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DR. WEBSITE: How To Post Music On the Web (and What to Watch Out For)

By David Fiedler and Scott Clark

Dear Dr. Website®: I want to create a site with some samples of music CDs. How should I go about doing that? Is there software that will help me convert a song (or part of it) into a digital format that the Web can support? Where can I find it? Do I need Java Applets or CGI scripts to put this into effect?

There are a number of aspects to your question: legal, ethical, and technical. You must recognize that unless you're discussing your own songs here (songs you wrote yourself and on which you play all the instruments and do all the singing), someone else owns the rights to the music, lyrics, performance, or all of the above. In the last case, you'll have to license the song in order to be absolutely legal.

There's a paper at the site of law firm McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen that will give you nightmares if you're thinking of cutting a few legal corners, but it will also give you some hints on how to proceed safely.

Now, assuming that you're going ahead, you'll first need a tool that will take an audio CD and capture part of it as digital data, so visit The Hit Squad and find the right tool for whatever platform you're on.

Once you've gotten your audio onto your computer, you'll find out why CDs only hold 74 minutes of music but 680 Mbytes of data: Good sound takes up a lot of space. Nobody sane is going to download a 5-Mbyte file to hear 30 seconds' worth of audio, so the secret is either to compress it, or to really compress it.

The closest thing to both a de facto audio standard and high-quality compression on the Web is RealAudio, and the site offers a free encoder. This program converts audio files to the compressed RealAudio .ram format.

Now, even though you can also get a free RealAudio server, what many people don't realize is that you don't have to go to the trouble of streaming RealAudio just to make music clips available. All you have to do is take your .ram file and present it as if it were any other type of media, such as a graphics file. For example:

 <a href="sounds/boogie.ram" >Listen to me boogie!</a> 
You will, however, have to set up your Web server to recognize RealAudio. This consists of associating .ram files with the MIME type x-pn-realaudio. And, of course, visitors must have the RealAudio player or plug-in correctly configured.

If you don't want to go to all this trouble, simply skip the encoding step, compress the heck out of your original audio file, and save it in formats suitable for both PC and Mac/Unix users (i.e., put .wav files in ZIP archives and .au files in StuffIt archives).

In either case, be sure to check out the multimedia resources at WebDeveloper.com.


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Keywords: multimedia
Date: 19970818

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