Here's a sound demo …When a visitor clicks on the link you've created, the server sends the file (in this case, demo.aiff) across the Internet to the visitor's browser. If the user's browser isn't set up to interpret that file type, the browser offers the option of choosing an application that can play the file or of downloading it. If the user has installed a browser plug-in or another application as a sound player for that file type, the application automatically downloads and plays the sound.RAW SOUND: BIG AND BADThe simplest sound format is an uncompressed digital sound file. The most popular types are WAV files, common on PCs, and Audio Interchange File Format (AIFF) files, common on Macs. There are many other types of sound-file formats, but their contents are much the same: a long string of numbers that represents the waveform of the sound. At the beginning of the file, a header provides information such as the sampling rate and whether the sound is in stereo or mono. A sound-player application uses that information to interpret the data.Formats such as WAV and AIFF are so common that they can be used by many applications, but they have one main drawback: size. The WAV file of a 10-second stereo sound with a 44.1 kHz sampling rate and 16-bit resolution, for example, is 1.68 MB. Even short sounds will try the patience of many Web surfers. WAV and AIFF files are great to work with in your studio when you're creating and mixing audio, but their sizes make them ill-suited for Web use.SMALL IS BEAUTIFULAn easy solution to the problem of file size is file compression, for which the MP3 file format is popular. MP3 files are usually much smaller than standard uncompressed sound files, but their sound quality remains good. For example, the 1.68 MB WAV file can be reduced to 156K — less than one-tenth the size of the original — when converted to MP3. (You can use different amounts of compression when creating MP3 files, and the files are larger or smaller accordingly.)
Posting audio on your Web site involves three easy steps. First, create the sound file in an appropriate format. Next, transfer that audio file to your Web site's server. (Your Internet service provider has information about how to do that.) Finally, put a link on your site that visitors will click on to hear the web audio. The link is a simple matter — all you need is an HTML statement on your page such as this:
Here's a sound demo …
The anchor tag, , is an easy way to create a link to a sound file. It gives information about the file's name and location, and it includes the link text that will appear on the page. Using the HTML code mentioned previously will result in the appearance of the following line on the Web page:
Posting an MP3 file is like posting a WAV file: create the file, transfer it to your site's Web server, and create a link to it in HTML. When users reach your site, they'll need an MP3 player to hear the file. You could include a link to an MP3 player, but MP3 is such a popular format that many Web surfers are already set up for it. Visit http://software.MP3.com/software to find MP3 players, encoders, and other MP3 software.
My favorite Windows MP3 player is Winamp, partly because it supports beautiful graphic displays that accompany the music as it plays. Many Winamp skins (software facades to fit your taste) are available. Winamp also plays WAV and MIDI files, making it a handy tool to have.
LIFE IS BUT A STREAM
Compression is a big help, but even compressed files can take considerable time to download. After all, some users are still connected to the Web through older modems or busy networks. Another solution for delivering audio is streaming. Streaming is simple and powerful: instead of downloading the whole file before you can play it, your browser starts playing it right away. The popular streaming format RealAudio is a good choice because many computer users own RealPlayer and use it to play back streaming audio. If they don't already have RealPlayer, it's easy to add. (RealPlayer Basic is free, and RealPlayer Plus costs $29.99; both are available at http://real.com.)
To create RealAudio files, you will need an encoder. RealNetworks offers several encoders, including the free RealProducer Basic. (Go to http://realnetworks.com and follow the link to Products.) RealProducer Basic converts WAV files to RealMedia (RM) files. My 10-second demo WAV file, which started out at 1.68 MB and then diminished to 156K when compressed to MP3, has now shrunk to 46K — almost one-fortieth of its original size — when converted to RM. Even better, the file starts playing immediately, so listeners don't have to wait for it to download completely. Each compression stage further degrades the sound quality, however.
You need to know one more detail about posting RealAudio on the Web. Let's say the original sound is demo.wav, and the RM file created using RealProducer is demo.rm. You also need to create a demo.ram file, which is a text file to which your Web page should link. The file does nothing more than point to the RM file. Assuming your RM file resides in the same directory as the demo.ram file, the contents of the RAM file would be: file://demo.rm.
The RAM file is called a metafile, and it is required for streaming. If you just linked directly to the RM file, it won't stream; like any nonstreaming file, it will download completely before playing.
You can follow all the steps to create, preview, and publish your Web materials, but if you prefer not to do everything from scratch, RealProducer has tools that guide you through the process.
MAKE IT EASY
As you can see, there are numerous possibilities for getting sound on your Web site. Think about your needs, decide when you can make compromises, and explore each format's strengths and weaknesses. Consider issues such as sound quality, file size, and how common a given format is and determine which factors will be most important to your site visitors. Pick one format and use it consistently; that way, you know that if site visitors can hear one of your sounds, they can hear all of them.
MIDI is another important option for posting music files on your Web page. MIDI files contain no sounds, just control information. Although the files can be quite small, you have little control of what sound your MIDI file produces when it reaches the surfer's sound card. The visitor to your site may not have a synthesizer that supports the General MIDI (GM) sound set (some computers still contain low-quality FM synthesizers). Even if a GM synth is on hand, not all GM synths are created equal.
WHAT ABOUT MIDI?
MIDI has its place on the Internet, but be aware of its limitations. If you have a carefully crafted MIDI file that is intended to play back on a Kurzweil K2600, you probably don't want to post it on your site. However, if you have a piece that uses traditional sounds from the GM sound set and you think your music can withstand a range of realizations, MIDI is certainly an option to consider.
Another Web format worth mentioning is Beatnik's Rich Music Format (RMF). The Beatnik Player plug-in is easy to obtain and install. RMF files can combine MIDI and audio, and they support compression and streaming. You can customize the appearance of Beatnik Player on your Web page. To create RMF files, you need Beatnik Editor (available at www.beatnik.com; $129.95).
Ideally suited to making your site interactive, Beatnik can be adapted to a range of situations. The Beatnik Web site has excellent tutorials and documentation. For more details, see “Desktop Musician: The Beatnik Player,” in the December 2000 issue.
Another great thing about Beatnik Player is that you don't necessarily have to use RMF files. Although the RMF format is optimized for use on the Web, audio and Standard MIDI Files also work. Beatnik Player includes its own software synthesizer, so if you use MIDI, you'll know exactly how your files will sound when they're played back.
One final MIDI option is to post your music in the form of a notated score. Some notation programs, such as Sibelius Software's Sibelius and Coda Music's Finale, have plug-ins that let you do just that. Visitors to your site can view the notation, play it back, and even transpose the music to another key. Scorch is the Sibelius plug-in, and Coda's product is Finale MusicViewer (Windows only). Both plug-ins are free and easy to install. Sibelius Software (www.sibelius.com) and Coda Music (www.codamusic.com) have excellent information about creating Web pages to display your music in their respective score formats.