Grab your rocket pack. Nearly every month for the past few years,EM has featured articles on getting, putting, buying, selling,viewing, hearing, or making music online. By now, you probably have aninkling of the enormous benefits of showcasing your music on theInternet, but if you're like many musicians, you still haven't takenthat next step and actually done it. Or maybe you've uploaded sometunes, but you aren't completely satisfied with the quality orresponse. Or perhaps you're looking to journey into the new frontier ofinteractive music.
Good news: whatever your interest in boosting your audio presence onthe Web, this issue is designed to help. From “ConstructionSite,” which explains the absolute basics of how sound movesaround the Net, to “Special Delivery,” a step-by-steprecipe for building your own music site, this section strives to coverthe topic from all sides. In the two-wrongs-don't-make-a-site category,you'll find the articles peppered with tips from other artists on whatto do (and what to avoid) if you want to attract and keep fansonline.
IF THE BENEFITS, WEAR IT
The advantages of having your music on a global jukebox areundeniable. You'll enjoy low-cost promotion and distribution, a moredirect connection with listeners, and a “demo tape” that'salways cued up. Think of how many times you've met someone who wants orneeds to hear your music — isn't it always when you've just runout of CDs? In those situations, it's frequently too awkward and timeconsuming to ask the person for a mailing address, but it's easy to jotdown your URL. The savings in time, postage, and plastic coasters makethe online approach even sweeter.
To take another example, people are leery of buying things theycan't try out. If you're selling an original CD, posting previews of iton a Web site is an effective way to put potential buyers at ease. Youmay also find that the skills you pick up by building a site can easilyturn into a significant source of side income. (Handy for the gearjunkie in everyone!)
Finally, having a site shows that you're serious about your music,and it also can be fun. Upload a few grooves from your songs and letvisitors rearrange them or suggest new directions for you. After all,the Internet has always been about accelerating the flow of ideas.
Although putting your music online may seem like a giant leap, itreally just involves a series of small steps. So pick the topic thatinterests you, flip to the appropriate page, and get ready to blastoff.
ANIMATE YOUR MUSIC
Posting audio files on the Web is a great start, but why not giveyour visitors something to look at as well? Dave O'Neal —composer, sound designer, and animator for 8Legged Entertainment'sDeep Fried, Live! (www.8legged.com) — did just that and foundthe process synergistic. He composed the music in the animation programMacromedia Flash.
“In our ‘King Prawn’ episode, there were severalsegments that called for a spacey, sci-fi soundtrack that musicallyhighlighted events in the show,” O'Neal says. “So Irecorded some creepy ambience; string swells; abrupt piano chords; andeerie, wandering piano lines. Then, I imported them intoFlash. As I built the scene graphically, I used the musicalelements to articulate actions on screen, such as the confusedexpressions of the octopus chef or the surprise arrival of a giganticradioactive shrimp. All the sounds were set to stream, soFlash mixed them to a single audio track as the movie waspublished. The result was a creepy soundtrack nicely integrated intothe scene.”
“To reduce bandwidth, some sites automatically convert yourmusic to mono when you submit it,” says Kevin Hammer, Webmasterfor the Music Technology Learning Center (www.mtlc.net). “So after you've finished yourmix, listen to it once again in mono to check for phase cancellation orother problems.”
Hammer, who's in the band Infinity Minus One (www.infinityminusone.com), also recommends beingless subtle with your mixes when mastering for the Web. “Somesubtleties that might sound great on a CD or a high bit-rate MP3 eitherget lost or just sound bad when converted to a streaming format,”he says. “For example, sounds in the very upper and lowerregisters will often disappear. Don't spend a lot of time creating verydelicate textures in these regions, because they probably won't beheard by the listener.”
Hammer also recommends being conservative with effects when mixing.“Some sound cards add reverb to audio playback by default,”he says, “so if your song has a lot of reverb on it already, thismight put it over the top.”
ALONG CAME A SNYDER
Musician, producer, and novelist Keith Snyder (www.mp3.com/keithsnyder) has helped a variety ofartists get online. He offers this advice: “Tap into a hardcoregenre audience. My opera artist, Kathleen Haaversen (www.mp3.com/haaversen), gets more downloads thanall of my more experimental and pop-oriented artists combined. Thelistens are much steadier, too — no volatile flash-in-the-pandownload patterns.”
Snyder also recommends doing theme events that you can promote toe-mail lists outside your music one. “My two most successfulMP3.com projects have been A Criminal Record [music and voicecollaborations with mystery writers] and The Ship That Lies at theBottom [spoken-word pieces about an old ship in New YorkCity],” he says. Although it would have been inappropriate to asksubscribers to a literature list to check out his music, it wasperfectly fine to entice them to his MP3.com page to hear recordings ofdramatic readings. Once there, they couldn't help but notice the musictracks.
“I hate those oh-so-clever Flash intros, and I even do musicfor them!” says BJ Leiderman (www.bjleiderman.com), the award-winning composer ofthemes for National Public Radio's Morning Edition, WeekendEdition, and Marketplace. “All they do is put moretime between you and the information you want. Before you animate yoursplash screen, ask yourself exactly how it will enhance your site; ifit's necessary; and most important, are you doing it because all of theother sites are doing it? That's a great reason to opt out, in myopinion.
“If you must Flash,” Leiderman continues, “havemercy on visitors without a broadband connection and keep the file sizedown.” When asked to name a good Flash site, Leiderman mentionswww.stratum.net/espresso/flash.html. “I likeit because it syncs so well with the animation and lends an air ofimportance to the site,” he says. “Effective Flash musicadds something to the animation; it isn't simply something to listen towhile the animation is going on. That's what radio is for.”
SCREAMING MP3s FOR FREE
Emmy-nominated sound editor Skip Adams runs Global Graffiti, aproduction-music service for TV, film, and radio. “Most peopledon't realize that they can stream MP3 files from their own Web sitejust like MP3.com does,” Adams says. “What's more, youdon't need a special server or software.”
By using heavy data compression, Adams creates MP3s that streamreliably over 28.8 kbps modems. He encodes the files at 16 kbps, 11 kHzmono. “In terms of sound quality, you won't notice a hugedifference between these files and their somewhat largercousins,” he says. “Better to stream than dream.” Asa service to EM readers, Adams has put a streaming MP3tutorial on a secret page of his site, www.globalgraffiti.com/demo.htm. Click the 16 kbpslink and see what you think.
“First gratify, then mystify,” advises Emily Bezar (www.emilybezar.com), a singer and keyboardist whohas released three haunting albums of jazzy, electric songs on her ownlabel, DemiVox. “Remember that for people without fastconnections, the Web is like an encyclopedia with leaden pages. Don'tmake them hunt through three levels of Flash animation for your music.Have an obvious link to your sound files on the home page.”
To maintain a sense of mystery, Bezar recommends not playing all ofyour cards — with sound or with visuals. “One or twopictures of you is enough to intrigue,” she says. “Don'tgive away your favorite composition.”
Vocalist and composer Amy X Neuburg heads the “electronicavant-cabaret” ensemble Amy X Neuburg and Men. When designing hersite (www.isproductions.com/amy), she tried to think likea potential fan. “Even with DSL, I don't have the patience todownload entire MP3 songs just to get a taste of what someone is upto,” she says, “so I suggest offering quicker options. Onmy page, I only include short segments in RealAudio, with links to myMP3 songs at MP3 service sites. That saves time for the surfer and getsthe point across. I'm assuming most people won't necessarily want tohear all five minutes of a song just to get an idea of what my music islike; my site is basically for promo. So I pick my favorite 30 secondsor minute and post just that. That also allows me to use my allottedserver space more efficiently. I can post lots of short segmentsinstead of just a few long ones.”
JOIN THE RING
If your music falls into a category that other people might share,consider joining or even starting a Webring. Rings are maintained byusers (called RingMasters) and provide a link for like-mindedindividuals to find others of their ilk. You can find a list of manycurrent rings at http://dir.webring.yahoo.com/rw?d=Music and getinformation about starting your own at http://edit.webring.yahoo.com/h/create_ring.html.
A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT
“New artists selling music through their Web sites might wantto consider programs like Amazon.com Advantage,” says Jon Holland(www.jonholland.com), composer of numerousvideo-game scores, including Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness(Dreamcast/N64/PlayStation) and Vectorman (Sega Genesis). “Youcan place a link to your Amazon.com page on your personal site'sordering page, allowing customers to purchase your CD through Amazonfor peace of mind.”
Selling through Amazon also lets you tap into that mammoth site'spowerful referral engine, which directs visitors to your music whenthey browse similar albums. Better, you're paid 45 percent of theretail price you set, even though Amazon sells your CD for a“discount” price.
Holland expects to finish his debut album later this year but hasalready had success promoting it. MP3.com visitors have played demosfrom the disc more than 59,000 times, and scarcely a week goes bywithout a fan writing to ask when the album will be available. In themeantime, MP3.com's Payback for Playback program sends Holland moneyevery time one of his songs is clicked on.