The FezGuys
... 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 FezGuys!

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 information.

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 'em.

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 expense.

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 note.

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.

Letters To The FezGuys

Thanks, FezGuys

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.

Steve Orich

Dear Steve:

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.

The FezGuys

May the Fez be with you!

Please check out the FezGuys website: <>

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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