How to Burn Music From the Internet to a CD

Michael Kwan
CD burner

Music downloaded from the Internet can be played on a computer and on compatible MP3 players, but CDs are still needed for a variety of car stereos and home entertainment units. Thankfully, burning downloaded music onto a CD is a reasonably straightforward and easy to understand process.

How to Download Songs

Downloading compatible MP3 song files for burning onto a CD is quite easy. You can download free music from the Internet for this purpose, or purchase your songs from any number of retailers including Amazon and iTunes.

Make Sure Your Music Can be Burned

DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, and any files with DRM restrictions have strict limitations on how often, if ever, they may be burned. All music downloaded from Amazon MP3 is DRM-free, as is all music downloaded from iTunes Plus. The latter is typically indicated with a grey "+" symbol in the iTunes Store, but legacy downloads prior to the iTunes Plus upgrade in 2009 may still have DRM. Inside iTunes, right-click on the music file and choose "Get Info." If the song file has DRM, it will say "Protected" in its file type description.

You'll also want to be sure that your downloads are legal. Only use MP3s from trusted sources, and if you're in doubt it's best to purchase the songs that you're looking for.

Downloading and Creating a Playlist

The exact steps will vary from marketplace to marketplace, but the general procedure to get your music from the internet is the same.

1. First, find the songs or albums that you would like to download, ensuring that the files will be DRM-free.

2. Click on the corresponding "buy" or "download" link.

3. Save the resulting MP3 file in a folder on your computer where you will be able to retrieve it.

From here, you can proceed with the steps needed to burn a music CD.

Burning Music to a CD

Three main items are needed to burn music from the Internet onto a CD:

  • Blank CD-R: These are writeable CDs. Ensure that the CD-R is one that can be used as a music CD and not a data-only CD. A music or audio CD is not the same as a data-only CD, as CD players cannot read MP3 audio files directly.
  • CD writer drive on the computer: Also called a CD burner, these come standard with many new computers. Most DVD burners and Blu-ray burners can also be used as CD burners. If the computer does not have a CD burner, an external drive will be needed.
  • CD authoring software: Also known as CD writing software, this is a program that is used to author the blank music CD.

There is a variety of CD writing software available for just about every computer operating system. Many operating systems -- Windows, Mac, and Linux -- have their own CD burning software pre-installed, but this software may or may not be adequate. Some computer manufacturers pre-install additional media software, including a CD burning software component. This software can also be downloaded from the Internet. The software used is largely a matter of personal preference. Some people find Windows Media Center's CD burning software easier to use, while others may prefer to purchase software from Roxio or Nero.

Step-by-Step Instructions

The exact steps needed will vary from software to software, but the general procedure is mostly the same.

  1. Locate the folder containing all the MP3 files that are going to be burned onto the CD. Burned music CDs are typically limited to 74 minutes of audio, regardless of the size of the source MP3 files.
  2. Insert the blank CD-R into the CD burner drive.
  3. Open the CD authoring software and select the option to burn a new music CD or audio CD.
  4. Transfer the MP3 song files into the appropriate field in the CD authoring software.
  5. Click on the button to start the burning process.
  6. A dialog window will likely pop up with some burning options. These may include defining the destination drive (the CD burner), the burning speed and the CD label. The speed is determined by the CD burner drive as well as the speed of the CD-R.
  7. The software will then compress the music files, prepare them for burning, and finally write the files to the blank CD.
  8. The CD writer drive will open and eject the disc when the burning process is complete.

The time it takes to complete these steps depends on the program being used, the number of music files being compressed and burned, the speed of the CD burner drive, the speed of the CD-R being used, and the processing speed of the computer.

For this reason, users with older computers are advised to let the burner run alone, avoiding the use of other software and programs while the burning process is taking place. This reduces the number of possible errors. Using a slower burning speed can reduce flaws and errors in the final product as well.

Burning Music Downloaded from iTunes

Over 80% of the music available through iTunes is now DRM free, though you should always check this before purchasing music that you intend to burn onto a CD. Restrictions on the DRM-managed content can change from time to time as well, so be sure to keep up with the latest terms and conditions, which can be accessed through the "support" link on your iTunes Store main page.

For those music files that can be burned to CD through iTunes, you can use the iTunes interface to complete the process. Create a folder for the songs you want to burn and make sure that this is the open folder on the main iTunes screen, then insert the blank CD. A pop-up box will prompt you to begin burning your playlist, and when it's finished the CD will be ejected.

Legalities of Burning CDs from Downloaded Music

There are a few legal issues associated with downloading music files from the Internet and transferring that music to a CD. There are legal sources of music on the Internet, but there are many other sources, like P2P networks for example, that may fall into more of a legal grey area or may even be outright illegal. Ongoing lawsuits and legal actions continue to muddy the waters.

Is it legal to burn music from the internet to a CD? It depends on where the music was downloaded from in the first place, if the download was legal, and if the consumer has the legal right to re-author the audio files onto a different medium like a CD. Similarly, if the burned CD is subsequently sold for profit, then that is likely an illegal act without the express written permission of the artist and record company.

How to Burn Music From the Internet to a CD