This Valentine's Day, your gift could be one in a million, or one of 189 million.
The latter's the number of roses bought every February. The former? A personalized song or custom mixtape.
Some musicians have found a niche taking people's love stories and turning them into verse and tune. Peoria, Ill.-based Black Balloon Studio, for example, has created and recorded more than 400 custom songs since 2001. Founder William Beran says the process is simple.
"Have an idea what you want to say. Some clients have helped write lyrics, others have given us a poem that we worked into a song. Others simply tell us a story and leave the lyrics up to us," he says.
Beran asks clients about their favorite artists, bands and genres. The company often turns out a song in a couple of days, although he guarantees a finished product -- including a lyric sheet and a CD with custom-designed case art -- in 28 days. If you don't like how the song's developing, Beran will tweak things, with a different singer or instruments.
Black Balloon charges $329 for a song, regardless of length. As Beran observes, "Some people have a lot to say. Some would rather say more with less."
If you don't want to go all in on an original song, consider giving a mixtape of favorite songs that mean something to both of you. You can create one pretty easily online and then put the song list on a USB drive to wrap up.
ThinkGeek has a thumb drive that looks like an old cassette tape; add some meaningful tunes, don a handmade label and, depending on your vintage, it'll be an amusingly evocative nod to high school or college romance.
Check out Howto.cnet.com for instructions on how to personalize USB drives for someone special. You can load them with everything from music to video to scanned artwork and even show tickets.
There are lots of designs available in gadget stores. Smediart.com has a 4-gigabyte wine cork drive for $84. Meritline.com has a range of designs, including sleek mahogany slivers, pave-studded hearts, cellos, playing cards and bracelet styles (all around $12.99 and 8 gigabytes). If your beloved is a nature lover, consider crafting a drive out of wood: instructions at Techcrunch.com.
Mixandburn.com will professionally mix 10 of your songs for under $15. You can either pick up in store (check the website locations; FYE is a partner) or have the CD shipped. They also have suggestions for artists and songs.