Cutting a CD master with Ardour and DDP Mastering Tools

In this quick totorial I’ll show you how to cut a CD master that’s ready to send off to the manufacturing plant using mostly free software. We’ll be using Ardour as our base, and get a little bit of help to the finishing stages by DDP Mastering Tools.

I say mostly free software, as DDP Mastering Tools sadly is only available as precompiled binaries due to licensing restrictions. Hopefully this will change in the future, so we can get a CD mastering workflow without any proprietary software.

So on to the tutorial!

Assembling the tracks

The very first thing you need is of course the tracks you want to put on the CD. Recording, mixing and mastering the tracks is beyond the scope of this tutorial so we assume the tracks are ready to be put on the CD. For this example I’ll use the Norsk Urskog Metal Sampler Vol VI, 2017 that I’m currently putting together for the Inferno Metal Festival here in Norway.

In this case I get the tracks from all the bands that want to take part in the compilation. So I start by laying them out in the order they should be on the CD in a single stereo track in Ardour.

01 tracks in order
Figure 1. The tracks laid out in their correct order in a stereo track in Ardour.
Please note that to be compatible with the CD standard you should leave at least a gap of two seconds (88200 samples) before the first audio track starts.
01a pregap
Figure 2. Be sure to leave at least two seconds of pregap before the audio starts.

Adding the markers

Next up is adding the CD markers, so the tracks will appear as separate songs on the CD. This is quite simple, first we select all regions by pressing ctrl-a, and then we right-click on any one of the regions and select Add Range Markers Per Region from the popup menu a couple of levels down.

02 menu
Figure 3. Create range markers for each region from the pop-up menu

Now if you have already adjusted the region for each song to have the proper gaps and positions you are almost done. It pays off to put in the effort to make it right before adding the markers, but some times you will still need to adjust them slightly. In my case where all the songs are in separate regions, and there should be no fancy overlaps or sound inbetween the songs this is fairly easy.

If your source material is different you may have to add each marker manually and adjust them accordingly.

Filling in the info

Once the regions are laid out properly, and all songs have been marked on the CD it’s time to do the most tedious part of the job: Fill in all the info for each track. To do so we conjure up the Locations dialog by pressing alt-l or selecting it from the Windows menu.

03 locations dialog
Figure 4. The Locations dialog

At first only the title part of each marker is shown, but click on the CD checkbox to the right of it to enable the other fields. This also moves the marker from the Range Markers lane to the CD Markers lane in the main Ardour editor view. Depending on your needs, add ISRC, Performer and Composer info. The ISRC code will be encoded into the track itself on the CD, while the other fields will be the basis for the CD-text added to the CD.

Please also note the topmost range that spans the entire length of the material. This is the range from the Start to the End markers in the Ardour editor view, and will be used as the CD-text title of the CD. Make sure you fill that one out too!

Exporting the audio

Next up is actually exporting the audio. Select Export to Audio Files (or just press alt-e) to bring up the export dialog.

04a export dialog
Figure 5. Make sure you export to a WAV-file, and generate a CUE-sheet.

Make sure you export to a WAV-file, and generate a CUE-sheet. If this option is not already available to you, you can select the New button to add a new format. Here’s an example for how to set up the proper format for a CD master:

04b format dialog
Figure 6. Setting up a proper format for generating a CD master. Be sure to check the option for generating a CUE-file.

When all that is in place, just sit back and let Ardour export the file for you. You will get one .wav-file, and one .wav.cue-file.

Generating the CD master

We’re almost there! I promise!

The wav- and cue-files are good enough for your CD-burner software for burning a test CD to see that everything turned out as you expected it. Most CD manufacturing plants is probably OK with it too, but if you can give them a proper DDP master they will be all the happier.

So then we open up our trusty terminal and bring out the DDP Mastering Tools!

$ cd "audio/Norsk Urskog 2017/export"
$ mkdir cdmaster
$ cue2ddp -t "Norsk Urskog Metal Sampler 2017.wav.cue" cdmaster

That’s it! cue2ddp will churn out all the information about your CD master, and produce a number of files in the cdmaster directory. The -t argument tells cue2ddp to generate CD-text info to include on the CD. If you don’t want that, just drop the -t.

Zip up the directory with all its contents and send it off to your CD manufactoring plant. Then it’s just to wait a bit, and soon a big lorry with nice and shiny CD’s will pull up in front of your house!

Enjoy!

Credits

A huge thanks to the awesome people making this possible! In particular the developers of Ardour, and Andreas Ruge for DDP Mastering Tools!