before Burning

In most cases, applying audio processing to an already mastered track in an attempt to make it sound “better” is futile. Trust me, the record’s producer has spent a lot of time making it sound the best. For that reason, I don’t apply any processing – not even normalization – to the tracks I’m burning. The only exception might be vinyl rips that could benefit from some audio processing, but I don’t think you will (or should) have a lot of those.

Bottom line: Don’t bother.

Which Blank CDs to Use?

First, a few words on using CD-Rs vs. CD-RWs. You may be tempted to burn rewritable discs so you can reuse them later, but that’s not such a good idea: some older decks won’t play CD-RWs. Thus I stick to CD-Rs whenever I can.

Which CD-Rs are better? Any brand-name discs will do, but if you’re aiming at top-notch quality, look for Taiyo Yuden CD-Rs. Those can be found under Maxell, Sony, TDK, Verbatim and other brands, so you’ll have to do your research.

The Burning Process

Back in my Windows days, I was using Nero to burn my CDs. I use iTunes now that I’ve switched to Mac, and it’s just as good for simple CD burning tasks. Here are a couple of points to keep in mind as far as the actual burning goes:

  • Use the “Data CD” (“MP3 CD” in iTunes) option to burn an MP3 CD, and “Audio CD” for an audio one. When you add MP3 or WAV files to an audio disc, Nero automatically turns them into audio tracks. They remain computer files if added to a data CD.
  • Make sure sound processing options such as “Normalize all audio files” or “Use Sound Check” are turned off.
  • Don’t use burn speeds higher than 8x. Lower speeds mean better burn quality and fewer problems with older decks.

I hope that these tips will help you refine your own approach to burning your DJ CDs. Experiment, try out different strategies, but always make sure to have a backup of your music collection on your computer! 

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