Making Sound

etting sounds from a tape, record, CD player, or microphone onto your computer requires not only sound itself, but a number of applications and equipment, including:

  • Computer Equipment,including connectors and sound cards.

  • Sound-processing software that allows you to play, compress and edit your sound files, and:

  • A sound source.

Computer Equipment
To create your own digital audio files, you’ll need a way to get sounds into your computer. Obviously you’ll need a computer. But not just any computer, you need an audio/video equipped Mac or a PC with a sound card, and you’ll need connectors to plug into your computer from your stereo or sound source. You’ll also need at least 8 mb of RAM, and applications to play, compress, and edit your sound, as well as speakers, so you can hear the sound.

A good sound system to start off with is one that includes a microphone, a MIDI instrument source, speakers, a sound card, and a computer with a CD-Rom drive.

Connectors
If you have a Mac 68040s or 486 Windows machine or higher, you most likely have audio in and out connections on your computer.

Determine what type of audio-in connection your computer has (most of them use standard mini plugs?the same plugs that most cassette decks use) by looking at the back of your computer console. Power Macs have built in analog audio jacks which use mini phone jacks, which also use mini plugs.

Check what kind of audio-out connection your tape recorder or other sound source has (usually an 1/8″ mini plug) as well.

Once you’ve found your audio connection and your stereo, you need to purchase a wire that connects the two together. This wire is called a patch cord, and you can purchase one at Radio Shack or a similar electronics store. You plug this wire or connector into the audio out socket on your computer sound card.

Computer speakers are attached to the speaker outlet on the back of your computer with a mini-plug as well.

Sound Card
If your PC computer doesn’t have an audio input, you’ll need to buy a sound card that has stereo in, stereo out, and mic in connection. Sound cards use form synthesis or wavetable synthesis to translate digital data into analog sound, so you can “see” the sound wave on a graphical editing program.

Scads of sound cards exist; before purchasing a sound card, think about what type of sound you’ll be creating and find the one that best suits your needs.

Two good choices for sound cards are the Guillemot Maxi sound Pro 64, which is designed for musicians and gamers, and offers many options for creating sound effects?and the Sound Blaster from Creative Labs which is one of the most popular sound cards.

When purchasing a sound card, make sure you choose one that supports MIDI. Most of them do, but there are still a few that don’t. MIDI support is a feature you’ll need if you’re serious about sound and it gives you the option of creating and listening to MIDI as well as audio, files.

Interface Cards
To create professional-sounding sound for a corporate home page or a musician’s Web site, you might consider getting a professional audio interface card. These cards allow cleaner signals with a greater frequency response. In other words, your sound will sound better. Interface cards connect into NuBus, PCI or TDM slots in the back of your computer. NuBus, PCI and TDM slots are all buses. A bus is an apparatus that helps the computer transmit data from one part of a computer to another, from an outside source (such as a speaker) to the computer.

Microphones
Macs and some PCs are shipped with a small microphone. Although the microphone that comes with a computer works fine, you won’t get professional-sounding sound with it. You may hear crackling noises with a cheaper microphone?similar to the sound you hear when the antenna falls off your TV.

You can purchase a microphone at an electronics store for under $30. These microphones certainly won’t give you studio quality sound, but you’ll get decent sound, and studio quality microphones can cost up to $2000.

Sound-Processing Software

Audio Players
Some computers come with audio players. Audio players are applications that allow you to listen to sound files.

You can easily determine whether or not you have an audio player by double-clicking or opening up a sound file. If you have an audio player, it will open and the sound will play.

You can also check to see if you have an audio or “Media” player in a Windows-based PC by searching under Program Accessories, and then under Entertainment. In a Macintosh, check for the Apple CD Audio Player, or another sound application, within the Apple Menu. The Apple CD Audio Player only plays music CDs inserted into the CD-Rom and isn’t the true audio player needed for work with sound for Web sites.

Graphical Audio Editors
Graphical Audio Editors allow you to slice, dice, mix around, speed up or slow down the sound. We discuss the editing process in greater detail in the Editing section.

Graphical Audio Editors visually display the waveform of the audio file.

In the graphical representation of sound waves, the horizontal access represents time?the length of the sound clip. The vertical access represents the volume of the sound. Higher peaks indicate louder sounds. You can change the sound by visually manipulating the sound waves with this type of editor.

Compression Applications
Compression applications condense sound files so you can use them over the Web. Sounds work very much like images over the Web; the larger the sound file the longer it will take to download. Compressing files naturally takes away some of the quality of sound, but without compression it could take more than 40 minutes for a 10-second clip of music to download. Geo is a sound compression technology designed specifically for Web use, so it might be a good choice.

Sound Source
Before you start editing and recording sound, you need a sound source. You can choose to make your own sound, download the sound, purchase a CD-Rom or hire someone to create the sound for you.

If you make your own sound, you’ll need some additional equipment:

  • A MIDI instrument, such as a MIDI keyboard or a built-in MIDI instrument on your computer. Many newer computers include some sort of instrument set, which contains representations of actual sounds from instruments such as a clarinet or a piano. You can obtain any sort of sound, including sound effects, from an instrument set, such as a MIDI keyboard or guitar, an audio card or QuickTime 3.0. If there isn’t some kind of sound source on your computer, you’ll need to get one. Since QuickTime 3.0 is a free download, and it contains a General MIDI instrument set, it might be a good choice. However, you can get better sounds and more flexibility with an audio card, it’ll just cost more.

  • A MIDI recoding device that turns physical MIDI instruments into MIDI files. You simply attach a MIDI device onto an actual instrument, such as a flute, and record the sound from that instrument as a digital file.

How to Find Sound

Whether you make sound yourself, hire someone to create your sound for you, purchase a sound CD or download sounds from a Web site; finding that perfect sound source is one of the most important steps in the process of adding audio to your site.

Creating Sound Yourself
If you opt to create your own sound, you’ll have complete control over what type of sound is used, and how it’ll sound. You can make your sounds as simple or as complex as you’d like. You can simply record your dog barking into the microphone attached to your computer, or tape-record your baby laughing. Creating sound-effects is as simple as recording the crashing of pans or the squeal of your teenager’s car coming up the drive.

While creating your own sound can save you time, you may sacrifice quality in the process. More than likely, your audio equipment isn’t the top of the line. Using basic equipment can mean more static or distortion in your sound.

Unless you’re a musician, you may not naturally “hear” which sounds work best with others. Consider the type of Web site you’re creating before creating your own sound, and be sure that the sound helps convey the message you’re trying to get across in your Web site.

Before you create sound yourself, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it a simple sound?
  • Do you want to learn how to make sound and have complete control over the process?
  • Can you use lower-quality sound for your Web site?
  • Are you already a sound professional?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, creating sound yourself may the way to go.

Hire Someone
Hiring a professional musician, sound master or voice-over actor may be the best option for obtaining professional-sounding sound. Sound experts know which sounds work best for what context, and they’re trained in the art of creating “clean” sound. When a sound master records sound or music, he or she knows how to avoid distortion and background noises. As an added plus, when you hire someone, you virtually guarantee that you’re getting original sounds.

Another benefit to hiring a professional is that he or she may compress and edit their own sound files–which means all you need to do is insert those files into your site.

But hiring a professional can get expensive and can be a time-consuming process. It’s a matter of what your looking for with the sound on your site.

Purchasing Sound Files
Audio CDs are a rich source for sounds and music, but you need to be careful about copyright issues. If you’d like to use one of your own CDs, you need to have permission from the composer to use his or her music. Technically the performers all have to get a share too. Agencies like ASCAP and BMI act as watchdogs for musicians and artists. Although it’s unlikely you’ll get sued by one of those organizations, you shouldn’t take the risk.

Several companies create license-free CDs with prerecorded music or sound effects. You can get them in various formats and often in a choice of sample rates and resolutions.

Similar to purchasing graphical art CDs, when you purchase digital audio CDs from a CD manufacturer, you obtain the clips royalty-free. Although this eliminates the possibly you’ll be sued for using those sounds, if the disk is popular, the sounds on your site may be on many other sites as well.

Downloading Sounds
There are many sites where you can download or buy MIDI or Audio files on the Web. Many of these sites offer illegal sound clips. Finding sound clips on the Web is very easy–simply do a search for sound clips, and you’ll be directed to many different Web pages. Just be sure that you can legally use these sound clips before putting them on your site.

The Classical Midi Archives is a good site for obtaining MIDI files. Classical music isn’t always copyright-free. Even though music over 80 years old is considered public domain, many modern performers of classical music own the copyright to their creations.

How To Create Sound

Creating sounds involves four steps: deciding whether to save your sound as MIDI or audio, creating the MIDI or recording the audio, editing the sound, and saving the sound.

Choosing your Sound Format
MIDI is typically used to play music. MIDI files contain instructions about how to play musical notes and which instruments play those notes. How a MIDI file sounds on a reader’s computer depends on the quality of their MIDI interpreter.

Audio files contain recordings of actual sounds. When you speak into a microphone, you create an audio file. Audio files work well for recording voice and sound effects.

MIDI
Saving sound files as MIDI files is often a good choice when you’re looking for quality sound with the smallest file size possible. To make a MIDI file, it helps if you know a little about music or can play an instrument. You have to have MIDI software that gives the computer instructions about things like what notes to play, how long to hold them and what sound should be used. You also need some instrument source.

Most MIDI software lets you create several parts or tracks. Tracks refer to the different parts of the music. A bass part would be a track, and a saxophone part would be another track.

When using MIDI software, you choose the instrument sound you like or simply play the notes you’d like to use for your first track. If you’re using a sound source such as the QuickTime instrument set or Beatnik sounds from your sequencing software, you can choose notes using your computer keypad and assign each note a length. If you have a MIDI instrument, you can just play the sound and record it to the track.

You can download many MIDI arrangements of all kinds of songs. Just be sure that you have the right to use them on your page since it’s illegal to use a copywritten song without permission.

If you want to try your hand at playing and arranging your own songs using MIDI or Beatnik files, and you have a sound card or QuickTime 2.5 or later on your computer, you can download freeware or shareware MIDI sequencing software.

Freeware and shareware programs are often a little difficult to use and you won’t have as much control for sound manipulation as you would with professional sequencer programs you purchase. But if you decide that you like playing with MIDI after experimenting with MIDI software you can obtain a MIDI synthesizer or two, and use some of the advanced features you’ll find on these applications.

Digital Audio
To create your own digital audio files, you’ll need a way to get sounds into your computer. Power Macs have built in analog audio jacks which use mini phone jacks (the little 1/8″ kind of plugs that most cassette decks use). This will provide a decent audio input, but for higher quality professional sounding audio, you can buy audio cards.

The easiest way to get a sound into your computer is to download some audio from the net or get a CD-ROM with .wav or .aif files on it. All you need is a computer with a CD drive. Fortunately, there are many such CDs and internet sites with all kinds of interesting and effective sounds and music that you can purchase or download?just be sure that you have the right to use them on a Web page without paying a fee or royalties. Copyright and royalty information is almost always included in the documentation or on the CD itself.

Recording from a CD
Recording from a CD is a simple process, which could explain why so many people simply use CDs they own for sound on their Web sites. You simply pop your CD into the CD-Rom drive on your computer, and use the “Record from CD-Rom” function on your sound-editing software to capture the sound you’d like.

The first step is to find the recording preferences in your dialog box and set it to 11 thousand or 22 thousand samples per second. Although more samples-per second, such as 44.1 thousand samples per second, give you a higher-quality sound, the files take too long to download over the Internet. You can always save your files under different samples-per-second, and test each one to see which one gives you the best sound-quality at the smallest size.

Recording from a Microphone
To make a recording from real life, you have two options: record directly into your computer to create a digital file, or record onto a tape recorder and then transfer it to your computer. In either case, you’ll need a microphone, and you’ll need to use your Macintosh’s Sound Manager or your PC’s sound card’s software.

Talk, sing or play into the microphone and set the sound levels. Be careful of the meter on your sound software going into the red zone?this indicates distortion of your sound files, which creates loud, harsh and unpleasant noise.

Of course if you’re constructing the Pulpy Palace of Punk Pain site you might want your sound to sound loud, harsh or unpleasant. But under most circumstances you’ll want to avoid distortion.

Try not to get too close to the microphone when you are recording and that you’re in a quiet environment without much background noise. Being too close can create distortion.

One of the issues with recording directly into a microphone connected to the computer is computer noise. Internal computer noises, such as the computer fan, can interfere with your sound. You can use a long cord or blankets to stifle the noise that your computer makes.

Once you’ve recorded your sound, check to see how it sounds. If you hear distracting background noise, re-record and set the recording level on the computer or tape recorder level and get closer to the microphone. If you hear distortion, re-record after you set the recording level down and move away from the microphone.

Keep experimenting with recording levels and moving closer and further away from the microphone until you hear the sound you want.

After you’ve recorded your sounds from a CD, or from real life, you need to decide which format you’d like to save your sound as. Some of the more popular formats include: wav, aif or aiff, au and ea.

  • WAV is Microsoft’s audio format of choice. Since Windows 3.1, WAV has been the native format for sound within the Windows environment . Needless to say, this makes it one of the most common sound formats on the Web. Most browsers support the .wav format with their internal sound players.

  • AIF is a audio format that was developed by Apple Computer. Most recent browsers, including Microsoft IE and Netscape Navigator, will play an aif file using the browser’s built-in sound player.

  • AU is one of the most common audio formats used on the Web. It was created by Sun Microsystems and is sometimes referred to as “audio/basic” format. Most browsers support the au format with their internal sound players.

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