Want to get your music on the air? Nicecast (Mac, $40), from Rogue Amoeba software, allows any computer running Mac OS X to stream audio directly to the Internet. Nicecast includes a broadcaster and a server. The broadcaster captures audio from any CoreAudio input device or from any audio application currently running on your computer and broadcasts it to the server of your choice. You can use Nicecast's built-in server (the simplest choice) to stream the audio to the Internet, or you can set Nicecast up to broadcast to any external server of your choosing. Once you start streaming, you can choose to have Rogue Amoeba add your stream to its MacStreams.com Web site. You can then e-mail the link to your friends and link to it on your own Web page.
In the simplest case, setting up Nicecast is straightforward. Launch Nicecast, choose an audio source, and click the Start Broadcast button. You might need to take care of some additional settings if you connect to the Internet from behind a firewall or through a router such as an Apple AirPort Base Station. If so, step-by-step documentation can help you out, and the process is really quite simple. I use an AirPort Base Station from behind a firewall, and I was on the air in about ten minutes.
If you choose to add your stream to MacStreams.com, you can provide information, including an icon graphic, which will appear with the stream listing. If your source software supports it (as iTunes does), that information can include the name of the currently playing track. In fact, using iTunes Shuffle and Repeat All options, you can set up a continuous broadcast of any iTunes Playlist, although iTunes hung several times when I tried to do that. Nicecast also includes an effects-processing matrix featuring 15 built-in effects as well as support for VST and Audio Units plug-ins.
The quality of your music stream and the number of listeners you can support depends on your Internet connection and the speed of your computer. NiceCast encodes audio in MP3 format on the fly before streaming. That is necessary to make the stream bandwidth manageable, but it is a CPU-intensive process. Fortunately, an encoding-quality control allows you to reduce the CPU drain. You can also set the streaming data rate to accommodate your connection speed. The rate you choose is per listener; choosing 128 Kbps, 44 kHz Stereo with a DSL or cable-modem connection will allow one to three listeners, whereas a lower-quality 24 Kbps, 22 kHz Mono stream will support three to ten listeners. You can restrict the number of listeners allowed at one time and thereby ensure that no one experiences dropouts, or you can allow the process to self-regulate.
Nicecast is a nice idea, and it turns out to be quite CPU efficient. If you want to add audio streaming to your Web site or just go fishing through the MacStreams.com and your fan club doesn't number in the thousands, give it a try. You can download a time-limited, fully functional demo from the Rogue Amoeba Web site, www.rogueamoeba.com.