How to Add Multimedia to Your CDs

Unless you're cranking out recordings the length of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, you probably have a lot of wasted space on your CDs. Fortunately, it's
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Unless you're cranking out recordings the length of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, you probably have a lot of wasted space on your CDs. Fortunately, it's

Unless you're cranking out recordings the length of Beethoven'sNinth Symphony, you probably have a lot of wasted space on your CDs.Fortunately, it's surprisingly easy to add photos, movies, MP3 remixes,and other multimedia enhancements to your discs, delivering a richerexperience to anyone who pops them into a computer. All it takes is aCD burner, some inexpensive software that you may already own, and alittle know-how.

The possibilities are enormous. Instead of passing out a promo CDwith your band's URL scrawled on the sleeve, you can put your entireWeb site on the disc. Because even the slowest CD-ROM drives transferdata at broadband speeds, you'll be able to shower your audience withhigh-resolution graphics and audio without alienating modem users. Youcan even make your discs interactive, including hot links to your tourschedule, mailing list, and additional albums or sites. What's more,most replicators charge the same fee for pressing an enhanced CD asthey do for a normal audio disc.

In this article, I'll explain how to create enhanced CDs on yourhome computer, reveal some pitfalls to avoid, and offer tips about whatenhancements to include and how best to present them. Most of what Iknow I learned under the gun; I'd only had my burner for a few monthswhen I was charged with producing the monthly enhanced CD for thelargest music-magazine launch in U.S. history. I've since shipped nineenhanced CDs totaling more than 2 million units, and I was able to makeeach project better than the last. Once you start thinking about newways to present your music, the ideas come pouring in.


Computer data can be stored on an audio CD in several ways. Onethat's often used for sampling CDs is to put the data (sampler patches,in this case) on track 1 and the audio on subsequent tracks. When thattype of disc, called a mixed-mode CD, is inserted into a normalCD player, the player is supposed to skip the data track and beginplaying track 2, the first audio track. When a mixed-mode CD is putinto a computer, it appears to the computer as two discs — anaudio CD and a CD-ROM. (In Windows, you won't see two icons, but youcan access the audio tracks with CD-player programs.)

Unfortunately, some older CD players aren't smart enough to skip thedata track, so they play silence (or worse, ear-splitting static)instead of the first audio track. Other players offset the tracknumbers by one in their displays, so the numbers no longer match theprinted tracklist. Sampling CDs still use the mixed-mode format becausesome samplers can't read multisession discs (discussed next),but it's best to avoid this format when making audio CDs. Roxio'sToast, the most popular CD-burning program on the Mac, actuallydisplays a warning if you try to burn a mixed-mode CD.

The recommended way to structure an enhanced CD is in twosessions, with the audio tracks first and the data track second.A session is a physical division on a CD, a block of data that'sbordered by lead-in and lead-out areas. When you close,or finalize, a CD-R, the burner writes data in those areas. Ifyou look closely at a multisession CD, you can see the gap betweensessions (see Fig. 1). Because audio-CD players can read only asingle session, they will ignore whatever data you put in the secondsession. Computer CD-ROM drives (except for very old ones) will seeboth sessions.

To produce a multisession enhanced CD, you need software that canwrite the audio tracks in Session-at-Once mode, which finalizesthe session without closing the CD. On the Mac side, Emagic'sWaveBurner, CharisMac's Discribe, and Roxio's ToastTitanium and Jam can do that. In Windows, Roxio's Easy CDCreator Deluxe and Ahead's Nero (among others) will do thetrick. Accessing that feature is sometimes as simple as pressing abutton; in other programs, you'll have to hunt for a check-box or analternate menu command.

Once you've burned your audio session, your CD software shouldindicate how much space remains on the disc. Now it's time to add thedata.


The trickiest aspect of creating an enhanced CD is making it work onboth Mac and Windows platforms, because the two use different filesystems — ISO 9660 on the PC and HFS on the Mac. Fortunately,Macs can read ISO 9660 documents, so producing a basic cross-platformCD-ROM simply requires following the ISO 9660 naming conventions (seethe sidebar “My Name Is True”) and including onlydocuments, not programs. Although that may seem limiting, you canactually do a lot with documents; a multimedia Web site is just acollection of text, graphics, and sound files. If you're putting a Website on a CD, make sure its internal links are relative, not absolute.In other words, use the format href=“mysite/index.htm” topoint to a file in a folder called mysite, nothref=“/c|/mysite/index.htm”. You have no idea what letteror name a viewer has assigned to the CD-ROM drive, so you need tospecify a path that's relative to the file, not the drive.

You can include Windows programs (slide-show viewers, for example)on an ISO disc. If you burn the disc on a Mac and enable AppleExtensions, you can include Mac programs, as well. (Windows can't burnMac programs without special software, which I will discuss later.) Butusing the ISO format has drawbacks. First, file names will be truncatedto 8.3-character format on the Mac. Second, if you burn the disc on aPC, the documents may show up as generic files on the Mac, confusingthe viewer or not opening when double-clicked. Third, you can't usecustom window layouts, as in Fig. 2.

Because of those shortcomings, professional enhanced CDs aremastered in hybrid format, which combines an ISO part with anHFS part. Windows users see only the ISO portion, whereas Mac users seeonly the HFS one, though common files such as movies can be shared tosave space. (Before burning the CD, you specify which files should bevisible to each platform.) Because HFS is the Mac's native format, theCD behaves like a tiny hard drive — you can include programs,specify window layouts, and apply custom icons for complete creativecontrol. I'll walk you through the process of creating a hybrid CD in amoment, but first, a word about the “official” enhanced-CDstandard.

The original enhanced-CD specification was called the BlueBook standard. It required a specialized directory structure andset of files, including the notorious QuickTime Audio Containable file,or QuAC (pronounced “quack”). CDs produced to that spec areknown as CD Extra or CD Plus discs and use theprimitive-looking Universal Media Player to serve up graphics,movies, and Web links. But today it's hard to find a program togenerate the required files. “Doing the QuAC file is totallyuseless,” says Ty Roberts, a pioneering enhanced-CD producer (seethe sidebar “Full Blue Book Value”). “Even though Iwrote the Blue Book standard and that file is supposed to be on trueenhanced CDs, it's not useful for anything, and no one's supportingthose tools today. If you can get them to work, great. If you can't,don't freak out.”


Every enhanced-CD producer I've spoken with uses Toast on theMac to burn hybrid discs, but Windows users can get in on the action,too. Surf to and download MacImage orHybridator. The former is a comprehensive program that enablesyou to build hybrid discs with shared files, even embedding the codesthat identify the files on the Mac. MacImage costs $55, but thedownloadable demo version handles projects as large as 100 MB.Hybridator is a free utility that can mount HFS volumes (disks)or files and incorporate them into a hybrid CD, though the files won'tbe shared. The MacDisk site is well worth visiting even if you're aToast user, because it's packed with information about makingcross-platform CDs.

Making a hybrid CD in Toast involves several steps. The firstis to create a Mac volume, which can be a removable disk such as a Jazor Zip, or a temporary partition on your hard drive, which you cancreate with Toast itself. Because the entire contents of thevolume will be burned to CD (including any files in the trash), it'simportant to set it up exactly as you want it to appear. Give thevolume a descriptive name. Select Get Info from the File menu, click onthe icon in the box that opens, and paste a custom icon on top of it.Open any folders you want to show the audience and line up theircontents. For an elegant effect, use a program such as IconizerPro ( to assemble a background pictureout of icons.

Once your volume is set up, drag it to the main Toast window.Next, drag any files and folders you want to put on the ISO (PC) sideof the CD to the window. If the items reside on the Mac volume, they'llbe shared automatically. If they reside on a different volume, theywon't show up on the Mac side. That is confusing at first, because itseems like you're putting two copies of some files on the disc, butToast highlights the shared items to make it clearer (seeFig. 3).

Click on the Select ISO button and configure the ISO side for Jolietnaming, Apple Extensions, and CD-ROM XA format. Finally, click on theSelect Mac button and enable “Optimize on-the-fly,” andthen click Record. Within minutes, you'll have a cross-platformenhanced CD. If the process seems convoluted, you can hire a servicesuch as Disc Makers ( to do it for you. The companycharges $275 to merge an audio CD and a CD-ROM into a hybrid enhancedCD. If you go that route, provide detailed instructions for themastering engineer to ensure the files are laid out the way youwant.


Now that you know how enhanced CDs are structured, what kinds ofmedia does it make sense to include? The short answer is anything youthink will enhance your music. Some appealing items are Web links,e-mail links, contact info, bios, photos of your inspirations, lyricsheets (especially scans of early drafts), “behind themusic” commentary, interviews, videos, bonus MP3 tracks, remixingapplications, and Web sites (great for promo discs). Also considerincluding band-themed Winamp skins, screen savers, and desktopphotos. You need to have the rights to distribute anything you put onyour discs.

You can present those items in numerous ways. Your CD-burningprogram likely came with an application that can transform a folderfull of graphics into an HTML slide show or a QuickTime movie. Manycommercial enhanced-CD interfaces are built with MacromediaDirector or Flash, but those programs are expensive andcomplex. Although I haven't used it, an inexpensive Windows programcalled Swish ( can be used to create HTML-basedFlash animations. One of the most intriguing multimedia playbackprograms is the new QuickTime 5 Player, which supports embeddedskins and runs on Mac and Windows. You can launch it from an HTMLdocument so it floats above the Web page (see Fig. 4). Applewill let you include Mac and Windows QuickTime installers on your discsfor free if you fill out a licensing agreement; see fordetails.


Many CD-ROMs exploit the Windows Autorun feature or its Macintoshequivalent, QuickTime AutoPlay, to launch a program or a fileautomatically when a disc is inserted. That saves the viewer fromhaving to burrow into a folder to locate the right file. Butautomatically launching a file on an enhanced CD can be annoying,because many computers play audio CDs upon insertion, causing twoprograms to fight over the disc. It is also probable that your audiencewill want to play the music side of the disc more frequently than theinteractive side, so forcing them to view the latter is rude.

If you do want to launch something automatically on the Mac, it's asimple matter of specifying the file in your CD-burning program. Notethat the file must be at the root level of the CD, and you must burnthe CD in HFS mode. In Windows, you have to create a text file namedautorun.inf at the disc's root level. In it, you might write:


That will launch the program called progname.exe in the samedirectory as the autorun file and apply the icon myicon.ico from afolder called graphics to the CD icon. (You locate icon-making programsat To launch a file that is calledmysite.htm instead, substitute the following line for the progname.exeline:

open=explorer.exe mysite.htm

A gentler approach is to put only the icon command in the Autorunfile. You could also include a command that opens a folder containingthe files you want to present. The syntax for that is:

open=explorer.exe foldername

Because many computer users disable the Autorun feature, it'sconsiderate to include a plain-text Read Me file. You can also easenavigation by making support files invisible, either in the CD-burningprogram or (in Windows) by right-clicking on the file, selectingProperties, and checking the Hidden box. Test the disc on multiplecomputers to make sure that hiding the files doesn't cause anyproblems. It is also wise to test your disc on other people. If youfind yourself grabbing the mouse to show them how to run it, youprobably need to rethink the design.

Remember that you're making a computer disc, so scan for virusesbefore doing the final burn. Carlo Florio, a mastering engineer at DiscMakers, says that years ago, Kiss's Psycho Circus almost leftthe plant with a virus on it because a previous project had infectedthe mastering computer. Disc Makers' computers now scan every disc themoment it's inserted, and the company has had no trouble since.

Finally, don't forget to burn a few backup copies of the disc, orbetter, the disc image. On my first enhanced-CD project, which had apress run of 500,000 copies, FedEx destroyed the master disc on its wayto the plant. I sent two backups by different couriers, and one ofthose didn't arrive.


Record albums used to come with posters, stickers, and (perhaps mostcompelling) enough space for evocative and detailed graphics. Althoughthe transition to compact discs has brought a lot of benefits, one ofthe losses has been that wide canvas. With emerging music-deliveryformats becoming more compact — witness the coin-size DataPlaydisc at — or even completelyimmaterial (think MP3), now is a great time for you to consider addingmultimedia enhancements to your music.

Producing an enhanced CD is a powerful yet inexpensive way to getyour message out, and the exciting thing about the format is that youcan take it as far as you want, from a simple folder of JPEGs to asprawling virtual world. Tony van Veen, who's seen quite a few of thesilvery platters as a vice president at Disc Makers, says, “Thereseems to be a mystique about preparing enhanced CDs, but it's reallynot that hard.”

David Battino is the editor of EM's 2002 Desktop MusicProduction Guide. His favorite enhanced-CD trick is to use theAutoPlay feature to trigger rude noises.


For the updated and corrected sidebar about long file names, clickhere.


As part of the QuickTime 1.0 team back in 1991, Ty Roberts was oneof the first people to see the potential of combining multimedia andmusic. Not only did he help develop the enhanced CD format but he alsoproduced some of the most innovative and artistically successful discs,including Todd Rundgren's The Individualist, the Residents' GingerbreadMan, and Primus's Tales from the Punchbowl. Frustrated by the recordindustry's inability to grasp the benefits of enhanced CDs, Roberts isdriving the concept in a new direction: onto the Web.

As chief technology officer of Gracenote, the online CD databaseservice (, Roberts oversees a technology calledCDKey that matches CDs against Gracenote's million-album database andenables listeners to access hidden Web sites containing bonus tracksand other material. (CDKey is currently marketed only to record labels,but Infotects, the other partner in the operation, is consideringoffering it to independent artists. Contact them at if you are interested.) Iasked Roberts to reflect on the past and future of the enhanced-CDformat.

For a longer version of this interview, visit

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“What we really were trying to do was build theultimate liner-note experience,” Roberts said of his earlyreleases on his Ion label. “Initially with David Bowie's product[Jump], we weren't able to do that. Our idea was, ‘Take all theancillary marketing materials and turn them into a CD-ROM.’ Itwas a mistake on my part to think that would be interesting.

“What came later was being able to work directly with theartist to create something original and that complemented the musicvisually. Essentially, we animated every song. There was a world toexplore, and it was all oriented around the music. One of the coolestthings we did was give Les Claypool [Primus] a notebook and ask him todoodle in it. Scanning that in and letting the fans flip through it— so when you flipped the page it would synchronize with a song— was absolute magic. And it was extremely simple from aprogramming perspective.

“The problem [after the first enhanced CDs came out] was thatunless the recording industry could prove it was going to sell more CDsby putting the stuff on there, there wasn't any financial justificationto doing anything elaborate. What happened very quickly was that theenhanced CD became purely a way to collect an e-mail address. So today,although some enhanced CDs contain some interesting graphics andinteractivity, they have the most minimal amount, which is about theequivalent of what someone would invest in a Shockwave animation on aWeb site.

“It's kind of a shame. The recording business has not reallybeen thinking about how to enhance its product other than enhancing theaudio quality. It does these remastered box sets, and that stuff iscool. But it has done a very poor job in comparison with the moviebusiness. Look what's going on in DVD for $19. It's something that costhundreds of millions of dollars to make, made by thousands of people,for years. Also, the actual original producers, actors, and artiststalk and describe every aspect of it, and you get all the outtakes andsketches. All that results in a product that consumers can buy for $19,and which, if you look in any consumer poll, they think is the greatestthing they've ever seen.

“Where is the record business with a thought process likethat? The record has not evolved at all. That's something I think willhappen. And if it doesn't happen because the record business does it,it'll happen because the artists do, as they watch their product becomeless competitive.”