Rip It Good

When a good song comes along, you must rip it… A guide to extracting tracks from your audio CDs (of material that you're entitled to use) for your video projects.

It's so easy to forget the past. In roughly ten years, the revolution that is desktop video has all but eliminated tape-based editing and its many quirks. For instance, back in olden times, if you wanted to add music to the soundtrack of your edited video, there were only a couple of options. First, you could record the voice on one channel and dub the music on another. This limited you to mono sound and caused playback problems. Alternatively, if you had a VCR that allowed audio dubbing, you could record on the linear tape track, but it sounded like AM radio. Today, those problems are gone, replaced by a new set of challenges. What if all you have is an audio CD of your musical elements? How do you get it into a digital form for your video editor? Rip it. Rip it good!

It's Legal

CD ripping has taken quite a beating in the media over the past few years. Most of the controversy comes from file-sharing services and those who would prefer to get their music for free. While I won't pretend to know everything about copyright law, it's fair to remind you that you can't just drop any song you want into your video projects. Copyrights exist for a reason, and that is to ensure the content creator has some level of control over their work. Regardless of how nice they seem on TV, I think it's safe to say your favorite major-label artist doesn't want their chart-topping hit featured on your client's carbonated cheese dispenser video. That said, there are plenty of legitimate and legal reasons to rip audio CD's for your projects.

While several buy-out music suppliers are beginning to offer their wares in various file formats, many continue to distribute their product on audio CDs. The only way to get the music into your video is ripping. Maybe you've contracted a local musician to create original music for your production. They may be able to give you a CD-ROM with the music files, but it's likely they'll hand you a normal audio disc instead. If you're producing a music video for an individual or band, you can expect a standard-issue audio CD for the soundtrack. That's fine, let's rip it.

Let 'er Rip

You probably have CD ripping software on your computer, whether you know it or not. Many common music library programs contain the software to rip audio CDs, but you'll have to dig a bit to find it. For instance, the ubiquitous Apple iTunes has an option to encode WAV or AIFF files in the Preferences section. Just change from the MP3 or AAC encoder to your preferred format. If you use Adobe Audition, there is a comprehensive option called "Extract Audio from CD" under the file menu. This menu allows you to choose the drive for the audio CD, select single or multiple tracks, preview the track to make sure you chose the right one and even combine tracks into a single file. The track will rip directly into the edit screen where you can slice and dice it into longer or shorter versions, loops or convolute it any way you want. Many video editing programs contain CD ripping software too. Check your owner's manual or poke around until you find the option.

If none of these methods are to your liking, there is a free program on the Internet called CDex. Once installed, you simply select the track or tracks you want and click the CD-to-WAV button. You can name tracks yourself, look them up in the CDDB (www.gracenote.com), or just let CDex tag them with generic numbers. The program also includes tools to convert various file formats to and from WAV files — handy for changing those obscure audio files into something your editing software recognizes.

A Ripping Good Time

What happens when you rip an audio CD? The laser in your CD-ROM drive reads the microscopic pits on the disc and feeds this digital stream into your computer. After several layers of hardware and software, this digital information finally makes it to your ripping software, where it reassembles everything into a file that's compatible with your video editing software.

But don't fool yourself–even though the bits and bytes are the same on your CD, each program handles them differently. While some programs just perform a quickie pass and do the best they can, others lock the disc down and meticulously extract every possible bit of information to construct a virtually perfect copy of the information. That's right, your rips are not perfect digital clones of the original. They're very close, but even brand new CDs contain errors. You never hear them because error correction built into your player fixes problems in real-time as you play the disc. Dust, fingerprints and scratches all introduce errors in playback so, if your ripping software provides an option for error correction, it's a good idea to use it.

Regardless of what software you use or how you use it, CD ripping is a simple but powerful tool in the editor's arsenal. Your audio will always be clean and you'll never have to point your camera microphone at a speaker again. To paraphrase a famous song: it's not too late to rip it, rip it good!

Contributing Editor Hal Robertson is a digital media
producer and technology consultant.

Sidebars:

Buyer Beware

I've talked to several people who have had trouble adding downloaded music to their videos. There are a couple of problems with this strategy. One, the various download companies each use a different file format for their music. Some use Windows Media, others use the Real format and iTunes uses their own AAC format. Video editors won't read some of these files. In addition, each of these files incorporates Digital Rights Management. The major download services use DRM to keep the content you paid for on your computer. The solution? Stick with buyout music and effects that you can control.

Quality Up

Free ripping tools abound on the Internet, but most of them default to ripping MP3's of your CD tracks. While MP3 is a decent format for playback, it's a compressed or "lossy" extraction method. This is fine for squeezing several albums into a memory card or player, but the quality suffers dramatically. Your viewers might not notice but, compared with the original track, the compressed audio will be muffled, lack bass or generally sound weird. Resist the temptation to rip into a compressed format and go with CD quality WAV or AIFF files. Sure, they'll take up more room on your hard drive, but you can slide them into your video with confidence, knowing they sound as good as the original.

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