Audio QuickStart: Steps for Using Sound

teps for Using Sound
There are three steps to consider when you think about adding audio to your site:

First, how will you create the sound? Before you add a sound element, that element needs to be created or found, and edited, compressed, or otherwise packaged for your use.

Second, how will you distribute the sound? You’ll be incorporating the sound into your Web site, but through what method? Will you be offering a directly-embedded audio file or will you use a streaming method of distribution and will you require an audio server?

Finally, how will your readers play the sound? Will your readers have what they need to play the sound? Will their platforms support it? Will they need to download a special plug-in before they can hear it?

All three factors impact the way audio enhances?or detracts?from your site. Give some thought to these issues before you begin to add audio elements to the page.

Step 1: Making Sound
The sounds you hear on a Web site don’t just happen spontaneously. Someone created them or pulled them off a sound clip collection. Or, too often on the Web, someone “borrowed” sounds that belong to someone else. (Please, don’t use sounds that don’t belong to you!)

The creation of sound is somewhat analogous to the creation of graphics. At one end of the scale, it is a simple process that anyone can do. For some uses, a simple sound recording program and your computer’s microphone might be all you need to capture the perfect coo of your newborn.

At the other end of the scale are professional recordings of your a capella chorus in full throat; for best effect, these audio files will be created by audio experts with high quality sound recording and editing devices.

You’ll also want to save the audio files in a format that best matches the type of sound and your audience’s capabilities.

Creation issues you should consider:

  • Quality of recording
  • Type of editing needed
  • Best file format to use
  • Size of file
  • Compression options for making the file size smaller

Step 2: Distributing Sound
So now that you’ve got your sound files, you need to decide how to get them from your server to your reader’s screen.

There are two basic options:

Downloading sound. For smaller sound files, downloading is a perfect match. The embedded sound files move from your server to your reader’s browser. In addition, your server won’t need any special audio software.

Streaming sound. For longer files, many people select a streaming technology. In a streaming technology, the sound begins to play as soon as the reader’s browser encounters it. Many streaming technologies require that your server have special audio software installed and running.

Distribution issues you should consider:

  • Downloading sound
  • Streaming sound
  • Options for embedding sounds

Step 3: Playing Back Sound
The final step in the sound cycle is the user experience?how will the reader play and listen to your audio files?

There are dozens of different options, but they fall into two basic categories:

Options that don’t require a plug-in. A plug-in is an extra piece of software that readers must download separately in order to hear the sound. Many people consider plug-ins to be something of a pain, especially if they are for an application the reader doesn’t use all the time.

Options that do require a plug-in. The plug-in players offer benefits, especially in certain circumstances. For example, they typically offer better sound quality because they are designed to explictly to play sound. In addition, most streaming options are plug-in based. If you are in an Intranet environment, you may know that your readers all have a certain plug-in installed as part of the standard supported environment. Or, if you are offering music as your core content readers will likely expect they’ll need a plug-in to experience your site. If these are the case, then a plug-in solution may be your best bet.

Playback issues you should consider:

  • What is required for my reader to listen to the audio?
  • Plug-ins or no plug-ins?
  • If plug-ins, which ones and why?
  • What sort of environment is my reader likely to be in?

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