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Intertrack Timing  (November 2017)


While creating compilations from my own records, I came up with conventions for how much time to allow between the end of one song and the beginning of the next.  In the beginning, I didn’t perseverate over this, figuring that intertrack timing was little more than an incidental concern.  I discovered I was wrong about timing being inconsequential after purchasing a set of jazz compilation CDs that allowed for less than one second between tracks.  Though I enjoy the music, the transitions between adjacent tracks are always jarring to me.  I’ve also come across commercial CDs where some tracks inexplicably have 20 to 30 seconds of dead silence between them, and I find my attention shifting from the album’s music to puzzlement over the album’s production.


I certainly want to avoid subjecting my customers to this kind of disjointedness, so I’ve formalized my intertrack timing conventions as described below.  Customer preferences, of course, take precedence over any of the conventions I’ve adopted.


First Track Lead-In

2 seconds.  Although two seconds is longer than the few milliseconds to one second you typically encounter with a commercial music CD, I developed this habit because a CD changer I used to own would take over a second to orient itself to a CD and thus would begin playing past the start of the first track.  A 2-second lead-in circumvented this quirk, and it doesn’t interfere with the enjoyment of the album.


Last Track Lead-Out

3 seconds.  There’s no point in retaining the several seconds at the end of a record or minutes at the end of a cassette that follow the music.  Three seconds is a reasonable time so that transitions to another album on an MP3 or computer music player or swapping discs in a CD changer doesn’t sound rushed.


Intertrack Timing on Albums

Each side of a record is one continuous groove, and this is mirrored in the audio file of a record’s side:  it’s one long recording.  While the listener easily recognizes a few seconds of silence as indicating that one song has ended and another is about to start, there’s nothing in either the record’s groove or the digital file that indicates the exact point in time where one track has “officially” concluded and another has begun.  Therefore, choosing points to split the record’s tracks into separate audio files is arbitrary.  My approach is to allocate 0.5 to 1.0 second of the few seconds of silence between songs as lead-in on the following track, and the rest of the time to lead-out on the preceding track.  The lead-out plus lead-in times equal the album’s original period of silence.


Classical music and similar works that contain two or more major pieces, each with multiple movements, offer a special opportunity.  I usually increase the lead-out time of the preceding piece’s final movement to nine seconds.  This provides the listener a cue that one major piece has concluded and another is about to begin.  (I’ve also encountered this convention in many commercial CDs of classical music.)


Crossfaded tracks provide no obvious indication of where to split tracks.  My approach is to target the split as late as possible while ensuring that nothing “important” to the following piece is separated from that piece (like an introductory note, chord, or drum beat).  On a device capable of gapless play, the cross-fade will sound exactly like it did originally.  The only indication to the listener that the music has transitioned to a new track is that the title in the player’s display changes.  If the customer intends to play the music on a device that doesn’t support gapless play, my recommendation is not to split cross-faded tracks, since the inescapable interjection of a moment of silence can be disruptive to the listening experience.  (See Gapless Play & How to Test for It.)


Intertrack Timing on Compilations

When creating compilations from 78s, 45s, or EPs, I incorporate a standard one-second lead-in for all tracks (except the first track on a CD, which gets two seconds).  I generally use a two-second lead-out for the A side and a three-second lead-out for the B side.  This provides a total of three seconds between sides of a record (see Figure 1) and four seconds between records.  There’s nothing magical about this approach; at times I have shortened intertrack timing in order to squeeze one more track onto a CD.  Something to ponder when considering intertrack timing is that compilations of rock music might benefit from shorter intertrack intervals in order to keep the music flowing at a fast pace.  For other music, especially classical, longer intervals might be desirable to slow things down.

Figure 1.  Two-second lead-out and one-second lead-in (shaded in dark blue) for

a 78’s two sides in a compilation (zoomed in to show 25 seconds of each track).


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