Mastering Frustration

March 26, 2002

Message from head to heart: "Why don't you just give up already?"

I'm in the process of making a short CD for some interstate & international friends, demoing new songs and containing backing tracks so they can record their own vocals. It's been an incredibly frustrating process. It's still not finished, and quite frankly I'm sick of working on it.

Here's what has happened: last Friday, my computer was so full of junk that I had no room left to record audio files. I spent the whole weekend sorting through 3GB of junk, files collected over 6-9 months and conveniently stored in a folder called "Unsorted". It's a boring task, but necessary - and now I have 1.5GB to play with.

Then I started recording the audio files and mastering them for CD... and that's where the hassles really began. I want to make a good impression on my friends, so I'm determined my music should sound as good as Garbage or Prodigy. No matter how hard I try, I just can't seem to get it right. And I've been trying now for 5 years.

I'm frustrated at the limitations of my skills, and I'm really starting to wonder how long I can keep this up. (Yes, I'm starting to panic). This weekend I spent $260 on a BBE Sonic Maximizer, a product that always receives rave reviews in the press. It works quite well, and I thought this week I'd finally nailed that professional sound. After putting the newly burnt CD into my Discman to test it, everything sounded so brittle, far too harsh. I know what the problem is, my mixing headphones can't reproduce high frequencies properly. Easily fixed though, I just need to get those $400 AKG headphones I've been looking at for over a year, right?

Nuh-uh. I only just got paid for my last 6 months work, and that money is already gone *coff*webhosting bills*coff*BBE*coff*. I won't get paid again for another 6 months. I'm not exactly earning much from the web business yet, and I refuse to let my bank accounts fall below certain "benchmark" levels.

In short, I'm just about out of money.

These CDs were meant to be a birthday present. I strongly detest the notion that you should feel obliged to give birthday or christmas presents. Rather, I prefer to occasionally give presents but make them spectacular when I do, and put in a lot of effort. But that is costly, time consuming and when it doesn't come together it's very, very frustrating. This could well be the last year I adhere to that philosophy because I just can't afford to do it anymore. Next year, everyone is getting socks.

I don't know. I'm sure in time I'll laugh about all this, but right now I'm frustrated that I can't get things sounding right, and I'm sick of working on it. Writing music is about the last thing I could ever possibly want to do right now.

I just might take a month off from it all.


Philip says:


I'm just as frustrated as you are thought I hope you're able to answer my question?

Like everybody else, I burned a copy of my favourite Music CD using the burner in my PC so that I can listen in the car. However, the quality of the burnt copy sounds nothing like my original CD. I've tried this on different Burner and PC and software but quality of the burnt copy is simply not good enough.

I thought CD are just 1's and 0's so a copy image of the original should sound the same. Have I erred in my logic? Obviously, during the burning process information must have disappeared. Where have they gone?

Hope you can help?


(Posted by Philip on August 26, 2002 04:27 PM)

Kohan says:

Hi Philip,

There's a whole host of things that can go wrong when making copies of CDs, so I'll try and cover the most common problems.

The golden rule of burning a good quality audio CD is to NEVER burn at high speed. The higher the speed, the more likely you are to introduce errors. In fact, most CD manufacturing places that deal with CD-Rs require you to burn your master copy at 1x. Errors can be quite common on CD burners, I have at least 4 CD-R drinks coasters around the house. I suggest burning your master copies at 1x and listening copies at 2x or a little higher if you want to ensure good sound quality.

If you're copying directly from one CD to another (ie not making a copy to your hard drive first) you should check the capabilities of your drives. The source drive should be capable of reading twice as fast as the destination drive is writing. (Eg I set my CD-ROM to read at 9x and my CD-RW to burn at 4x). I don't recommend doing direct CD-CD copies, it's much more reliable to copy to your hard drive first.

You should also check that your CD-ROM is capable of ripping audio CDs by burning a few tracks as .WAV files and listening to them on your computer. If you hear lots of clicks and scratches, you may have a problem. Some CD-ROMs aren't very reliable when ripping audio, especially at high speed. If you get lots of clicking sounds try ripping at 1x, and if you still have problems look for a "Jitter Correction" setting in your CD ripping software. This should fix the problem. If you *still* have problems, get a new CD-ROM drive, they're about $US20 now.

Lastly, it's possible that you've bought one of the brand new copy-protected CDs that are designed to sound horrible when copied. If so, it doesn't matter what hardware you use to copy it, the CD has been designed to confuse your hardware so it can't make a digital copy. In this case there's not much you can do, although you could try taking the CD back to the place of purchase and demanding a refund.

I'm not sure if this solves your problem, but I hope it helps!
- Kohan

(Posted by Kohan on August 28, 2002 02:09 PM)

Pete says:

I've noticed that copied CDs sound "brighter", and also lack bass. It took my writer about 5 minutes to copy from my CDROM drive to my Philips Rewriter, I'll have to check if it can be slowed down to x1.

(Posted by Pete on December 24, 2002 11:04 PM)