The Layman’s MP3 Guide
Installment 1: Creating your own Mp3 files … for free!
By Greg McLaughlin
So you’ve finally created your masterpiece, the song you just know is
going to propel you to fame and fortune. All that is left is to make the
world realize what they’ve been waiting to hear all this time. The Internet
has grown exponentially as a medium for artists to promote themselves,
led by so-called Music hosting services that offer artists a free homepage
and an opportunity to distribute Mp3’s of their music to potential fans.
Thanks to the recent Napster controversy the general public is hip to
what an MP3 is and how to acquire/play one. However the details behind
its implementation, creation and competition remain a mystery to most.
The Layman’s Mp3 Guide is a 3-part (give or take) series that will discuss
these and other topics related to the MP3 format. Basic knowledge of how
to operate Microsoft Windows and its standard software interface is assumed,
as is knowledge of how to make an original recording (either onto computer
from another source or directly onto CD).
The first Installment of this series will take you step by step through
encoding your music into the MP3 format. While there are many parameters
that can be changed depending on the intended audience and software restrictions,
this guide will help you prepare an MP3 file suitable for upload to Mp3.com,
Ampcast, BeSonic and other Mp3 hosting services.
What You Need
First and foremost you are going to need something to encode! For the
purposes of MP3 creation your original recording can assume one of two
o A .WAV file residing somewhere on your hard drive or on a CD-R
o An audio CD containing the song you wish to encode
For the purposes of this tutorial it does not matter which of these two
formats your music is in, although in the future you will probably want
to have your music in .WAV format for future editing.
If you are encoding from a .WAV file make sure it has the following properties:
16-bits, 44KHZ, Stereo (2 Channels). This can be verified by loading the
WAV file into any sound editor (e.g. CoolEdit or Sound Forge) or by playing
it using a media player like WinAmp. In WinAmp click on the Info Box to
get a data format summary. Most sound editors can convert the format of
a .WAV file if necessary (consult your software help file).
Secondly you will need a good amount of free hard drive space. A typical
MP3 takes between 3MB and 7MB of hard drive space, in addition to any
temporary space the encoding software will need. It is best to have 200MB
or more of hard drive space free.
Downloading the Encoding Software
The software we will be using is called CDex. This program is a combination
CD track ripper/extractor and sound encoder that supports a variety of
encoding/decoding operations. Not only does CDex make MP3’s from .WAV
files and CD Audio, but it is one of the few programs that does so absolutely
free: no time-outs, no crippled features and no annoying advertisements.
CDex for Windows can be downloaded from the following URL:
Installation of this program will be problem-free on most systems. If
you are having trouble, however, consult the above URL as it has a good
number of trouble-shooting tips.
Setting MP3 encoding Options
Before using this program for the first time the encoding/CD options must
be set. Chances are these options will not have to be changed ever again
unless you want to change to a higher bit-rate (more on that in part 2
of this series).
|Click the “Setup” button on
the rightmost panel of the main window.
Most of the important and frequently used functions can be accessed
from this panel, although the entire set of options is, as always,
available in the program menu.
|In the General tab of the configuration window, make sure that
the ID3 Tag version is set to ID3-V2, and enable the Normalizing function
The ID3 Tag of an Mp3 file holds general information about the
song, including the author, song name, genre and date of release.
Version 2 of the ID3 Tag system is supported by most MP3 players
and allows artists to enter additional information (e.g. a website
In the CD-ROM tab, click on the Auto Detect button to detect
the parameters of your CD-ROM / DVD-ROM drive.
This is important if you are going to be extracting your song from
a CD. Any attempt to rip from a CD-ROM with incorrect parameters
is likely to result in a WAV or MP3 File with “clicking”
sounds throughout. Consult the CDEX help file for more information
on the individual parameters in this tab.
In the “Encoder” tab use the Encoder drop-down menu
to select the Lame Mp3 encoder. In the Encoder Options panel make
sure the version is set to MPEG 1 and that the Bitrate Min is set
to 128kbs. For mode, select the Stereo radio button. Verify that the
VBR method is disabled.
Lame is a freeware MP3 encoder that comes packaged with CDEX in
DLL format. In spite of its name and public domain status, Lame
does a very good job of encoding MP3’s. The sound quality of Lame-encoded
MP3’s is often indistinguishable from commercially available Encoders.
128Kbps is the standard bitrate accepted by most Mp3 hosting services.
For other situations you will almost certainly want to encode at
a higher rate but this will be discussed later.
VBR stands for variable bitrate, an encoding method designed to
get higher quality sound while maintaining a relatively small file-size.
While certainly beneficial, this option should also be disabled
to ensure compatibility with all MP3 hosting services.
Encoding From CD
|To encode MP3 files from a CD, place your audio CD in the CD/DVD
drive you instructed CDEX to auto-configure earlier. After a few seconds
a track listing should show up. Fill in your name, album Title (if
appropriate), and year of production. Select the genre that most closely
identifies with your song. Use the mouse to highlight the track(s)
you want to encode. Once you are sure everything has been selected
to your liking, start the MP3 encoding by clicking the second button
from the top on the right panel.
Note that you can change the names of tracks from “Audio Track xx”
to the actual song names by highlighting individual tracks and pressing
the F2 key to rename. These changes will be reflected in both the
filename and the ID3 tag so that there is no need to go back and
edit these later.
Encoding From .WAV files
|From the main window select the middle WAV-MP3 button. An “Open”
window should pop up. Click on the button with the “…”
pattern to select the directory with your .WAV file(s). Highlight
the files you wish to encode. Make sure that Normalize is selected
and then click “Convert”
In the next Installment we’ll look at what exactly an MP3 is and get
into greater detail about some of the parameters that were briefly discussed
during this Installment. Until next time…