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Microphone Month 5

Put your music on your website without compromising audio quality!

The MP3 rage has dominated Internet file swapping for several years, and Apple has continued the frenzy with its iTunes and iPod-friendly AAC encoding, which is another extension of MPEG standards. But many musicians and groups feel their recordings suffer from the loss of dynamic range and frequency response that is built into MP3 and other “lossy” compression schemes. The trouble is, loading uncompressed AIFF or WAV files onto their websites takes up heaps of storage space and makes for server-clogging long downloads for their fans.

Many of these artists aren’t aware that other formats exist that reduce file size without losing audio fidelity. They are categorized as Lossless Audio Compression, and they promise file size reduction without any compromise in audio quality. There are several encoder/decoder programs available online that musicians can use to prepare music for lossless online audio posts.

The most common lossless audio program right now is Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC). FLAC has been around for a few years and can reduce the size of a typical audio file by about 50%. FLAC is currently employed by Metallica, Phish and Primus to make performance audio available on their websites. Visit http://www.livephish.com/show.asp?show=350 to see one example of FLAC in use.

How do you convert your audio files to FLAC?
The popularity of FLAC largely stems from its multiplatform support and the fact that its source code is actually free – licensed at no charge to any software developer who wants to write a FLAC-based music player. Dozens of FLAC encoders already exist – a check of http://flac.sourceforge.net/index.html, the codec developer’s website, lists more than 40 such programs.

How can your fans listen to FLAC files?
A little education and a few adjustments are necessary to get your listeners on the FLAC bandwagon. The quickest paths for Mac and Windows users follow:

BASIC DISCLAIMER: We’re about to describe some freeware and shareware applications that Sweetwater neither sells nor has tested. We are listing these programs for your reference only and do not offer software support or technical assistance for them.

Windows: FLAC files will play using WinAmp, a multi-format audio player, after you install the FLAC Plug-in from www.winamp.com/.

Macintosh OS X: Download and install MacFLAC from http://flac.sourceforge.net/download.html. Other OS X applications include Mplayer OS X from mplayerosx.sourceforge.net/ or VLC from http://www.videolan.org/.

Remember that a FLAC-encoded version of your 4-minute song still requires about 20-25MB of storage space, and that downloads are practical only for cable modem or other high-bandwidth users. Still, you can get out of the MP3 rut and offer your listeners a full-fidelity taste of your music!

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