1997: Tour Pranks: Battle of The Gig Bands

Ye olde CD burner

Hi — my name is Al, and I’m a burnaholic. I haven’t been clean for a really long time. It all started with cassettes in 1968.

I bought one of the first portable cassette players (a three-piece, not a boombox) to bring on tour when I was in Blood Sweat & Tears. In those days, Columbia, the label I was on, manufactured their own brand of blank cassettes. When the label rep from each city would meet us at the airport, I’d ask for any blank cassettes he could spare. “Spare cassettes?” I’d ask, holding out both my hands. I had no shame. By the end of the tour, I had quite a stash of blank cassettes, but very little pride.

I briefly dabbled in blank eight-tracks, but I cold-turkeyed those without too much difficulty. I have a cassette mix tape from every month from 1973-1998. I would document what music I was listening to each month. Things were pretty stable until about two years ago when I bought my first CD burner.

It was an HHB 850, and it was purple. I began to burn mix CDs, but I couldn’t get a good high. There was no control over the various levels of the sources, and the tracks didn’t seem to match like they did on my cassette mix tapes.

“What kind of technological leap is this if I have less control than I did with cassettes?”

So, some shady guy turned me on to a blast of Toast software, but that didn’t get me off either. Now I could control many parameters of my audio sources, but I was relegated to a computer that was in my home office, far from the comfort of my home audio system. Then I saw an ad for the Alesis Masterlink 9600. And that’s when I lost all control and became a burnaholic.

I went to the store and checked it out. This was just what the doctor ordered. It had a burner, a hard drive to edit, sequence, normalize, equalize, compress, limit, and save playlists — all in one unit! And, unlike many products out there, it was attainable for under $1,500! I just popped that baby into my stereo system (about a year ago), and that was the last any of my friends ever saw of me.

I quickly graduated to those blank CD-R holders with fifty discs on ’em — then to buying two at a time. I rummaged through label and insert design software and settled on CD Stomper because it’s all-in-one and was ostensibly easy to operate. The Mac version, unlike the PC version, was particularly buggy and would crash at inopportune moments. At first, I’d just sit there and stare at the crashed screen while a cold sweat broke out all over my body. Then I began to save my work in small increments. I challenged the bugs, and, eventually, I beat them all. I outsmarted them because I had to have finished, clean looking CDs or I would get sick and have chills and fever.

No Doctor Can Help Me Now

I get up every morning and go check the CD I rendered before I went to sleep the night before. When you’re hardcore, you learn to check the last track to see if it was a smooth burn. If it’s not, the last track will be marred in some way. So us lifers just go right to the last selection to see if it tracks okay. If it doesn’t, I open the window and fling the offending disc out into the cold winter morning. My dog runs for her life. She’s been threatened by “laser frisbees” before. If it’s a smooth burn, I apply the (already designed) label and put it in its (already prepared) jewel case. I make three of everything. One that’s good to go, a backup that goes into one of those huge CD loose-leaf books, and one more copy for my son who’s in his mid-thirties and whose musical tastes pretty closely approximate my own. Then I have breakfast, read my email, and head to my CD collection in the living room.

There are 5,000 CDs. Many of them are imports from around the world; re-issues not deemed viable in the States. And they’re alphabetized. I skim the racks, like the pathetic sound junkie that I am, looking for an artist or subject matter I may have missed. Motown Pool Party? Best of Steely Dan? The B-3 Boys? What’s it gonna be today?

After selecting an artist or topic, I pull those CDs and begin to record my various selections onto the hard drive. It takes about a minute to upload a selection. Silently, the Alesis sucks the data. When 80 minutes of data is entered, I begin working like Edward Scissorhands — pushing buttons, re-sequencing, EQ-ing, normalizing, and editing out the bits I don’t care for with the hands of a grizzled, driven veteran. Finally, hours later, I step back. It’s ready to burn. But, one last ritual. I grab a Sharpie and a legal pad and write down the tunes in sequence. Then I take that deep breath, insert the gleaming, blank CD-R into the burner, and push the Render button, eyes flashing wildly.

After that, it’s quickly into the home office and the computer to design the package and the label. I select a cover from some obscure photo in one of the CD booklets. I scan it into Photoshop and enhance it in any way I can. Then the label. Gotta work around that hole in the middle and still have a slick design. My son enjoys the packaging almost as much as the free music. Much better than Napster, he thinks. When the inserts and labels are designed and printed, it’s back to the burner to retrieve the freshly burned prize. When everything is carefully disseminated, and another job is burned into laser and my wracked brain, I collapse on the couch and pretend to watch the news. Almost time for dinner.

If there are any of you out there who are strung out like this, let’s get in touch and go to meetings together. The rest of you — be careful. This stuff is highly addictive. It may start innocently enough with a Beatles, Stones, or Van Halen mix CD, but, for God’s sake, control yourselves. I’ve got sixteen CDs of selections from my vinyl collection that never made it onto CD anywhere in the world; eight CDs of the same for my 45 rpm singles; thirty CDs that anthologize my cassette mix tapes from 1973-1998; and then the best-ofs and topic CDs begin. You don’t wanna end up like me — Al...I’m a burnaholic.