[ No. 1 - Nov 1996 ]
The Internet Audio Column
In the old days -- a phrase those familiar with Internet audio use
when referring to anything that happened more then six months ago
-- we used to settle for basic sonic legibility. Right this
second, when the gap between hot Web audio news and complete
obsolescence is thinner than the frequency response of your first
cassette demo, a spirited handful of Internet audio tools are
available to casual and professional musicians alike. Yes, now
there are several ways to make that sick phone message your old
bandmate left (you know, the one that proves once and for all that
he's nuts) accessible on your homepage for the entire planet to
Though it's cool beyond counting, why would you want to bother with
the ridiculously slow learning curve, the often-shoddy sound
quality and the choosing of an appropriate application which then
runs away from you as fast as you can say "Liquid Audio"?
Because we say so. And you have to listen to us because we're
right here, in the cathode-lined trenches of a new monthly column
about audio on the Internet. We'll cover every node on the World
Wide Web's sonic spectrum. Production, encoding, digitizing,
listening, playback, decoding and more. We'll tell you what's new,
what's useful and what's usable for the recording environment you
use now, not some filtered-air, oxygen-free, gold-cabled orbiting
facility carefully licked out of Unobtainium by dwarves.
Raise your hand if you've patiently downloaded an audio file and
opened it, only to find that it's become an incomprehensible text
document seemingly lifted from the pages of an Advice to the
Lovelorn UNIX Jockey. We'll have no more of that. The World Wide
Web of the Internet is a stunning resource for the independent
musician. It's time to take advantage of it.
Here's a quick chronology from the dawn of time to now. And now.
And now again...
- In 1991, Sun-AU(Ulaw) audio reigned supreme. It was 8bit, mono,
rather large and sounded like a telephone call from a bus depot in
Southern Chile, but all types of computers could make and play it.
At this point the majority of those lucky enough to have modems at
home are at 2400 baud.
- 1993 saw AIFF and WAV picking up a bit in popularity but the
files were still too large (read: took too long to download.) The
average home dialup rate is now up to 14.4k baud as the Web starts
really kicking in visibility and use.
- By 1994, MPEG audio picked up, thanks in part to the well
documented explosion of the Web in mainstream media. Internet
Underground Music Archive (IUMA) puts up lots of worthwhile content
for people to listen to. People and corporations make players and
encoders and generally raise the public's awareness about sound
quality. MPEG offered high compression (meaning smaller files and
quicker download times) and very good sound quality (scaleable from
FM mono to near-CD quality,) but the music business hadn't quite
gotten the message yet and industry support was low. There were
AU, AIFF and WAV audio formats supported by many standard programs
for Windows, Mac and UNIX machines. CU-SeeMe and MBONE included
audio, but still sounded like a telephone.
- Now we arrive at the "new school" of audio on the net. In
1995, RealAudio and Xing Streamworks make a big mark by opening up
'streaming' audio (though again at rather poor quality) to users
without having to wait for the entire soundfile to download first.
By 1996 RealAudio and Xing have come out with new versions of their
software with better quality and features and Macromedia's
Shockwave Audio is released.
Come back to the present: Liquid Audio arrives in November, 1996,
aimed as more of a distribution system and includes superior
quality audio (updated Dolby AC3 algorithms.) The hype about audio
on the Internet is hitting a peak, major corporations are throwing
huge sums of money into securing their market share, and the times,
they are ever a-changin'.
There are some interesting midi-based solutions available as well
but they are not necessarily useful for traditionally recorded
So here's what else you have to look forward to in this column,
presented in an entertaining and easily-digestible format:
We'll give a succinct rundown of "the web," "the internet," "the
browser," what it means to "publish on the internet" and what
things like "external applications" and "browser plugins" are.
We'll provide explanations of the various technologies and their
usefulness. We'll show you how to implement them. We'll run down
the levels of complexity used to create playback and why.
We'll explain RealAudio version 3.0 and talk about their
proprietary codecs and new licensing deal with Dolby Labs. We'll
talk about Xing; how its creation tools vary, and its good
low-level support for the encoding of files. You'll discover the
hidden truth: that it requires a server to play streams back.
We'll discuss Shockwave Audio. Until just the other week it could
only create from the Mac but now Windows users can leap into the
breach. We'll talk about the hardware requirements to run the
Shockwave plug-in for Netscape or MSIE. We'll even tell you what
MSIE is. We'll look at Liquid Audio which is unlaunched at this
time and remains to be heard.
There will be many examples of situations where you may want to use
music on the net and practical applications to perform those
functions. From getting your music heard and promoting your band
independently to sending music live on the Internet via netcasts,
webcasts and cybercasts we will provide information on how to do it
quick and clean.
How much will it cost? How long will it take to become conversant
with it? Is there any technical support? Where can I get it and
how? And, of course, the one question often overlooked in the
blinding hurricane of hype: How does it sound?
We want you to get involved in the creation of the Web. It's not a
fad and it's not going to go away. See you next month!
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