Dear Squeak and Blat,

A few of my students asked me the other day to make them a CD-ROM of their music and some of the software files they have created in my multimedia class. I've heard that this is now possible to do with modest cost. What do I need to do for these student?



Dear Sally:

Well, Sally, you have some hip students. Congratulations! It has never been easier and cheaper to do this. The first thing that you need is a CD-ROM "burner". Such devices have dropped in price to less than $500.00. These burners look very much like a regular CD-ROM drive, but it really is much more. The drive is designed to actually "etch" or write digital information onto a blank CD using a laser beam of light directed at the disc. It actually "burns" a series of pits into the CD that are the 1's and 0's that represent digital information. You can buy the blank CDs from most computer stores or from mail order. They run about $5-10 a piece.

Now two other things are needed to use your burner: a hard disc that contains the "master data" and some software to transfer this master data to the burner for the burning! (All this burning sounds dangerous, but it really isn't. It doesn't get any hotter than it usually gets working with computers.)

The setup I use in my lab is pretty straight forward. I use a very modest-size Mac computer (you don't even need a PowerPC) that runs the CD burning software. To that computer, I connect a 2 gigabyte hard drive to hold my master data and then to that I connect my CD-ROM burner drive--all in a daisy chain. The 2 gigabyte hard drive that has my data is a fast drive that has a very fast "access" rate. This is important since the data needs to be pumped to the burner at a pretty good clip. I recommend that you ask the company that is selling the hardware if the drive is capable of supporting a CD burner. These should cost about $500. I have found that the 2 gig size is nice because it is over twice the size of the actual CD space (remember that a typical CD holds about 650 megs of space). This lets the software use the master data that you have placed on the 2 gig drive to create an exact "image" of the CD data on the same 2 gig drive, ready for transfer to the CD burner.

The software does all the work for you. Such software usually lets you make either a Mac CD, Windows CD or a "hybrid" that can run on both platforms! You can mix audio data (sampled sound) with digital software files. Or you can just make an audio CD if you want. Squeak may have more to say about these data issues in his response.

Once the software has prepared the image, you pop a blank CD into the burner and then tell the software to make the CD. In less than 15 minutes (often much quicker), you have a custom CD!

I use the Toast CD ROM Pro software from Astarte, the Yamaha 4-speed CD-ROM burner, and a fast 2 gig hard drive from APS that is designed for multimedia work. It works very well. This is just my setup, of course, and there are many other solutions! For example, some companies will sell you the burner and the mastering drive all in one package together with the software.

By the way, Squeak and I used a setup like the one I described above in my lab to make our CD for our Experiencing Music Technology textbook. We created it ourselves as a hybrid for both Mac and Windows and shipped it to New York for Schirmer Books to use as the master! Very cool, Sally. You and your students will enjoy creating CD's too.

For three very comprehensive web sites with more info on CD-ROM burner technology check out:

Andy McFadden's CD-Recordable FAQ
Optical Storage Technology Association's (OSTA) Questions and Answers Guide. Their Resourse Listing Page is especially useful.


Sally. Blat has covered most of the basics about how to make a CD-ROM. He refers to them as CD-ROM burners. They are also called writeable CD-ROMS, WORM (Write Once, Read Multiple) discs, or more genericly as CD-Rs for Compact Disc-Recordable. And, as Blat said, the prices on CD-R drives keep coming down. Robert Hedges has a nice list (as of Dec 1996) of CD-R drives and software with prices.

There are lots of other uses for CD-Rs in your school or school lab. Using it for producing CD audio discs of concerts and recitals has become so popular at my place, that we are having to consider purchasing another writeable CD-ROM in next year's budget. We use a Digidesign's Audiomedia card in a Macintosh and their ProTools software to digitize and edit the audio recordings from the concerts. The digitized audio is saved on one of those big 2 gigabyte harddrives Blat spoke of. Then the audio files are burnt onto the CD-ROM blank disc using the industry standard format from CD audio discs. It doesn't take much to create your own sound editing workstation and produce CD audios of your school and student productions. It might even make a good fund raising project to duplicate and sell the CD audio discs.

Another good application for a CD-R is for archiving important files and making CD-ROM discs as backup. You can backup your own personal computer system onto CD-ROM, any servers you have at your school, the administrative office computer records (might make a good way for convincing the school to buy a CD-R drive!), and a CD-ROM of the default setup for the operating system and software for the computers in your school lab. We make a CD of exactly what we want on all the workstations in the lab, then, if they get trashed or messed up, we just scrub or clean-off the hard drive, pop in the CD-ROM master, and copy the contents onto the lab machine. Some of the copy protected software might need some custom reinstalls, but the homemade CD-ROM will cover the bigger part of a system clean up.

Blat and I talked earlier in this column about DVD discs. All of these various formats on a CD laser disc evolved from the same standard format for putting data on compact discs or CDs. In Experience Music Technology we go into the technical details of how CDs and CD formats work in considerable depth. The new DVD format is of the same lineage and this means that in the very near future you will be playing DVDs on your PC and using CD-ROM burners to create your own DVD discs as well. So, besides recording the audio from our ensemble concerts, we can look forward to producing DVD video discs of musicals, operas, and other productions.

A few other tips Squeak can offer. Make sure you purchase nice fast CD-ROM players when you buy new computers for your school and lab. Most computers come with CD-ROM built-in these days and the speeds are typically referred to as 4X or 6X or 10X and so on (some are even coming with DVD drives). 10X speed is top the going rate at the moment. This will insure that those digital video and audio clips from the students' multimedia productions get played back at a good, smooth speed so there is little distortion in the playback from the CD-ROM.

Another useful tip is to consider buying one of the portable (Iomega) Jaz drives. Blat and I talked about these in the September issue of our column. You can store 1 gigabyte on each of the cartridges and the access speed is fast enough for direct audio and video digitizing right to the portable Jaz disc.

And my final Squeak tip concerns copyright and fair use. We can use copyrighted material for class and student use under the "fair use" terms of the copyright law. Don't hold us responsible for the legal interpretation here, but fair use lets us use copyrighted material for certain educational purposes where profit is not the result, and where brief excerpts of the original work are combined in an instructional exercise or project.

Now, this suggests that we can have our kids create multimedia projects for class assignments and archive them on a homemade CD-ROM disc created from a CD-ROM burner. But, you would be skating on thin ice if you then made multiple copies of the CD-ROM and decided to sell them for a fund raiser.

The topic of copyright, especially as it applies to fair use in education, is a hot topic at the moment and greatly open to interpretation as it applies to multimedia and web page development in education.

Well, Sally, that's my nickel of advice on CD-Rs.

Have fun!


1818 Last modified on December 19, 2013
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