The CD Solution

When was the last time you bought a compact disc? For many of us, that’s like asking your buddy about his latest VHS purchase. But what about all those shiny discs you bought before the advent of iTunes, peer-to-peer sharing, music streaming and cloud storage made it so easy to find music online and access it on the device of your choice? In other words, is Fatboy Slim still staring at you from a CD tower, its jewel case growing dustier with each passing year?

Antiquated though they may seem, CDs should not be consigned to the digital trash heap -- at least not until you’ve gotten what you need from them. For starters, the music quality is far superior to that in an MP3. The MP3 is a small file for a reason: It doesn’t contain anywhere near the amount of data (and thus fidelity) that a track on a CD does. Secondly, although the selections offered on Amazon, iTunes and Spotify are enough to keep your head banging for a lifetime, chances are you own some eclectic albums that you won’t find in any of those libraries.

So what’s a guy to do about all those CDs that haven’t seen the light of day since “Friends” was a staple of Thursday night TV? You’ve got two options: DIY and outsourcing.

The DIY Route

If you’re on a Mac and use iTunes to manage your music, you’ll find an option under “Preferences” (within the iTunes pull-down menu) to import songs automatically on insertion of a CD. Select that option. Also in this menu you’ll find your import settings. To import your music at the highest quality possible (provided that space isn’t an issue) select AIFF Encoder or Apple Lossless Encoder. If storage space is an issue, you can import your music as MP3s. As noted above, though, the MP3 format makes use of crafty (though some say undetectable) audio compromises to keep the files small.

If you’re on a PC and don’t use iTunes, there is software both free (e.g., Winamp) and paid (e.g., Nero and Winamp Pro) that can assist you with the music-importing process. These time-saving programs will also help you manage your music library once you’re done importing your CDs. On a PC (and again, providing storage space is not an issue), you’ll want to import the songs in either .WAV or FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec).

The good news is that regardless of whether you’re on a Mac or a PC, the software will do most of the heavy lifting for you (including finding album artwork and ID’ing the tracks on your CDs automatically). But you’ll still be stuck with the mind-numbing task of popping the CDs in and out of the computer every several minutes -- with the time for ripping dependent on the format you select.

Once you’ve imported a few discs, test the extracted music by streaming it to your various devices (desktop, laptop, tablet, phone). Make sure the format you’ve selected will not prove problematic -- or acoustically unsatisfying -- on any of them. (Not all cloud services will accept the higher-resolution files, for example.) Once you’re pleased with the results, finish ripping the rest of your CDs. And when you’re finally done, back up! Save your music files on a large external drive (or two) and, for safekeeping, on a cloud-storage server as well.

Outsourcing

Find a service that will convert all of your CDs to digital files and put them onto a hard drive or music player for you. (Google “CD conversion” or use one of the services below.) Ship out your CDs in a box -- typically provided -- and expect to pay anywhere from 25 cents to more than $2.00 per disc, depending on the final format you select. Some companies will clean your discs prior to importing and even attempt to repair damaged ones. Firms such as Pickled Productions will give you a bound, printed inventory of your music collection. RipStyles can recycle your jewel case and return the CDs in a portfolio instead.

When selecting a company, compare included services as well as extras such as shipping costs and insurance. And to make sure you’ll see your precious music collection again, check the Better Business Bureau for complaints from other customers.

Once you’ve gotten your music back, if you’re an iTunes user, you can pay Apple $25 for a new service called iMatch, to which you can upload all of your ripped CD content. Once your files are in the cloud, that music -- along with any music you’ve purchased from the iTunes music store -- will automatically be placed in your music “locker,” accessible to you on all of your iOS devices via the Web.

Google’s Music Beta (free for up to 20,000 songs) and Amazon’s Music Cloud (MP3 and AAC only) offer cloud hosting of your music files too. But be prepared for a long initial upload that can take hours, if not days. This won’t tie up your computer entirely, but it will slow down your Internet connection.

Regardless of whether you go for the DIY route or the outsourced one, you will love having all of your music at your fingertips all the time. Now your biggest dilemma won’t be where to keep your music, but what to do with the space where that CD tower used to be.

Photo Credit: @iStockphoto.com/ishai01

The Ultimate Gift Guide for Dad

Do you even remember what you gave your dad last Christmas, or the Christmas before that? If you don’t, then he probably doesn’t either -- or doesn’t want to, anyway. This year, gift him one of the father-son experiences described below, or come up with one of your own. Either way, neither one of you will forget it anytime soon.

Rent a Beast
There may be a dad in America who doesn’t get a kick out of a Mercedes-Benz SLS with the gullwing doors or a gleaming new Porsche Panamera. It’s possible. But so is life on Venus. So why not take your dad’s car into the garage for a full wash, wax and detail, and rent some dream wheels for a day? Pick a cozy restaurant 200 miles away, set the GPS and just drive. Remember to bring a camera. He’ll want it framed.
BWRentACar.com

Get Tickets for Game Day
Whether it’s football, baseball or college basketball, there’s a sport that gets your dad’s blood pumping. So get tickets one day for just you and him. It doesn’t matter if they’re in the nosebleeds; you’ll yell and cheer and eat hotdogs. After all, this is why sport was invented: for fathers and sons to bond. Let it happen. 

Catch a Gig
Not all of the bands in your dad’s record collection are getting wheeled around nursing homes. Many are still performing. Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen all played this year -- and that’s just the B’s. Your dad will never forget the day you sent him down memory lane. And you know what? It beats Justin Bieber.
TicketLiquidator.com

Go Fish
Just because the snow’s thick on the ground doesn’t mean you and dad can’t go fishing. You just need to pack differently: mittens instead of a sunhat, a thermos instead of a cooler. To spend an afternoon on the ice, bobbing through crust for walleye or perch, has all the lazy bliss of summer fishing -- but with a dangerous edge. Quality time slows down on a lake, and conversation often veers into uncharted waters. As Herbert Hoover said, “All men are equal before fish.”

TakeMeFishing.org

Fix It
Fathers long for the day that their sons might ask to help build or mend something around the house. It doesn’t matter what it is -- fixing a motorbike, laying down some tile, mending a fence or building shelves. What matters is that you build more than just shelves when you work on a project like that together. Find that project, mention it to the old man and watch the happiness spread across his face. 

Shoot and Score
Here’s a Second Amendment remedy you can believe in: Shooting. It’s a blast. And it’s as American as apple pie. Spend a father-and-son afternoon on the firing range unloading with every kind of gun you ever saw on TV. If dad’s the NRA type, a day on the firing range is nothing short of a slice of heaven. But even if he’s not, he’ll still have the time of his life. Because all men are boys and all boys love guns.
NRAHuntersRights.org

Spend a Day at the Races
The sport of kings and degenerate gamblers, horse racing is also a great day out for the family. The sheer spectacle of the crowds, the thoroughbreds, the thundering hooves. The surge of excitement when the gates snap open and the galloping begins. Share a little flutter with the old man and shout yourself hoarse. If either one of you wins, it’ll be a day he’ll talk about for years. 

IlDado.com ; FrontRowKing.com

Be a Chef
The father-son team is a beautiful thing. At the holidays, even more so. So here’s how to do it, to be the son of all sons. Just as the giant family dinner looms, suggest to your dad that you and he make the dinner for a change. Just the two of you, a team of two. Your mother will love putting her feet up, and your dad, just watch him swell with pride. Top it off with matching aprons and chef’s hats.

Fly
Now, here is a good time that everyone should try at least once: Indoor skydiving in a vertical wind-tunnel. As a giant fan blows up at you, you’re above the ground, supported by a cushion of air. An instructor teaches you how to do somersaults, flips and tricks. You and your father can be an acrobatic sky troupe together, tumbling in unison.

IFlySFBay.com ; IFlyUtah.com ; IFlyHollywood.com

Go Rock ’n’ Roll Bowling
There are some things in life that are universally popular, regardless of age, gender or background -- like ice cream. Or a night of rock ’n’ roll bowling. Your dad may be a bowling fanatic, in which case this is a slam dunk. But even if he’s not -- and this is the beauty of bowling -- he’ll have a great time. It’s said that the families who bowl together, stick together. You could make it just a father-son thing, or get the whole family involved. Either way, Dad’s the team leader, needless to say.

Where the Best Unknown Bands Are Hiding

If you think Top 40 is not so tops and want your tunes to be more cutting-edge, you need to know where to find the best music. Read on.



Your local radio station plays the same 10 songs over and over again. MTV is too busy airing "Real World/Road Rules Challenge" marathons to actually bother showing videos anymore. Print music magazines are rapidly dying off.

So where can a music fan such as yourself find out about the newest, edgiest tunes? Here are a few expert tips for discovering music outside the realm of the Top 40:

Enter the Blogosphere
Blogs are a great place to learn about -- and, just as important, to hear -- indie and alternative rock. The challenge for beginners is finding the good ones.

“There are roughly 5,094,947 music blogs on the Internet,” jokes Ryan Dombal, a staff writer at Pitchfork, a popular indie rock Web site (technically not a blog) credited with helping break acts like the Arcade Fire and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. “Pitchfork breaks through the MP3 din, hitting on things people care about” via album reviews (the site employs an infamous 0.0 to 10.0 rating scale), artist news and interviews, and links to the latest videos and audio files.

Another good starting point is the indie rock blog Stereogum. “After you find one blog or site that corresponds with your personal taste, check out the other blogs or sites it links to,” Dombal recommends. “It’s a process of trial and error, but it's worth it when you’re eventually exposed to your favorite new band.”

Tune Into the Net
“Commercial radio is all about finding that mass-appeal audience, and if mass appeal is your bottom line, you’re going to cut out a lot of interesting music,” says Mike Taylor, program director and DJ for the Cincinnati-based Web site WOXY. A terrestrial radio station in the past, WOXY has been broadcasting exclusively online since 2004. Its DJs cater to a select audience; current station faves include the female singer-songwriter St. Vincent and Brooklyn indie rockers White Rabbits. If you like a song you hear on WOXY, you can click on the link to the Web site Lala and buy the MP3. “We act as a filter for new music,” Taylor says.

To find other online broadcasters catering to your tastes, check out station aggregator Web sites like Shoutcast or Live365. iTunes also offers free Net radio streams. Or let a computer try to figure out what you’d like: Web sites like Pandora, Last (.fm) and iLike will personalize playlists for you based on your top artists.

Get out of the House
The Internet is a wonderful tool for discovering cool new tunes. But sometimes it’s nice to talk music with an actual human being -- you know, face-to-face (like back in 1999). If you’re lucky enough to still have one or more independent record stores in your town, visit! “I think it’s easier to talk to someone working at a store than hunt down music on different blogs,” says Scott Wishart, co-owner of Lunchbox Records in Charlotte, N.C. “I can recommend something similar to what they like and play it for them on the stereo -- or they can listen to it on headphones in the back.”

Wishart advises developing a rapport with a local record store clerk so he or she can get to know your tastes and avoiding the snobs (think: Jack Black in High Fidelity), if possible. Finally, once you’ve found music you love, separate yourself from the computer as often as possible to see your new favorites live. “Show up early for shows and catch the opening bands,” advises Pitchfork’s Dombal. “That’s how I first heard about this band called The Strokes. And if the opening act sucks, you can make fun of them with your friends.”