Tuesday, January 01, 2008

How To Make a CD of Your Band Cheaply

A few years ago I started to make CD’s of our school bands available for parents and anyone else who was interested in our performances. Having these recordings has served as an excellent assessment tool for students as we listen and critique our performances. It’s also convenient to have this ‘data’ on hand for school administrators and for curriculum purposes. As for students and parents, they have a wonderful audio snapshot to use now and in future years.

If we’re in agreement that making CD recordings of our bands is a good idea, the question, then, is: How do I make a CD with little equipment and next to no resources?

Before getting started you will need:

  • Audacity (a free audio editing program)
  • A Laptop
  • A microphone
  • I-Tunes Software (free from Apple)


Recordings can be made using a CD-Recorder which will burn directly to a CD, or recordings can be made directly to a computer hard drive using the free audio software program AUDACITY. As for a microphone, the small condenser mics (like the ones that come with Smartmusic) work surprisingly well as long as the input levels are adjusted correctly.

In my case, a parent records our concerts directly to a CD and I edit it later. If you make the recording directly to a hard drive, a computer laptop is recommended so you can transport the ‘recording equipment’ (laptop and microphone) to the recording site.


Download Audacity. Open it. Plug in the microphone. Check the levels (ask the band to play at various volume levels.). Push record and you’re in business. You have the option at this point of making various tracks by recording each selection separately or all together in one fat track that you will cut and paste later into the appropriate tracks (named after each composition). I’m not going to provide a full tutorial of Audacity here as it’s pretty intuitive to use. Play around and you’ll get the feel quickly.

CD Recorder Recording

If you used a CD recorder and now have a CD of your recordings, use i-Tunes to Import the files but be sure to edit the preferences in i-Tunes to allow importing of WAV files. Then use Audacity to open these files (or the file) and proceed with editing as outlined below.


In terms of audio editing, I find two things crucial:

1. Always ‘normalize’ your recordings. Basically this means that the maximum amplitude will become a fixed amount and has the effect of making the recording sound more robust. For a detailed definition of other effects in Audacity try this link.

2. Clip out unnecessary space and noise. It is easy to cut and paste in Audacity. You will want to remove ‘dead time’ (ie..waiting for the director to come on stage), initial applause and dead space at the end of a track. If you want to preserve some applause at the end of a song, select the applause audio and use the fade out editing feature. This sounds more professional than applause being abruptly cut at the end of a track.


When you made the recording, you made a WAVE file. The data you are playing with in Audacity is .wav data and takes up an enormous amount of space on a hard drive. I recommend mixing down (exporting) your tracks to MP3’s at this point. You will need to download the LAME encoder before doing this and point Audacity to it’s location on your hard drive to enable exporting of Mp3’s. Thankfully, you only need to do this once! The titles should match the titles of the compositions played. Save these files in the same folder! And call that folder something like ‘BAND CONCERT MAY 2007’. We’ll use i-Tunes to make any changes to titles later (we call this information ID tags).


Others may argue with me but I think that i-Tunes is a pretty elegant and efficient way to organize your music collection. This is essential if you will be building a recorded repertoire of music over many semesters and years. So, download i-Tunes. Add the folder you made above to the i-Tunes library. If you want to rename songs (wicked cool march) or artist name (my high school band) do so by right clicking the tune, go to get info and type in the information you want. Now, you’re almost ready to make the CD!!

Now create a playlist with the same title as the folder (BAND CONCERT MAY 2007, for example). Drag all of the songs into the playlist from the library (they will remain in the library). Open the playlist. Insert a blank CD into your CD-R/RW drive and select burn CD (upper right hand corner). Burn, baby, burn.

You have cheaply and effectively created a CD recording of your band (or chorus, etc..).

Let me know about your efforts or if you need assistance.

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