... In Which The Artist Attempts To|
Reach An Audience Using That Internet Thingy
[ No. 5 - Mar 1997 ]
Things That Are New
We got ahold of some Liquid Audio beta software. Of course
it's Windows only. We can't tell you about it yet or some guys
from New York will remove our kneecaps. Quite specifically,
too. They said, simply, "We will remove your kneecaps." And
not any other portion of our anatomy either. Anyway, we
*really* promise to give you the rundown on LiquidAudio soon.
Look, would we lie to you? No, we wouldn't, because we're the
Last night Allen had a dream: I was in a large classroom like a gymnasium,
with high windows. I was taking a class in music. There was a table
up front for the instructor and student's tables scattered about. A
student could choose from stuff at the back of the room to make their
desk space with. Some had used speaker boxes and PA bins to create
walls around their areas. I had a small table with pads of paper and
pens and pencils, near the door. I thought to myself that if these
other students are surrounded by walls of boxes how can they possibly
pay attention? Then I woke up.
So here we all are, tacitly participating in our digital music
community and some of us are surrounding ourselves with walls. Nothing
gets in. Our speaker boxes are all pointed out.
This month's column is in two disparate portions. The first portion is
sociological rant. The second is what may turn out to be useful
We are part of a community, whether we like it or not, and everything
that any one of us does will affect others. The technology of the Web
is in its infancy. Rules are still in the "common sense" stage and
the pioneering spirit and frontier/improvisational attitude still make
a positive difference.
That said, what can one person (or a couple of friends with a server in
a back bedroom) do to enhance or improve their chances for grabbing the
attention of a fickle and bored fourteen-year-old with Mom's new
Pentium and ten free hours of AOL webfuscation? The answer is the same
as always: take an existing form, a recognized and accepted style, and
tweak or modernize it. Update the past for pop culture recognition in
the present. If you invent a genre out of whole cloth you will have to
wait until you are dead for acceptance. Why wait? Just kidding. Be
as outside as you want. As a matter of fact: please go outside as much
as you can. We need your help.
There is not, and has never been, any substitute for good music.
That's up to you. Advice concerning your creative process is not
advised. Since you're reading this column we'll assume that you are
interested in using this baby technology to get your sound heard. The
Web is another tool to get your musical message (such as it is) out
there. Right now that's what the Web is: a tool. A marketing and
promotions tool. Until we have widespread and simple systems for the retail
commerce of the music business the Web is a promotional tool. We are speaking
specifically about artists reaching an audience using readily available
technologies. This is now, not an airbrushed future. If you want to
wax poetic about the conceptualization of a virtually interactive
"someday" read Wired, mouth-foaming proselytizers that they are, bless
Luckily, just about anyone can use this real world promotional tool.
If you can have a band and/or make music, you can create a Web
presence. The means are not controlled by an oldboy oligarchy. Yet.
Rant done, let's drop back into geek mode: here's some tips for
improving the sound quality of your audio files as it relates specifically to
their use on the World Wide Web. Once again, the old rules apply here.
Keep it simple.
Ok. Let's geek out.
Always use the best quality source material. If it's choice between
using a third generation cassette and finding that damn DAT tape, look
for the DAT. That's a no-brainer.
Using high-quality recording equipment will go a long way to assuring
high-quality audio. For example, if you are recording the material
from scratch, the importance of good microphones cannot be stressed
enough. The old axiom goes that the two most important (and therefore
worthy of spending a lot of money on) links in the audio chain are
microphones and speakers. Like good tires on your car, it's worth the
Special thanks here go to the RealAudio "hints" section of their home
page for much useful info about how to optimize soundfiles for use on
the Web. The RealAudio "hints" page is at:
They recommend encoding files for placement on the Web from 16 bit
sound files. They also recommend using the 22050 sample rate.
Experiment for yourself to find what sounds the best. Try recording
some nothing. By recording silence you'll get to see just how much
noise is being built into your audio without your assitance. This is
very useful information for the recordist. Ask your dathead taper
friends about the elusive noise floor.
Set input levels as high as possible without clipping. Sometimes the
little red lights are merely mathematical values and have no real
relationship with the quality of sound. Listen for clipping. It's
unmistakeable through headphones. Experiment. After mixing in
headphones, listen at varying volumes with real speakers just to make
sure that your file is still sonically legible in a room .
The technology exists to do a lot of "after the fact" turd polishing on
a piece of source audio that doesn't sound good. There is, however, no
substitute (again) for doing it right the first time. If it's an
option, see to it that everything sounds good from the very first
You might want to try using a noise gate. They're supposed to cancel
background noise that jumps out when the primary signal stops for a
second. This explains that strange "pumping" sound when the source
material has gaps in the audio. It feels as if a door is opening and
closing really fast. It's disconcerting. You can hear it a lot on TV
and radio broadcasts. Anyway, it saves space because it suppresses any
signal below a certain level that you can set, and when you encode your
gated material as a file, the soundcard will not hear the gated sounds
and that means less information and a smaller, more manageable file.
A compressor is also very useful here. Remember audio and file
compression/decompression (or: "codecs") are two discrete
methodologies. Audio compression is used to balance out the overall
dynamic range of your soundfile. Naturally this makes it sound like
shit. That is to be expected. We are attempting to improve the
audibility of your file, not it's sound quality. We're suggesting
that you eliminate as much dynamic range as you can stomach. Remember,
we are dealing with the World Wide Web here. Today it is still a
rudimentary delivery system, regardless of where the wild-eyed
visionaries say it's going.
Equalization is another sharp implement in your toolbox. Try dumping
some highs and some lows. Are they really necessary when most playback
systems are a single speaker an inch and a half wide? More
specifically, all of the streaming audio codecs (remember that from
above?) don't make much use of those dynamic ranges when compressing
your song and you can help it out by removing them first. When
recording spoken word tweak your audio so that the only frequencies
being heard are the frequencies which contain the most sound. That's
going to be in the middle ranges. Some pieces sound distorted after
encoding because of too much unintelligeable bass information. Dump
it. You don't need it where you're going.
The last modification to be affected should be (if you are going to use
it at all) the Normalization filter. Please refer to FezGuys column
#4 for a brief description.
Thanks for your great columns. I've had my webpage up for months always
promising sounds in the "near future." Well, the near future has come,
thanks to your columns, and I'll have my sounds up this weekend.
Cool! Thanks for your letter sharing your progress with us!
We hope there are others out there like you who have found our
column helpful in jumping into these new waters.
May the Fez be with you!
Please check out the FezGuys website:
We welcome your comments.