Four major issues that you need to think about when working with audio are: whether to use self-contained or streaming audio, whether to require or avoid plug-ins for sound playback,ensuring that your files are yours to use and balancing quality with file size.
Self-Contained Audio vs. Streaming Audio
- Self-contained audio files are files that do not require any additional applications to play the sound. They're friendlier to load, because the site visitor doesn't have to do anything or run off and attempt to find the right plug-in. But if it's a large audio file, the page will take forever to loadand the user won't hear anything until the whole page has loaded.
- Data streaming allows users to play audio (and video) files before they're completely downloaded. Part of the audio file is downloaded before the rest, which means that visitors to your site have something to entertain them while your graphics and text is loading. A drawback to many streaming audio technologies is that they require a plug-in.
Plug-in vs. No Plug-in?
Streaming audio would be a better option if it didn't require users to download a plug-in. Plug-ins are a serious pain. Most browsers come with plug-ins already enabled for playing MID, WAV, AIF, AU and other formats.
And depending on who your audience is, as low as five percent of your users may have the plug-in required. After seeing a warning message that says, "you must have a plug-in to view this page," many visitors will go elsewhere.
Whether or not you use a plug-in depends on your audience and the type of Web site you're building. Plug-ins can allow you to play higher resolution sound files, and music can be downloaded faster, but if the user doesn't have the plug-in, they might not go and get it just to listen to your site. That's why it's important to know your audience before you use specific plug-ins. If your audience is on an Intranet, you know whether everyone has a specific plug-in. Otherwise, you're risking people going elsewhere.
Check out and download some popular Plug-ins.
The basic rule about copyright issues is this: Don't steal someone elses' music.
Sure, you own that U2 CD, but that doesn't mean you can put a few songs from it on your Web site and not expect any negative consequences, like being sued. You need to get permission from the artist or the record company, and if they tell you to use only 10 seconds from a certain song, that's what you'll do. We'll discuss copyright issues in more detail later, but just remember: if you didn't create it yourself, or pay someone to create it for you, you don't have all the rights to it.
Sound takes up a lot of bandwidth, or space. Unless you want your visitors to wait 30 minutes or more to hear a single sound, you need to compress your sound files before you put them up on your Web site. That's why we said there are two major issues regarding file size: balancing file size and file quality. Waiting around for sound is about as fun as going to the dentist. Keep your files as small as possible while still keeping a decent sound quality. Your visitors will thank you.