The FezGuys
The FezGuys MP3 Suggestion #471:
Evolve or Die - Become A Web-Ready Studio!
[ Feature - May 1999 ]

Psst! Want to make your studio more attractive than the one across the street? Consider offering your client a CD-R or Zip disk of their audio, encoded! Suddenly their music is Web-ready and can be uploaded onto the server of their choice. After all, it's 1999 and chances are very good you already have a computer with a Zip drive and/or a CD burner. When your client walks out of your studio with their finished standard Redbook CD master they can also be carrying Web-ready audio, in two formats: downloadable (near CD quality) and streaming. Here's the scoop that puts you ahead of the curve in the next wave of digital distribution.

Hardware Requirements:

For PC users, a reasonably fast CPU (233 MHz or faster preferable, 100MHz absolute minimum) is advised. For Mac users, a PowerPC is recommended. Regardless of the OS, 128MB of RAM is preferred though you can get by with a minimum of 64MB. Lots of disk space is mandatory. You don't want to run out of steam in mid-stream. The FezGuys suggest trying to keep at least 1 GB of disk space free at all times. This may require a minimum of 2 GB of disk space on your computer (measured AFTER all of the applications and OS are loaded). Also necessary are the above-mentioned CD burner and/or Zip drive.

Software requirements:

You need a fast, stable MP3 encoder and the RealProducer from RealNetworks. For the MP3 encoder, we recommend Xing's $35 AudioCatalyst MP3 encoder (go to: <>) (Mac/PC). The basic RealProducer can be downloaded for free from RealNetworks' web site (go to: <>). The FezGuys currently use the older RealEncoder 5, which is nice and stable. It's also free from RealNetworks' web site, though you have to dig around for it. For some reason known only to them, RealNetworks made it hard to list a simple URL to download it. The RealProducer supports batch encoding but the process can be simplified considerably by acquiring any of the third-party tools listed on their web site (prices vary).

The Process

After the final mix and mastering, burn a regular Redbook audio CD for your customer, as usual. Now leave that newly burned CD in your computer and, with AudioCatalyst open, rip all of the tracks to 128kbps MP3 files. The FezGuys recommend spending a few minutes entering the ID4 data (artist, album title, and individual song names) prior to encoding to MP3 files.

Since you're also going to make RealAudio streaming files of the music, now is the time to create the WAV files (if you are using Windows) or AIF files (for Mac users) from the master CD-R. Windows AudioCatalyst users can easily retain the uncompressed WAV audio files which will be used for encoding RealAudio. Macintosh AudioCatalyst 1.0 users will need to rip from the CD master to AIF files first, and then create their MP3 files from the AIF files. These uncompressed AIF audio files are what you will use to build RealAudio files. Performing this task now will take a little longer, but saves time by having the files ready to input into the RealProducer (or RealEncoder) later. It also makes more sense in our logical brains to grab the raw audio first and then encode to each format. It scales better because you can add other formats, or create 30-second samples from AIF/WAV files on your desktop without reading the data from CD again each time - your computer's hard disk is faster than your CD-ROM.

Back to MP3 creation- after filling in the ID4 data, and from within AudioCatalyst (or whichever MP3 encoder you choose), select all of the tracks and click: "Go!" Or: "Start." Or: "Get On With it, Already!" AudioCatalyst users can expect each MP3 track to take approximately one minute of encoding time per minute of audio (other MP3 encoders may vary considerably). Each MP3 file will take approximately 1MB of disk space for each minute of audio. A cup of coffee, a load of laundry (what self-respecting home project recording studio can possibly get by without an industrial grade, front-loading washer and gas dryer?) and some amusing conversation and voila!, the MP3 encoded files are now ready to copy onto another CD-R or Zip disk.

Tips and techniques about the use and usefulness of the Xing AudioCatalyst encoder are covered in great detail in the FezGuys columns #29 (Mar. '99) and #30 (Apr. '99), available anytime on the Web at: <>.

Now it's time to create streaming RealAudio versions of the songs. Use your RealProducer (or RealEncoder) with the WAV (or AIF for Macintosh users) files as source material. The FezGuys recommend that streaming files be provided in three handy bitrates: 28k (mono), 56k (also mono) and 128k or ISDN (stereo). This gives a listener the opportunity to experience sound quality in proportion to the speed they're connected to the Internet. The use and abuse of RealAudio encoding products is covered in loving detail in FezGuys columns #4 (Feb. '97) and #25 (Nov. '98) also available anytime at <>.

Your customer may also want 30-second song previews. Allow her to choose the segment she feels best represents what the song is about. Make a separate file of that segment, pulled from the previously saved WAV (or AIF) files, using your sound editor application (CoolEdit for Windows, SoundEdit16 for Macintosh, etc...). Don't forget to include fade-ins and fade-outs! It's the gloss that makes a web page shine. Then, from within your RealAudio encoder, open the file of that segment and encode. Use the same three bitrate settings you created for the complete songs earlier. Remember the 11th commandment! "Be Consistent."

When encoding for low streaming bitrates (28k and 56k), it's possible to get passable audio quality using your mastered CD as the source material. But if you're the type who likes to go the extra mile (and create listenable RealAudio files), then some kind of sonic optimization is called for. There are several choices. Waves ( is one of a variety of high quality software plug-ins. A basic compressor, equalizer and reverb plug-in pack runs about $100. The Cutting Edge ( is the Maserati of streaming audio optimization hardware. But at $3,800.00, it may be just a bit over the top for the project studio. A quick fix for improving sonic legibility is the built-in "normalize" feature in AudioCatalyst. (Note: the Macintosh version does not support this yet.) When using software plug-ins, open your WAV/AIF files and optimize them before creating RealAudio files. If you use outboard processing hardware such as the Omnia or even a basic compressor, you will need to digitize *all* of your audio as the first step, running it through the device before building your WAV/AIF fi les. Example: play the CD from a stock CD player, route it through your mixing c onsole through your hardware processor, and then send an input into your computer (and sound editor of choice).

By this point, you've got a hard drive full of MP3 and RealAudio files. Make sure to organize them in hierarchical folders in a sensible way. Now double-check their playability, there are few things worse than a CD-R full of corrupted sound files! Once you're satisfied, burn to CD-R or Zip disks. Your client has Internet-ready audio and all she needs is a page to place it.

Should you charge for this service? The FezGuys struggled with that one. Even batch-encoding audio files can be time consuming (potentially adding as much as one or more days to your work). The process and the payoff (or lack of it) may seem overly complex. Once up and running though, the process becomes merely a couple of clicks on your desktop and some down time on your computer. Maybe the appropriate way to go is to offer the basic complete song MP3 and RealAudio files for free, and charge a small fee to provide the 30-second streaming song samples. Optimizations of RealAudio low-bitrate encoded streaming files could be another add-on. This freebie might make your studio stand out from your competitors. If you find that your studio starts doing a lot of this kind of work (and you can't spare the processing power or the time) it's possible to outsource your encoding to a company like . It's as simple as Fed-exing them a CD and appropriate instructions (including track information and how you'd like to receive the encoded files).

The FezGuys invite you to consider that this process will soon become commonplace among studios for hire. So get cracking. Good luck and may the Fez be with you!



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. <>

©1996-2003 The FezGuys™