I should know better by now, but still I get suckered. A catchy tune strikes my fancy, I buy the album — only to discover that the rest of the CD stinks. Intriguingly, a rack of made-to-order CD services on the Web promises to stave off the one-hit-wonder blues for good. Pop into our websites, they claim, sample a list of songs and artists, select the tunes you want, and — whammo — we’ll manufacture a custom CD just for you. There’s one catch: So far, there’s less here than meets the ear.
A typical service is superSonic Boom (www.supersonicboom.com), whose bright, ’50s-retro site parses 10,000 songs into five basic genres: dance, rock, jazz, world, and country. You can also search for specific artists or songs, eventually selecting up to 55 minutes of music per CD (the site keeps a running tally) for $16.99. Shipping costs $3 for standard mail or $10 for overnight delivery.
For an armchair DJ like myself, this massive playlist seems too good to be true. And it is. SuperSonic Boom mostly features oldsters like Mel Torme, Chuck Berry, Bob Marley, and disco diva Donna Summer. Worse, there’s only one tune from Mel, and the Chuck Berry numbers are all plucked from one live album. Since the prospects for a party-on rock & roll CD were thin, I settled on creating JQ’s Jazz Jive with 15 classic tracks by the likes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Frank Sinatra. In less than 24 hours I was jumpin’ to a brand-new CD emblazoned with my title and track list.
Still hankering for rock, I visited Musicmaker (www. musicmaker.com), which boasts a catalog of 100,000 songs in 20 categories. The site’s ordering screen is clumsier than superSonic Boom’s, but Musicmaker’s deeper rock selection includes Motorhead, Otis Redding, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. I jumped on the Creedence songs, but then found I couldn’t combine their tracks with those of any other artist, due to licensing restrictions regarding this particular band (you also can’t mix classical tracks with those in any other genre). So it was all or nothing. I went for all: 12 CCR songs (just under 70 minutes) for $19.06, plus $4.95 for delivery within five business days.
But where are current pop hit-meisters like Dave Matthews Band or rock giants like the Rolling Stones? For now, you won’t find them at any custom-CD website because the big music labels aren’t willing to farm out their stable of top moneymakers. While the majors dither, though, smaller record companies are pouncing at the chance to get more exposure for unknown artists. CDuctive (www.cductive.com), an online storefront with only 4,000 songs, specializes in obscure dance and electronic acts from a variety of indie labels. Here I sampled some acid jazz from 9 Lazy 9 and psychedelic lounge tunes from Tipsy, and, for $17.98 (including shipping), put together a finger-snapping 11-track disc of music I wouldn’t normally find at my local mega-store.
Personally, I don’t mind oldies and obscurities, and the CDs I had made sound great. And offline companies are beginning to test the waters: Starting in July, K-Tel will offer personalized CDs from a catalog of 3,500 as-yet-unspecified songs via the Net. If you’re looking to make that perfect Stones CD, though, don’t expect any ”Satisfaction” for now. superSonic Boom: B Musicmaker: B CDuctive: B