Librarian's Lobby
by Daniel D. Stuhlman
May 2006

Making a Compact Disc Album

Last January I started to record stories for a CD album. I wanted to make a CD to see if I could do it and to share some stories with the world.  I thought it would be easy since I have been recording lectures for teaching on line courses for several years. I edited the sound for the lectures and added music, but I didn’t spend time perfecting the sound. For recording I found a freeware program called, WavePad[1] that allows the editing of sound tracks. That put me in the business. I could record lectures and edit them.  I could add music and other sounds and I could edit out sounds such as coughs and pauses.    I never dreamed producing a CD would be a much bigger challenge than assembling a collection of lectures.  

What is a story?  A story may be written by a reporter, told by a child, enhanced by a liar, told by a performer, or related by anyone who wants to connect with an audience.

Storytelling is as old as the first oral communications.  Telling a story is part of almost all of our interpersonal interactions.  We tell the story of ourselves to the people around us.  We share the story of our day with the people we live with.  Novelist, film makers, reporters and even songwriters claim they are telling stories to their audiences.   The “story” is the compelling part of the communications.   Sounds, actions, and visuals accompany the story.  How many times have you seen a movie that had more  powerful visual effects than story line?  You may have been excited with the action, but confused as to what the film director and writer were trying to communicate.

Storytelling is not reading aloud from a book, chanting from memory, reciting a poem from memory or acting a dramatic part in a play. Storytelling is form of communication that involves looking into the eyes of an audience and sharing an adventure.  The best storytellers can look into the souls of the audience and modify the story on the spot. The storyteller creates the story through words, voices, movement, and gestures.  Live storytelling is interactive; the teller can react to the audience and make changes as the session continues.    The telling of stories is part of the professional activities of a teacher, librarian and even a business leader.  They use stories to entertain, connect to another time and place, teach a lesson, and to exchange knowledge.   Learning is a two way communication between teacher/librarian/leader and student. Each has something to contribute to the learning process. One question children ask, “Is it true?”  Yes, it is true, but it never happened. 

The first task in the CD project was to choose stories.  I already had two children’s stories, “My Own Pesah Story and “My Own Hanukkah Story,” written over 20 years ago. In 2004 I revised the stories and made them into electronic books. These stories would be the basis for the CD. I revised the stories to be more suited for telling, than reading.   Before I started recording I had no idea how long they were.  The final recordings were between 19 and 21 minutes long.  In my experience with giving lectures, I found out that 20 to 25 minutes was the longest someone would sit and listen. I assumed children would be less willing to sit still, than adults.  I needed some shorter stories to go along with them.  I choose some Wise Men of Chelm stories because I have often told them, and I like that kind of humor.  I used, A Treasury of Jewish Folklore, edited by Nathan Ausubel (Crown Publishers, c1948) and Naftali the storyteller and his Horse, Sus, by Isaac Bashevis Singer (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, c1976) as sources.

The stories required extensive revision for me to be able to tell them to an audience.  I wrote a script and then practiced first alone and then with an audience. Each time I improved the delivery and the script.  In the story, “The Rude Carp,” I made the stories my own by adding some of my own experiences and memories.  The stories became not only a reflection of Jewish society in Eastern Europe but it had a bit of me and my feeling toward the events.

The idea for “The Empty Chair,” came from a story shared through the listserv, STORYTELLER.  The original was not Jewish at all.  It was not even about prayer.    I took a story outline from one source, combined it other stories and a lesson I wanted to share and made a new story.   These source streams make a story about one man’s journey to understand prayer and face the end of life.  In the background was the joke about going to shul to daven[2]. That is, Reuvan goes to shul to talk to God, while his friend, Levi goes to talk to Reuvan.  In “The Empty Chair,” the main character is dieing. He is “Levi” in the joke.  During most of his life he made the motions of prayer but never had the kavanah[3]. The story opens with the man on his death bed.  His daughter calls the rabbi for the man to make a death bed confession.  He confessed to talking too much in shul, but also of repenting and finally learning how to davan.  He took a seat on Shabbat morning next to an empty seat and pretended God was sitting next to him.  He talked to his seatmate.   At the end of the story when the man dies the rabbi understands when the room had an empty chair and the message the man was living the past few years.  This is an example of how we can share a truth through a story that we can’t come out and say directly.  We can’t always command people to stop talking in shul.

In “The Empty Chair" I could not preach how to behave in shul or how to davan, but I could share a story of how someone else learned his lesson.

After choosing and revising the stories I was ready to record.  I had to choose a microphone.  I ran tests until I found one I liked.  I choose a mono microphone designed for giving lectures.  I recorded mono sound on both stereo channels because it gave to sound I wanted.  It sounded most like I was in the room telling the story.

I started to record the stories and then I tried out the recordings on children.  I made sample CDs and gave them out to neighbors.  I got feed back and recorded more.  Finally I was done with all the stories and I wanted to add music and sound.  This took longer than original recordings.  I was able to find lots of music on the Internet.  Getting permission to use the music proved to be next to impossible. With music there are three copyrights involved-- the words, the music and the performance.  When I tracked down the artist I got answers saying that they could not give the rights.  When I tracked down the publisher, they said they couldn’t give the rights.  Most of the e-mails asking for rights were never answered.  The words and music for songs for Pesah and Hanukkah are in the public domain, but not the performances.  I could sing the songs myself, but I have no piano or other accompaniment.   I had a CD that contained songs that my father sang and I had the rights to use that.  But he had no songs for holidays.  Finally I found Ruby Harris, a neighbor, who was both the songwriter and the performer.  He could give me the rights to his songs. 

I edited the recordings to get rid of the mistakes, pauses, and extra sounds.  I added music to the beginning and end of each track and added a few sound effects such as a door bell.  I edited a few of the words with echoes and other effects. I sang the Hanukkah songs and I did include one song from my father. I was amazed at how I could manipulate the sounds. I could amplify the sound or add echoes.  I could take a piece of music and fade the sound in or out or play it backwards to get a totally new sound.  I could take a single shofar and make it sound like group.  After all the stories with the music were ready, the total time was one hour and 40 minutes.  This was too long for one CD and not long enough for two. While 80 minutes is the maximum for a CD, albums are usually about 60 minutes, which corresponds to the length of LPs. I had to make a choice of what to include on the first CD and which on the second.

I choose to make my original stories the basis for each volume.  The first volume contains “My Own Pesah Storyand the second will contain the Hanukkah story.  I had a few extra minutes at the end to include the complete song from Ruby that I had been using small selections at the beginning and ends of the stories. By making one CD I had the opportunity to learn about marketing and promoting the CD and to raise funds to pay for the second volume.

While fixing the sound I needed to design the packaging. First I used the program that came with my CD drive. After contacting the company that would do the CD duplication, I found the first program would not give them the output in JPEG files that their systems required.  They gave me options to get a free program[4] that would work.

Every piece of artwork that you do not create with your own hand, you need permission to use.  I had a cute, funny picture of a nephew that I though was great for the cover, but he wouldn’t let me use it.  Even under pressure from his mother, he would not give me permission. He claimed modesty. I put other pictures on the cover and sent a copy to be reviewed.  When my brother said the cover looked too busy I deleted all the pictures of people.  I found a background picture that is a section from the Kotel. I used text art to make a logo for Stories by Stuhlman. I used an illustration from the original book. After the next iteration of the art, I sent samples to my sister, the lawyer, and my brother, the technical writer,  and others.  Everyone gave me advice and I made changes. Finally the artwork was done.  The cover art would also be used on the promotional literature including the web page.

When I was done with the recording and adding the music, I again asked my testers for help.  They listened and I made more changes to the sound.  The whole project seemed as if it would never end; I would listen and make changes.  Finally I had to declare that I was done. 

To make the CD ready for production I needed to have it professionally mastered.  Mastering is the process of taking audio files and adjusting the sound level to a common amplitude.  This means the listener would not have to adjust the volume for each track.  Ruby gave me the name of professional audio engineer who did work for him and was nearby.  I sent the tracks for mastering and it took several weeks.  When it came back, I still made a few changes to the sound because for some reason some pops and unwanted sound were in one track.

Finally the day came to send the files to the company who would do the duplication.  There are two ways to make CDs.  The first is duplication.  This is the process for small runs and it the type of recording you would do with your computer and CD-Rs.  You would make an exact copy from files on your computer.  This method is cost effective for small runs of 500 or fewer.  To make more copies they use a glass master and stamp each new CD.  This process costs less per copy, but the initial order needs to be 1000.  One of the reasons I made this CD was to prove to myself that it could be done.  I didn’t have the resources to order 1000 copies.  Most of my fellow storytellers said that 100 copies at a time are enough to keep on hand.  They don’t want to handle the cost of initial production or inventory.  The duplication process is quick enough so that they could reorder at any time.  I ordered 100 copies.  Now the next task is thanking all my testers and trying to promote the CD.

Jewish stories on CD are not very common.  If you check firms such as MostlyMusic.com or Sounds Right, who specialize in Jewish CDs, you will find few spoken word albums.  They have a few albums of comedians, a few of stories that are read, but very few with stories that are told. [6] I have not found very many CD with Jewish stories told by a storyteller.  My CD has stories that are enjoyable for all ages, although young children will not sit still to hear a 20 minute story. 

Let me summarize the project in case you want to create your own CD.  This is not a linear list. Some of the steps will over lap in time.

1. Select material.  You will have to find, write or edit your materials.  Make sure you have the rights to use the materials. The selection process could take many weeks as you search for material that you can make your own.

2.  Record the stories.  Find a room that will not bounce sound off the walls.  I used my study which has walls lined with books and insulating materials.  This means there are no parallel surfaces to bounce sounds. WavePad records and allows edits to MP3 or WAV files.  I choose to work only with MP3 files. It will also convert from other formats and allow you to rip tracks from audio CDs.

3. Prepare the art work.  Decide how many surfaces you want cover.  You may choose to only print the CD itself in one color.  This is the least expensive, but also it looks the least professional.  I choose a two sided cover, a tray card, and a CD label (four surfaces.)  I used the same background as a theme on every surface. I used text art to make a log of “Stories by Stuhlman.” Click ‘N Design  allows full color.

4.  Test the recording and proofread art work.  Every project needs another set of eyes. Your CD is like a baby, you love it and it blinds you to the obvious. 

5. Revise and edit based on the testers’ comments.  Hopefully they will catch any typos.  It is embarrassing to produce something with obvious and preventable errors.

6. When you think the project will never end, say you are done. Stop tweaking the files send it for duplication or replication. I used a company in Irvine, CA named, DiskFactory.

7.  Get excited when you finally see the fruits of your labor.  Thank all those who helped you.

8. Promote and sell your CD.  Remember this is still your baby and you have to tell people about it.  Use a multifaceted approach to publicity.  Tell people about it, send e-mail, send announcements, try to get reviews in the appropriate media, and get the CD before the public in stores and on the Internet.  I have an ISBN for the CD and placed a bar code on the packaging.  I got 100 blank ISBNs many years ago, when they didn’t cost anything.  Now the ISBN agency charges a hefty charge per number.  I listed my CDs in Books in Print so that any store or potential buyer can find it.  My philosophy for publicity is, everything works and nothing works.  Send the message in as many ways as possible. You never know what the best methodology is until you have tried it. I sent notices to the schools I teach.  One put a cover of my cover art and link to my web page on the school’s home page[5]. Another school put a notice in their faculty news column.  I have also arranged for someone to write and publish a review in a library periodical and an appearance on a cable TV talk show.

9.  Good luck.  You won’t become rich with one CD, but it should make you feel proud.  Hopefully you won’t lose money.


Daniel D. Stuhlman is president of Stuhlman Management Consultants, Chicago, IL, a firm helping organizations turn data and information into knowledge. We are looking for new clients and opportunities. Visit the web site at Stuhlman.biz to learn more about knowledge management and what our firm can do for you. Previous issues of Librarian's Lobby can be found at: http://home.earthlink.net/~DDStuhlman/liblob.htm.   


[1] WavePad Audio Editing Software version 1.2 found at : http://nch.com.au/wavepad/index.html

[2] Yiddish term for pray, but davan has a stronger feeling than the English.

[3] Hebrew term for feeling, fervor, or intention during davaning.

[4] Click ‘N Design  by Avery Dennison, c. 1991-2002.  Version 5.1.4.  Available from http://www.cdstomper.com/.

[5] http://www.nccuslis.org/.  My cover art is one of the rotating pictures of faculty members.

[6] After writing the first version of this column I received an e-mail from Peninnah Schram, a storyteller and professor at Stern College in New York. She told me about the Jewish Storytelling Newsletter, which she is the editor. http://www.caje.org/interact/fs_story.html.  She also has a bibliography of books and recordings of Jewish stories.


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Librarian's Lobby home page Stuhlman Management Consultants Newsletter of Judaica Library Network of Metro Chicago
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 © 2006 by Daniel D. Stuhlman. All rights reserved.
Last revised May 8, 2006