Digital Performer 6 hugely simplifies the task of CD burning, while at the same time allowing more complex burning tasks to be undertaken. We talk you through the options.
Audio CD burning can sometimes be more of a hassle than it has any right to be. Mac users get a free solution in the form of iTunes, but that offers very little in the way of flexibility and, more importantly, only burns so‑called Track‑At‑Once CDRs, which most CD replication companies won't accept. Better software that produces Disk‑At‑Once CD‑Rs will generally cost you, and the few shareware options have their own limitations. Even when you do find CD‑burning software to suit you, you've traditionally had to employ some specific audio export techniques in DP to get album‑length or multiple track projects ready for burning. I rounded up the situation for DP4 and DP5 users in August and September 2007 (/sos/aug07/articles/dpworkshop_0807.htm and /sos/sep07/articles/DPworkshop_0907.htm).
DP6 changes all this, hugely simplifies the CD‑burning process, and is capable of handling even quite complex burning tasks. In a nutshell, the built‑in CD burning is delivered via the existing Bounce To Disk function, and it's the position of soundbites or markers (or both) in a sequence that determines where CD track starts occur. MOTU have made it pretty straightforward, but in ensuring that there's enough flexibility to deal with anything you might want to achieve, there's a little room for initial confusion and a few tricks worth learning. To show how it works in action and illustrate the possibilities, I'll explain three common CD‑burning scenarios.
The Concert CD
For this example, imagine that a live concert has been recorded as a multitrack project, with a few very long soundbites split over several tracks. You want to burn a CD with a new track for every song in the live set.
A straightforward way to achieve this is to base the CD burn on marker locations: markers are easy to write, simple to adjust, and give us an important additional option, as we'll see in a minute. In the Sequence Editor or Tracks Overview window, proceed as follows:
1. After you've applied any necessary edits and fades, work your way through the sequence, adding a marker (Control‑M, or drag from the marker 'well' at top right of the window) perhaps a second or so before every song begins. These are essentially your CD track starts.
2. Make sure you also have a marker where you want CD track one to begin (ie. the start of the concert).
3. If the CD you're about to burn is ever passed to a CD replication company it'll need to conform to the Red Book standard. This means setting a pre‑gap time (more about this in a moment) of exactly two seconds for track one. To do this, open the Markers window (Shift‑K or from the Project menu), select the marker corresponding to CD track one, and from the Markers mini‑menu choose 'Set Marker/Streamer Options'. In the dialogue box, tick the Custom Pre‑gap box and enter a value of 0:00:02.00 in the time field. Click OK.
4. Now, back in your editing window, hit Command‑A to select all of the data in your sequence, and do a quick check of where the selection region ends, as this will also determine where the last track of the CD ends.
5. Hit Control‑J or choose Bounce to Disk from the Audio menu. Set file format as 'Burn Audio CD', make sure Source corresponds to your main output bundle, and base CD tracks On 'Markers'. If the Sequence Editor or Tracks Overview is visible as you do this, you'll see black info panels appearing in track lanes to confirm track start positions and other information. If it all looks good, click OK.
DP now performs a bounce operation, producing a behind‑the‑scenes master audio file of the entire disc. When it's done, a Burn Disc dialogue box pops up with various burn options, most of which should be self‑explanatory. You'll only need to 'Erase disc before burning' if you're using some sort of rewritable disc, and only select 'Leave disc appendable' if you're planning on doing an 'enhanced' audio‑plus‑data CD (the slightly complicated method for producing one of those is described in the DP6 manual). To finish the whole process, click the Burn button and wait for your live album to finish cooking. At the end of it, DP briefly confirms a successful burn, or reports an error — in which case you can repeat the operation with a lower burn speed, or perhaps a different brand of CD‑R.
One additional thing you might want to consider with some CDs, not least live concert recordings, is setting custom pre‑gaps for several or all tracks on the disc. Pre‑gap is the portion of a CD track that occurs before the 0'00” counter time; it's effectively the lead‑in time, and you only hear it when your CD player plays through the disc in order, going on from the previous track, or when you access the track directly and then use the rewind button. Pre‑gap is often a good place to put applause, crowd noise, spoken introductions and the like, because it keeps track starts and ends closely associated with song starts and ends, and makes for a tidy CD. At the same time the between‑tracks 'atmosphere' stays associated with the appropriate track.
We already looked at setting a two‑second pre‑gap for track one, and the method is no different for any other track, so follow the steps given earlier, then tick the Custom pre‑gap box and enter the pre‑gap you require in hours, minutes, seconds and hundredths of a second. You may need to do a little bit of listening, looking at soundbites and calculation with a real-time time ruler (Alt‑Command‑T changes the ruler format if necessary) to find exact values.
The Album Or Mastering Project
This type of project tends to involve importing finished audio files, arranging them in album order, setting track‑to‑track timings and transitions, and making those 'mastering' decisions like relative level, EQ balance and so on.
For this type of CD burn, Bounce to Disk's 'Base CD Tracks on Soundbites' option is often a great choice, because it'll automatically pick up on your placement of the track‑length soundbites, even if they're split across several tracks. Here's a typical series of events:
1. In a new, empty project, import all the audio files that'll be used to assemble the album. Either drag and drop into Sequence Editor track lanes, or use Command‑F1 (or Import Audio from the File menu) to add files to the soundbites window, from where they can be dragged into track lanes.
2. In the Sequence Editor, assemble your album, adjusting soundbite positions to achieve the desired gaps, transitions or overlaps between tracks. Using a separate track for each soundbite can make it easier to apply individual mastering treatments and keep things really clear. However, if you have a really simple sequence, with all the soundbites on one track, you can select all of them and choose 'Set Gap Between Soundbites' from the Region menu to apply a consistent gap between all of them in one go.
3. Hit Command‑A to select the whole thing, and then Control‑J to open Bounce to Disk, where you select the 'Soundbites' CD tracks option after choosing 'Burn Audio CD' for File Format. Once more, DP confirms track start and other information in the Sequence Editor or Tracks Overview. You may notice that any time there's a gap between two adjacent soundbites, DP interprets that as a pre‑gap amount for the track associated with the later soundbite. There's no other way (in Soundbites mode) to specify pre‑gap, so it helps to know that DP will automatically apply a standard two‑second pre‑gap to track 1, even if the corresponding soundbite is right at the beginning of the sequence.
4. Assuming all is well, you can click OK and then follow the process through as I described in step six from the previous example.
The soundbites method of CD burning is especially convenient for this sort of project, but there's one thing to watch out for. DP will not generate a CD track start for a soundbite that crossfades with a previous soundbite in the same track. This is a quite handy operational feature, very good for allowing last-minute edits and so on, but for those times when you do need that track start, just write a single marker at the appropriate point and then make the Bounce to Disk using the 'Soundbites and Markers' mode instead. This way DP looks for both soundbite starts and marker locations to determine track starts, and the problem should be solved.
The Single‑track Demo
Compared to burning a long concert or 70‑minute mastering project, surely it's child's play to produce a single‑track listening CD of a sequence you're working on, to give to a client or listen to on some different replay systems? Surprisingly, it can be harder than you'd think.
As we've seen so far, DP6 bases CD track starts on soundbite location, marker location, or both. The problem with the average multitrack song‑length sequence, though, is that it'll often use dozens of soundbites, located all over the place, ruling out a CD burn based on soundbite location. Then, if you're anything like me, you may well be using markers to keep tabs on hit points or important points in a song's structure, ruling out a CD burn based on marker location. I hold out some hope that in the future there might be a 'Base CD Tracks on Selection' option in the Bounce To Disk dialogue, purely for producing this kind of single‑track listening CD. But it doesn't exist yet, and might never, so in the meantime here's a way forward that'll cover you whatever your sequence is like:
1. If you're using any external sound sources (or Virtual Instruments with pre‑rendering turned off) record or Freeze these first.
2. In the Tracks Overview or Sequence Editor, hit Command‑A to Select All, or manually select the tracks and region within the sequence that you want to get on to CD. This is just like preparing for a normal Bounce To Disk operation, so it's especially important in a complex mix to make sure you include any Aux and Master Fader tracks that are integral to it.
Now what you do depends on whether you already have any markers in your sequence. If you already have markers, and plenty of soundbites at various places in your tracks, the solution to burning a single‑track CD is an extra step before attempting to burn: producing a single 'master' soundbite of the sequence. You can then use that as the basis of a CD burn based on soundbite location:
3. Call up the Bounce To Disk dialogue from the Audio menu (Control‑J) and perform a conventional Bounce To Disk. Choose 'Project Format' from the File Format pop‑up and make appropriate settings for Channels and Sample Format, but for Import choose 'Add to Sequence' and make sure the Source setting shows your main audio output bundle. Click OK.
4. When the bounce has completed, your Sequence Editor should show a new track containing a 'master' soundbite. Hit Command‑D to Deselect All and click the new soundbite to select it.
5. Call up the Bounce to Disk dialogue again and this time choose 'Burn Audio CD' from the File Format pop‑up menu. Make sure that Source is set to the same output bundle as your new 'master track'. Choose to base CD tracks on Soundbites, and then click OK.
The crucial step here is to select only this one soundbite, ensuring that no other soundbite on any other track is included in the CD bounce and burn. In no time at all you should have your CD burned, and you can ignore the next steps.
If you've no markers in your sequence, you're laughing. You can just drop one where your sequence starts and initiate a CD burn using the 'Markers' option. Locate DP's wiper to the start of your sequence and hit Control‑M to write a single marker at that point. Hit Command‑A to Select All and Control‑J to bring up the Bounce to Disk dialogue. Make the appropriate settings, including 'Burn Audio CD', and base CD tracks on 'Markers', then click OK.
Assuming that this really is just a disposable listening CD, any non‑standard pre‑gap associated with the single CD track is unimportant. If you were intending to have the CD replicated, though, you'd need to set a Red Book‑compliant two‑second pre‑gap, as I described in step three in the very first example this month, before starting the CD burn.
• Disk images: In all the examples this month I've looked only at burning a CD directly from the Bounce to Disk dialogue.. But there are good reasons sometimes to choose 'Audio CD Disk Image' rather than 'Burn Audio CD' from the File Format pop‑up. This causes DP to create a CD disk image on your hard disk (you can specify where), which can subsequently be used to burn a CD using the 'Burn CD From Disk Image...' function (Bounce Settings submenu of the Audio menu). Why bother with this extra step? Well, it's good if you want to burn more than one CD, because you don't have to wait for DP to do the bounce each time. It's a good plan if you suffer more than your fair share of CD burn failures, for the same reason. It's not a bad archive format for CD‑length projects, either, because it's essentially an uncompressed audio file that other audio editors will import if persuaded. Just change the file extension to .aif and it should open up in just about anything.
• CD Text: If CD Text track‑naming is important to you, DP supports it. Just check the Save Titles As CD Text option in the Bounce to Disk dialogue. The name is taken, predictably, from the soundbite or marker name associated with the CD track.
• Hide the track: It might not have escaped your notice that by burning a CD based on Markers you can end up with a long track 1 pre‑gap if you wish. A CD like this isn't strictly Red Book compatible, but if your replication company will go with it you can do some naughty things like hiding whole extra tracks in the track one pre‑gap, which can only be found by listeners rewinding back from the start of the track. Just arrange it so you have all your 'hidden' audio material before the track one marker.
• Missing features: What DP's CD burning doesn't offer is any 'extra' features, like creating index points (an almost obsolete feature anyway) or the option of adding ISRC codes. You'll have to ask your CD‑replication company to do that.
• Dither: This is always a concept that arises when you're burning a 16‑bit CD from a 24‑bit or 32‑bit project. I went into some detail about it in the May 2007 Performer workshop (/sos/may07/articles/dpworkshop_0507.htm) but in brief you should always try to use a dither plug‑in on a master fader when making your CD burn. The bundled MW Limiter and Quan Jr plug‑ins will do it, along with third‑party options like Waves' L1, L2 or L3, or iZotope's Ozone.
Up, Up And Away... DP v6.02
Just as I was getting stuck into writing this month's workshop, MOTU released an update of Digital Performer, taking it to version 6.02. This had been eagerly awaited by a range of users who were having specific difficulties with a few features, not least compatibility and usage problems with various Native Instruments products. The dust is still settling, but it looks as if 6.02 is being well received by early adopters. The most obvious changes are associated with the Control Panel and organisation of Preferences.
• Shortcuts: A new Shortcuts window effectively reinstates the Control Panel shortcut button 'drawer' that was lost in the update from DP5 to DP6. This gives single‑click access to a wide range of editing and configuration windows and will be a great ally to those who aren't into keyboard shortcuts. Open by going Studio menu / Shortcuts. You can alter its shape by dragging the lower‑right drag handle or customise it by choosing the new Shortcuts pane in DP's Preferences and selecting only those shortcuts you want to appear in the window. In use, there are a couple of hidden shortcuts: Option‑click the Configure Hardware driver button (a cog icon) to access the Studio Settings dialogue and option‑click the QuickScribe Editor button (four musical notes) to access the Notation Editor (a feature which, I have to admit, has evaded me completely for the decade or more I've been using DP!).
• Floating transport: Another new Preferences pane, 'Control Panel', has an option to float DP's Control Panel transport window above other windows, with a controllable level of transparency. A much‑needed enhancement, this, which at last makes it possible to run a Consolidated Window the full size of your screen, but still have ready access to transport functions. The real-time time display in the Control Panel now includes an hours field — very handy for those long projects!
• Mark this: There's another phoenix rising from the ashes of DP5 in the form of a Markers menu. This is found at the bottom right of the 'sub time' field, and gives single‑click wiper location to sequence start and end, marker positions, and Memory or Auto‑Record start points.
These changes are supplemented by many smaller ones, which you can read about by choosing the 'New features in Digital Performer 6' item in DP 6.02's Help menu. This opens a PDF buried deep in the DP6 application package.