The FezGuys
[ 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 hear. Clearly.

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 analog material.

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!

Related Technology Sites

Shockwave Audio
Liquid Audio
Xing Streamworks
MPEG Audio

Related Content Sites

Addicted To Noise
The Mermen

We welcome your comments.



About the authors:

Jon Luini is a working technophile, a musician (bass player/singer) with full-blown facility and extensive experience on the Web and no free time. He is a co-founder of IUMA and MediaCast, co-creator of Addicted To Noise, and runs an Internet and music consulting and technology company, Chime Interactive (formerly Evolve Internet Solutions). <>

Allen Whitman is a working musician (bass player/singer/producer) with a keen, real-world interest in the practical use of the Web. Music credits include: The Mermen, "Brine-The Antisurf Soundtrack, biL, Deep Field South, Doormouse, Delectric and Drizzoletto. He has written for the San Francisco Examiner, Wired, EQ, Revolution, Yahoo Internet Life, Prosound News, Surround Professional, Replication News and others. <>

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