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Audio Basics

This section provides some basic background information for adding sound to your site.


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ach of the following sub-sections concentrates on a specific aspect of sound, helping you understand sound terminology, decide what type of sound or sounds you'd like to put on your site, and what types of formats to consider.

You don't need to follow these sections in order, but if you've never heard of the term "sample rate," (don't worry, neither did we) you may want to check out all of these sections at least once.

  • Thinking About Sound is an overview of how sound can enhance your site, and what things you need to consider before working with sound.

  • Sounding Off introduces the various types of sound: sound effects, voice and musical instruments.


  • Concepts discusses the bare bones of audio. Get ready to make sense of all those strange terms and foreign concepts.

  • Formats discusses the strengths and weaknesses of different formats.

  • Audio Issues discusses issues surrounding online sound and what they mean to you and your Web site.

Thinking About Sound
Add sound to your Web pages, and add a whole new dimension. Think about sound as a part of your Web site; it should harmonize with all the other aspects of your page, and it should enhance your page.

Adding sound to Web sites involves a three step process: authoring, distribution and playback. Authoring is the process of creating audio sound files. Distributing is the process of incorporating the sound into your site, and delivering the whole package to your readers. Playback is using the site and hearing the sounds in context.

Authoring
Think about how you're going to get your sound. Some people create their own sound. Some people use recorded sound clips, which are somewhat like graphical clip art. Sometimes, you'll hire a composer to create sounds for you.

As you think about the best way for you to get your sound, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you going to create the sound yourself? Depending on what type of sound you'd like to use, you may want a professional to create it for you. If you'd like to use music on your site, consider using a composer instead of creating it on your own. Musicians have an ear for what type of music works with what. Unless you're a musician, (and that doesn't include just singing in the shower every morning) you might want to consider an outside source. But you can easily create feedback sounds or sound effects yourself. You can even tape record your dog barking for a unique sound effect.

    Creating sound yourself can be more economical than hiring a contractor or purchasing sounds from a sound disc, and it means your sounds are yours. You'll have original sounds you know won't be anywhere else.

    But you risk having a less "professional" sounding page, or not having the sounds match the rest of your site when you create sound yourself. You also need to think about whether you have the time to create sounds from scratch.

  • Are you going to purchase sound clips from a CD-ROM? If you'd like to have neat sound effects, like blips and bleeps, going with a CD is sometimes the best choice—you'll have plenty of cool sounds to choose from.

    Buying sounds from a CD may be your fastest choice—call a 1-800 number and get the CD the next day—and may be the best choice for a tight deadline.

    But, purchasing sounds from a sound disc is similar to purchasing graphic clip art. If the disc is popular, you, and many other people may be using the same sounds for your sites. Purchasing sound from a disc can also be expensive (again, very similar to purchasing graphic clip art). Also think about your budget, your time requirements and whether you want original sounds before purchasing a sound CD.

  • Are you going to hire a musician or audio master to create the sound for you? This may be your best choice if you'd like original music or sounds on your site (unless you're a composer as well). It also may be the best choice for professional sounding voice-overs for a company training manual, or an online "tour." Voice actors, sound experts and professional recording make a difference in how your site sounds.

    However, using a professional can get expensive, and you need to consider how long it'll take the musician to create the sound, test it out and make sure it works with your site. Always think about your budget and your time requirements when choosing sound.

Distributing Sound
Now that you have your sound, its time to put it into your HTML page and get it out to your readers. There are several different methods for embedding sound into your Web pages; we'll go into these later.

When inserting audio into your site, you'll follow many of the same rules as you would with inserting graphics:

  • Avoid large file sizes. The larger the file, the longer it takes to download. Sure, it might sound great, but if the file is huge, who's going to stick around to listen to it?

  • Avoid having sound overkill. Sound works best when used well and in a way that is appropriate to your site. Sound is just one element among many, including design and content in your site.

When determining how much sound and what type of sound you'd like to use on your site, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What's the purpose of sound on the site? Is it a corporate homepage or a rock band's site? You need to consider the message of your site, and chose sound accordingly.

  • What kind of connections and equipment does your target audience have? If you're working on an intranet, you'll know what connection, browser and plug-ins your audience has. Otherwise, you need to adapt your site for different browsers, connection speeds, and provide access to any specific plug-ins you're using.

  • How long are the site visitors willing to wait for the download? If you're building a site for a rock band, the fans might be willing to wait a while for sound; but people searching for information unrelated to sound may get annoyed with long waits.

  • What physical environment is the reader in? If your reader is at work, make sure you tailor the type of sound to that environment, which may mean very little or at least quiet, sound.

Next you need to consider the type of site you're working on. Is it a professional site? A homepage? Is the design and content conservative, or cutting-edge? Match your sound for the type of site you're building. Having loud clips of techno music for a corporate site may not be what that company had in mind.

Playback
Once you have sound on your site, think about how your reader is going to play it back.

  • Will they mouseover a word and automatically hear the sound? This is an effective technique for providing immediate blurbs of sound and instant effect.
  • Or will you provide a pop-up box that contains sound controls—so your users can play, stop, pause, rewind, fast-forward or change the volume of the sound? Think about where and how big the pop-up boxes, if any, will appear. Providing a pop-up box is a good idea since it allows your readers to have complete control over the sound. This can eliminate embarrassing situations at work, or prevent someone from leaving your site because they dislike the sound.

  • Are you going to use a plug-in or a default player for playing back the sound? If you're using a plug-in, provide a means (that is, a link to the download site) for your users to get the plug-in. Will you use a built-in plug-in, one that both Netscape and Internet Explorer support? Many readers dislike having to go elsewhere to obtain a plug-in before they view a Web site.

When controlling sound on your page, remember to make the playing-back experience as simple as possible for your users.





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