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Do You Hear What I Hear?

Sending mix CDs as gifts is easy. Look...

Some say on-line shopping is great for those who are too busy, self-important or crippled to go to the mall like normal people. In fact, on-line shopping, particularly for music, is perfect for those of us who want to look like we've put some real effort and creativity into gift giving but are actually lazy misanthropes averse to throwing plastic down (or doing anything, for that matter) in person.

For the music lover on your Christmas list, customized gift giving is easy. You can go to various MP3 sites and create your own mix CDs, filled with songs from various artists, which can be constructed and delivered either as MP3 files or as actual CDs with jewel boxes and cover art and all that. The whole process is as simple and personal as mixing and sending a tape, but it gives the appearance of something more complicated and time-consuming.

Mixing a CD is what I set out to do last week for fellow Houston Press writer Craig D. Lindsey, a guy for whom I would actually go out and buy a CD. But time is short. And last year Craig didn't get anything good under his Christmas tree, except that subscription to Low Rider and a Mariah Carey Beanie Baby. I decided to get him something "cool" and "thoughtful." On a writer's budget. Without leaving the house.

Since I don't have a CD burner, I surfed around the Internet looking to have a CD made for that custom mix job I wanted to get Craig. Knowing Craig likes hip-hop and the occasional pop song, I went to CDuctive.com, which offers independent music and bills itself as "the sound of the underground." The following is a diary of my experience, showing you how effortless it is to get a custom-made gift that looks like you spent a lot of time on it:

Tuesday, 1:19 p.m.: Click "create new account," which includes inputting user name, password and e-mail address. The rules: The first track on a custom CD costs $4.99, each additional one is 99 cents. Each CD holds 72 minutes of music, and CDuctive offers the option of downloading tracks in MP3 format. The site breaks music down into three categories: dance/electronic, indie rock and hip-hop/urban. There are also rare and out-of-print tracks as well as premade compilations.

1:21 p.m.: In hip-hop/urban there's progressive, turntablism, hardcore and a bunch of others. The site can also be browsed by artist, song and label. Clean and well-designed, it poses no problems during my search for the first song, "When I Shine," a rare Herbaliser track. After listening to brief Real Audio clip, click "CD" link, and track number one is in my "shopping cart." The link turns solid green to show that it's in there. Modern technologyŠ amazing.

The subgenres are really helpful, particularly because I haven't heard of 90 percent of these groups. Listen to three or four rappers and add a couple tracks, most notably a number by Kool Keith as his alter ego Dr. Dooom. Decide against Tone Loc and Young MC tracks.

1:38 p.m.: It's hard not to impose too much of my own taste, but I have to head to indie rock just to see what's there. Add Wheat's "Don't I Hold You," quite possibly the best sad song released this year. Have a feeling Craig might hate it, but one of the things about mix CDs is you can expose your friends to new stuff. Add a Mogwai remix and a Macha song.

1:47 p.m.: Look through dance/electronic section after options in hip-hop run low. Add Dr. Zaius track simply because it's by someone who calls himself Dr. Zaius. (Nobody said this was an exact science.) Listen to lots of tracks, add some, try to make others disappear.

2:23 p.m.: The site saves progress, so you don't have to create your CD all at once. This works in my favor when a phone call distracts me and I click over to www.furnitureporn.com.

2:32 p.m. till 3:47 p.m.: Lunch. Nap.

3:49 p.m.: Browse more through the categories, listen, add/skip track. Find last track. Decide against adding a song from the schizo-savant Wesley Willis. Head to "shopping cart," which shows all tracks and enables a change in the running order. Enter the title of the CD, Merry Christmas Craig. Click on "check out."

4:13 p.m till 4:15 p.m.: Site offers the option of having more than one copy made. (Note to self: Really lazy people could give this gift to everyone they know.) Free gold gift-wrapping and shipping are included. Turn over my name, address, billing info and Craig's shipping info.

4:16 p.m.: The site is running a buy-one, get-one-free CD offer. Give them a friend's e-mail address, and the person is sent a notice saying he has a free CD for the picking. It's like a bonus for being lazy. Put name of computer geek college roommate in as beneficiary. Click "continue."

4:17 p.m.: Third checkout screen. Finally give credit card info. Click "continue," and am told the order is processing.

4:20 p.m.: All done. "Your gift has been sent" message pops up on screen. Total time, three hours and one minute. Total cost, $13.90. The process has taken longer than going to a store and picking something out, but it's way more relaxing. With a CD burner, it would have taken about as long, and CDuctive took care of gift wrapping and shipping.

 
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