Friday, July 18, 2008

Rob's Christmas CD: A Study Guide - 2000-2011

It's been 26 years since my Christmas music obsession began. Since beginning this blog nearly four years ago, I've alluded many times to my annual Christmas CDs that I create for family and friends. 

By now, many of my family and friends should have received their 2010 copy (scroll down to see this year's entry).

This entry is strictly here for reference and for the benefit of those who received the CDs. None of these comps will be posted here in their entirety or made available online or offline.

Here is an extensive look at my Christmas comps since the beginning of this decade:

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This was the first year I created my annual Christmas tapes on CD. The cover picture shows how I recorded the Christmas tapes then - two CD players / boom boxes connected to a Radio Shack mixer which fed into a cassette deck.

Each of these CDs were numbered; only 25 copies were burned (blank CDs were still $1.50 each) and sent to close family and friends. Most of the CD was transferred from cassette to digital - the sound was poor and the CDs were burned with the two second pause in place (technology wasn't my strong suit then - I'm still not sure now).

The others on my list that year received cassette copies which sounded better than the CD!

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2001 was a watershed year. It was the year I began upgrading and organizing my collection thanks to the home computer. I purchased my first copy of Sound Forge and used that to mix and record 95% of the material I used on the comp. I was going completely digital and the era of using cassettes came to an abrupt end.

My PhotoShop skills were meager - I managed a cool CD label which had the Pan Am stewardess from "2001" going around on the disc. I asked my brother Rafael to help with the cover and he added many of the pop culture gorillas and monkeys you see. The monolith was supposed to be a cassette (how's that for symbolism?) but we ran out of time.

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Throughout 2002, I was continuing to upgrade my collection to digital and was still not proficient in PhotoShop. So I returned to the picture on the front concept for the cover in 2002. Santa decorating a tree in a forest came from a Christmas card that was sent to me (thanks Jenn!).

This edition remains one of my personal favorites. I had used "Christmas Griping", a fan club only single from R.E.M. on the disc, which contains a segment in the song where Michael Stipe and company were chanting "Boom-shaka-laka-laka, ho, ho, ho!".

Later that year, I attended one of my wife's families Christmas parties. Many of the smaller kids in attendance thanked me for the CD as I entered the party and began chanting "Boom-shaka-laka-laka, ho, ho, ho!". It's a memory I'll always cherish.

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By 2003, my collection was fully upgraded, catalogued, and organized. However, this was the year the Chicago Cubs were making a run at the World Series and I was easily distracted that fall. For the record, I don't blame Steve Bartman - no one remembers the dropped double play ball immediately after that... BUT I DO!

We were also preparing for the birth of our third child in 2003 (Josie) so I chose to go with the picture of our house at winter time. It also marked the first time my son Alex and my oldest daughter Maggie spoke on the CDs but more importantly, my wife Ann was pushed in front a microphone and prompted to talk!

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This was the 20th edition of my Christmas tapes, now CDs. I wanted to do something very special to mark the occasion but was wary. Twice in the past, I created different versions (see the 1996 Toledo fire) that ended in disaster.

I asked my good friend Jeff Fox of Jeffco Productions to create some special artwork (thank you Jeff!), I compiled enough 1980s Christmas material for a four disc set (which became two), I created special bumpers in between songs and gave the playlist as I went, a MP3 version of this CD was issued as well (before the days of podcasts and iPods), and even purchased black CD-Rs to give it a "vinyl" feel.

The end result was possibly the best work I've ever done on any of my Christmas CDs. If XM / Sirius Satellite Radio contacted me tomorrow asking for a Christmas demo for one of their Christmas radio channels (wishful thinking), this is the version I would send.

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In 2005, I was very confident with my PhotoShop skills and created my very first original cover from scratch. There's a lot going on in this one - if you look close, you'll see a flying Santa with reindeer that's very familiar here in Fort Wayne, a familiar Santa in a Norelco floating head, and pictures of my children and my wife & I as ornaments.

Those with a Christmas eye know that the "Living Stereo" banner was borrowed from The Three Suns' "A Ding Dong Dandy Christmas". Look closer - I even had fun with PhotoShop up there!

This was the first year I dipped deep into my archives of Christmas music from the mainstream to the undercurrent to mix things up. Mash-ups made their presence felt for the first time, radio promos, and production jingles all contributed to the fun.

There was an alternate version of this CD issued as well. Friends from the First Presbyterian Theater group received alternate tracks (see the playlist for the differences).

I also included on both versions a special track I had recorded the year before - my version of Nicole Blackman's "What I Want For Christmas". It was meant to be included on my 20th anniversary edition but was bumped at the last possible moment.

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Back in 2006, I began this blog and was devoting much of my time to getting it off the ground. There was much more I wanted to do with this cover but it turned out alright. Due to miscalculations with cutting the cover, most covers were smaller than the CD jewel case - a dab of an Elmer's glue stick and presto!

There were no special versions for the first time in two years and this was the first comp to reach three different continents (Europe, Australia, North America).

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In September of every year, I sit down to create my annual Christmas CD. However, my schedule was full of school and theater activities in 2007 and I kept putting it off. When I did sit down to arrange the playlist and listen to massive amounts of Christmas music, I wasn't feeling inspired.

September turned into October, October turned to November. I was seriously blocked - nothing was sounding remotely good. Did I finally have Christmas burnout? With my back against the wall, a burst of inspiration hit.

I wanted to fill the CD with as many songs as I possibly could - most of the songs averaged around 2:30 in length, leaving plenty of room for sound bytes. In a span of 36 hours in the second week of November, 2007 (the latest completion date ever), I completed the CD.

A copy of this CD found its way to Emma Downs at the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. As a result I got a Christmas Day write-up in the newspaper. The article can be read in its entirety here.

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After spending a summer of tackling my out-of-control Christmas music collection, I was able to sit down and plan out my Christmas CD more efficiently and clearly than in years past. When the dust cleared, I had finished my Christmas CD in record time back in August, 2008 - the earliest completion date of any of my comps.

This left the cover artwork. I was lucky to find a free program called AndreaMosaic that enabled me to use 800 images (no repeats) from my recently reorganized Christmas collection to create the cover you see above. It was also used to created a custom CD label that came out surprisingly good.

I decided to forgo printing these amazing covers with my aging HP printer so I went to Office Depot (thanks to Mark Handy and everyone at the Fort Wayne/Northcrest store) to get custom color copies made on heavier, glossier cover stock. The end result is rather stunning.

The topper of it all is that my youngest daughter Josie, who had resisted the microphone for several years, finally made her debut on the Christmas CDs (along with Alex, Maggie, and a less terrified Ann).

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I originally envisioned the artwork for this to be printed on silver paper with a clear CD label to see the silver CD underneath in honor of its silver anniversary. It didn't work out for me. In a panic, I turned to my friend Jeff Fox of Jeffco Productions who took my original concept and made it adaptable beyond my wildest dreams - thank you Jeff!

This was the largest production in my long history. Nearly 200 copies of this CD were produced and I'm STILL short, can you believe it? That's what happens when you give each member of the cast and crew of a theater production a copy as a gift.

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Twenty copies of this CD were sent to my nephew and his company of Army brethren serving in Iraq this Christmas. I'm very proud of Antony and pray for his quick and safe return every day. I'm hoping many people will write to him to offer their support.

To others in his company, God speed and I hope you enjoyed the CD - let us know what you thought about it!

As for the selection of songs, I did go rather eclectic. But I did choose several favorites from years past (anniversary, remember?) in addition to several songs that severely amused my kids as well as myself.

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For nine years, my trusty Compaq Presario 5200 went above and beyond the call of duty.  It was dependable, created and burned thousands of CDs for nearly a decade, and helped me organize and control my Christmas collections.  Its service and longevity took a toll and the once fast computer was beginning to show its age.

Last Christmas Day, Santa brought me a new Dell computer with an all-in-one printer and wireless network to lighten the load on the Compaq.  The Compaq is happy in its new role as kiddie computer (and even burned several copies of the new compilation - it's not dead yet).

This is the first compilation that was produced using the computer and all of its new software.  It was amazingly easy to compile, edit, tweak, and burn thanks to the two or three programs needed on the Dell (as opposed to the seven or eight on the Compaq).

This was also the first comp that featured my new Stanton T.92 USB direct drive turntable.  Transferring the various 45s went extremely well and the sound is far better than anything I've transferred in the past.

Once again, 200 copies were burned and sent out.  This year, I wasn't short though.

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2011 was a productive year for me despite my inactivity on this blog.  From February to late August of this year, I digitized my ENTIRE Christmas music collection of over 1,600 albums and 25,000+ songs.  Not only is everything on my hard drive (and successfully backed up on an external hard drive), it made my life incredibly easy for compiling this year's CD.

After all that work on the computer, I wasn't particularly looking forward to the printing, the duplication, and the labeling of nearly 200 copies of the CD.  My friend Al Aitchison of NYC discovered the site and passed it along to that Stubby fellow, who in turn whispered the secret to the universe:

It was strange to NOT do all the grunt work I've been used to doing every October and November since 1992.  But when they arrived via UPS, I felt like I had just welcomed another child into my home.  I finally got one right, it seems.

This o my family & friends all around the world over the years (see below) - thanks for accepting these labors of love into your homes and not sending them back in en masse. I appreciate all the comments over the years (good and bad) and hope you are enjoying the new 2010 version. Hope this study guide helps you understand what you have heard that did or didn't make sense.

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12 comments: said...

Thank you Rob for all you do. I am a proud recipient, and fan.

stubbysfears said...

Hey, that's really cool! I can see Andy Cirzan in there, Adventures In Carols...even Magic Snow Music.

PDMan said...

I am also quite proud to be on the receiving end of the Captain's good cheer. As someone who has lived his life being the guy left off after the team has been picked, I feel honored to be among the chosen.

CaptainOT said...

Jeff / Stubby / PDMan - Thanks you three for the comments. Glad you've been enjoying my labor of love.


Tive said...

This is outstanding. Thank you for your inspiraiton.

Stephen said...

Rob, I'm sorry I haven't commented on this until now. I've had your new comp playing constantly in my car since I got it. It's another eclectic and fun mix, and I always enjoy hearing your family updates. Thanks for sending it, and for all the great work you do on this blog.

CaptainOT said...

Tive - Thanks for the comment!

Stephen - Thank you, good sir. Nice to know the CD hasn't caused any car accidents (yet)!


PDMan said...


You've outdone yourself again! From the Suns to Jerry Lewis to Raul Malo to Stephen Fry, how do you ever come up with the song selection? Have a Merry, Merry Christmas and I hope the Revue is a HUGE success.


Jonathan said...

I was all over it like an Elf on Spiked Egg Nog as soon as I released it from the clutches of my mail box in Cherokee, Alabama!

Outstanding as always! Thanks Capt’n!

aka RadioJonD

Jennifer said...

Hey Rob--- got your message today but I was working! I will try to give you a call this weekend! Thanks for another wonderful CD, especially the QI clip. I LOVE LOVE LOVE that program, or should I say properly, programme!

Merry Christmas! Love to the family!
Heather Jinmaku

PDMan said...


It's a privilege to be included on your list and recieving your comp every year brings great joy to my household. Have a merry and blessed holiday season!

mambro said...

I found your older blog from 2008 about the 1957 Capital Record album "Christmas in Italy".It has been a family tradition since I was a child to play this throughout the Christmas season.
I have my dad's album which is scratchy and we had an audio tape ( now obsolete) and I would love to get a CD made of this.
If you could help me with this my family would be most appreciative.
I read that you converted it to MP3 but I can't seem to follow that.
If you have time and are able, could you contact me and let me know if you could help me with this.I also have boxes of my dad's albums if you have any interest.