WEB SITE OF THE MONTH
Besides being a resource of books and videos for music-business professionals, artistpro.com (www.artistpro.com) hosts discussion forums with well-known producers and engineers; maintains a huge, searchable database of studios and equipment manufacturers; and publishes free online courses about audio-engineering techniques. The courses — including Understanding the Mixer, Essential EQ Theory, and Microphone Technology — cover a range of topics. Designed by Bill Gibson, the curriculum is based on his popular three-volume AudioPro Home Recording Course. Each section contains detailed technical discussions, illustrations, and audio demonstrations. For example, when Gibson talks about boosting or cutting 300 Hz while recording electric guitar, an MP3 and Windows Media file is provided so that you can hear the EQ's effect on the sound. Each course also has a multiple-choice final exam. Registration is free, and courses are available to registered users.
Artistpro.com also provides the Recording Industry Sourcebook, a standard music-business reference for more than a decade. The book lists producers, studios, studio-gear manufacturers, CD duplicators, and other services from across the country. Each listing contains locations, phone numbers, contact names, Web sites, and e-mail addresses. By putting all the information into a searchable online database, artistpro.com makes it easy to find what you need. Registered users have free access to the Recording Industry Sourcebook.
Another feature provided on artistpro.com is the Advisor Forum, where well-known panelists address an important topic each month, and visitors can post questions or take part in online discussions. The forum's panel includes legendary producer, engineer, and recording artist Alan Parsons; producer and engineer Al Schmitt; mastering veteran Glenn Meadows; and former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Bob Welch.
Electronic music's history is littered with strange devices built by engineering geniuses. A comprehensive collection of more than 150 instruments from the past 70 years is maintained by the Audities Foundation (www.audities.org) for use by museums, recording studios, composers, and researchers. You can find everything from seminal Buchla and Moog synthesizers to Farfisa organs and Rhodes pianos, including a host of devices few people have seen, such as Raymond Scott's Clavivox. The Web site contains photographs of myriad instruments, and you can also order manuals and documentation from the foundation for a nominal fee…. Sonify.org (www.sonify.org) is a community resource for composers, sound designers, and Webmasters working in the brave new world of online interactive audio. The Web site provides beginning and advanced tutorials explaining how to create sonified Web sites using Flash, QuickTime, JavaSound, and Beatnik. The Gallery includes links to commercially sonified sites, online sound-effects libraries, music-education programs, and sound-art exhibits. Users can discuss technical issues and coding techniques on the Community bulletin board…. Need backing tracks in General MIDI (GM) format for your karaoke machine or next cover-band gig? MIDI Hits (www.midi-hits.com) has a long list of popular tunes to choose from, in a variety of styles. You can search the catalog by genre, artist, or title and audition many of the tunes through RealAudio. You can download the Standard MIDI Files (SMFs) for a fee or order an audio CD. MIDI Hits will even create custom MIDI transcriptions of published songs for an additional fee.
Because of its scratchy, fuzzy, and low-resolution audio quality, Web audio usually makes AM radio sound like a marvel of fidelity. The issue, of course, is bandwidth: your Web audio's quality is limited by the number of bits you can push through the wires. Slow modem speeds, data-packet traffic jams, and server overloads can slow the data stream to a trickle, creating a drop in sound quality.
Enter Octiv (www.octiv.com), which seeks to raise Webcast fidelity by preprocessing audio files to make them smaller and better sounding. By compressing and limiting the sounds according to psychoacoustic principles, and dynamically applying spectral normalization, Octiv's products increase audio clarity at the receiving end by reducing the bandwidth that needs encoding. The results are louder, clearer Webcasts at lower transfer bit rates. Octiv's programs support all encoders, including RealAudio, Liquid Audio, QDesign, Windows Media, and MP3.
The Berkeley, California — based company produces two applications designed for different audio types. OctiMax divides the input sounds into five frequency bands, performs normalization and peak limiting, and then remixes the audio for streaming. OctiMax is best for music files and video soundtracks. On the other hand, OctiVox uses only three bands and is primarily for Internet telephony applications.
Octiv's programs have very low CPU footprints, run on WinTel servers, and don't require additional plug-ins on the client computer. The company's products are employed by businesses such as iBeam.com — which manages radio-streaming content for its customers (including MTVi.com, Launch.com, MSNBC, and the BBC) — and Firetalk, a provider of Internet-based voice communications systems.
DOWNLOAD OF THE MONTH
Massiva is a full-feature MIDI and audio sequencer for Windows and a free download from http://go.to/massiva. But don't let the fact that it's free fool you. Massiva is a powerful application with an easy-to-use menu design and an effects plug-in architecture.
Although you can use the MIDI sequencer to control external hardware devices, it seems best suited for gaining access to the instruments on your PC's sound card. Massiva reads and writes Standard MIDI Files, lets you record in real time or in step mode, and quantizes a groove. The application can sync digital audio to MIDI tracks through DirectX, and WAV files can be imported, mixed, positioned, and saved, either as sessions or to disk. Massiva also provides graphic editing of Velocity, Program Changes, and other parameters, and you can access effects settings on the SoundBlaster AWE card and save your changes with the sequence.
The application has additional tricks up its sleeve. The auto-compose function produces simple drum tracks using percussion samples, which you can then use as starting points for more creative work. A variety of effects plug-ins can be applied to the audio, including reverb, compressors, resonant filters, delays, flangers, and even a Leslie rotary-speaker effect. The Massiva site has documentation and tutorials about how to install and run the program, a bulletin board for trading tips and techniques, and information about the application programming interface, so you can write your own plug-ins.
BAND ON THE WEB
You may have heard that swing is king again, at least to a whole new audience of young lindy hoppers and jumpin' jivers twirling and gyrating in slick suits and long, pleated dresses. Holding court in San Francisco is the reigning queen of the swing scene, the incomparable Lavay Smith, with Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers.
The music is arranged by bandleader Chris Siebert — with contributions from David Berger (a noted Duke Ellington authority who also writes for Wynton Marsalis's Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra) and consists of original compositions and classic gems from the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s. The eight-piece ensemble (four horns, guitar, piano, bass, and drums) burns through jump blues, boogie-woogie, bebop, swinging dance numbers, saucy ballads, and New Orleans R&B tunes with confident exuberance. That's not surprising because the band is a who's who of Bay Area jazz players. It brings years of experience and some of the biggest names to the stage, including trumpeter Bill Ortiz and saxophonists Bill Stewart and Jules Broussard.
Smith's vocal style evokes blues chanteuse Bessie Smith, with Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington influences mixed in. When not on the road, Smith packs Friday nights at Cafe Du Nord, an oh-so-cool basement club on Market Street in San Francisco's Castro district.
The band's Web site (www.lavaysmith.com) conveys the sultry, glamorous feel of the music and gives fans an opportunity to read about the band's history and biographies of the musicians — including, of course, Smith. You can check out the band's busy gigging schedule and link to Amazon.com to buy its latest CD, Everybody's Talkin’ ‘Bout Miss Thing. The scrapbook section contains stylish publicity photos and some priceless shots of the diva posing with celebrities such as Lucy Lawless (of Xena fame) and Bill and Hillary Clinton.
JavaSound is an application programming interface (API) from Sun Microsystems that lets Java applet developers add sound and music to Web sites. JavaSound comes with the Java2 Software Developer's Kit and the Java Media Framework, and is slowly being incorporated into Java implementations for various computer platforms. When it is installed on a client's machine, JavaSound applets perform an array of interactive audio tasks without additional browser plug-ins, which is ideal for easily and efficiently sonifying Web sites and Web-based systems.
The original code for the audio engine was licensed from Beatnik in April 1997 and has been extensively modified to provide Web audio services. JavaSound not only plays AIFF, WAV, AU, MIDI, and RMF files but also records MIDI and audio data, mixes as many as 64 channels, and can output streaming audio or various sound-file formats. Because JavaSound is part of the extraordinarily powerful Java Virtual Machine environment, applets can be written that process MP3, RealMedia, Windows Media, or any other file format desired. Built-in control objects let programmers set reverb and gain levels, do stereo panning, or apply custom effects.
JavaSound also has a sophisticated MIDI synthesizer capable of rendering General MIDI (GM) files using a built-in sampled-instrument library. You can use one of three GM sets (small, medium, or large) provided by Sun or create a set of sounds for your applet. MIDI data can be routed to external hardware if the client system has an outboard device connected, or MIDI input can be received and recorded from an electronic keyboard.
JavaSound has diverse uses. It is designed to facilitate the development of Internet telephony applications, streaming media players, multiuser Web games, online-content creation tools, and more. Because it is platform independent and processor efficient, it may eventually add sound to cell phones and other handheld devices. Like related APIs such as Java 2D, Java 3D, and Java Speech, JavaSound makes sophisticated interactive audio and video systems possible. Other Web technologies are competing for control of the online audio environment, so stay tuned to http://java.sun.com/products/java-media/sound for updates.