Another "tailored" gift idea is a homemade mix of music recorded onto a CD. You can make a CD mix of Sidney Bechet's Parisian recordings for an uncle with a newfound interest in jazz or arrange "cocktail lounge" music for a friend's upcoming holiday or New Year's Eve party.
All you need is either a stereo component with CD recording capability or a not-too-ancient (by technology standards) computer.
"The software you need to sequence and burn CDs comes with just about any computer you buy and . . . can be operated by anybody," says Kennedy Wright, owner of Kennedy Sound, a Van Ness studio that designs and edits sound for film and TV. Two popular software programs are Nero and Roxio Easy CD Creator. Blank CDs and cases are available at most office supply stores, department stores and even some of the bigger supermarkets.
If you already have the songs for your mix on different CDs, you can simply slip one into your computer and start the CD-burning software. Highlight the song you want to record by track number and click "Extract." This will copy the song file onto your computer's hard drive, which in turn you will copy onto the blank CD. To do so, highlight the song files and "drag" them to the CD software program icon.
Typically you can copy 12 to 15 songs, or about 72 minutes of music, onto a CD.
If you are looking for an obscure holiday favorite that you don't have on CD, such as the Chipmunks' rendition of "Sleigh Ride," you can probably search and download it from a reputable online music service. "One that's comprehensive is the iTunes store run by Apple," Kennedy says. "They have a pretty large selection of songs. Most are 99 cents a cut. And unlike some music services, you can burn CDs from the site."
Creating an aesthetic music mix is, of course, a "completely subjective process," Kennedy says. "I've made a few holiday mixes in my time. . . . You can organize things chronologically. . . . I did one that was all cheesy holiday numbers from the '50s and '60s like 'Jingle Bell Rock.' " Alternatively you can organize tunes stylistically, selecting all instrumental interpretations of holiday carols, or the adagio movements from Mozart concertos. "But it's fun to mix it up sometimes, too," Kennedy says, "like John Lennon's 'And So This Is Christmas' followed by Madonna's 'Santa Baby.' "
Once you have burned your CD mix, you will need a suitable cover. For an "instant" cover, I've made enlarged color photocopies of museum postcards, which I then cut and folded to fit into a CD case. If you are more computer savvy, however, you can make covers with the free software that comes with packages of Avery labels, available at most office supply stores. Making covers with the Avery software is simple: Select "Jewel Case Insert," then choose the picture icon to paste a photo from your computer onto the cover. Then select the text icon and type the title of your CD. Print, trim and slip into the plastic CD case. You can also be more hands-on, using found art, photocopying and cutting and pasting to create a one-of-a-kind cover.
Although making CD mixes is an appropriation of other people's talents, it's also, according to Wright, "an opportunity to express something personal about yourself from the choice and sequence of songs -- the way you put [them] together is tremendously personal [and] is what makes it such a thoughtful gesture."
APPLE ITUNES -- To download the iTunes program, visit www.apple.com/itunes/music.