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You've recently found the Stratocaster you had for your garage band in high school. Uncle Jed's banjo and strumming talent have been passed down to you. Puberty has ended, and your once-shrill voice has turned into an angelic, swooning lullaby-maker that you want the world to hear. Or maybe you've just been unsuccessful at getting your tape heard by recording executives who can't even tap along with chopsticks. Get even. Get heard. Get electronic. Get The Complete Idiot's Guide to MP3: Music on the Internet. This...
You've recently found the Stratocaster you had for your garage band in high school. Uncle Jed's banjo and strumming talent have been passed down to you. Puberty has ended, and your once-shrill voice has turned into an angelic, swooning lullaby-maker that you want the world to hear. Or maybe you've just been unsuccessful at getting your tape heard by recording executives who can't even tap along with chopsticks. Get even. Get heard. Get electronic. Get The Complete Idiot's Guide to MP3: Music on the Internet. This light-hearted guide not only shows you the best way to listen to countless artists and their tunes on the Internet, but also reveals the best ways to get your own opus on the market.
c Compressed Music: What It Is and Why You Want It
In This Chapter
* What is digital music?
* What is compressed digital music?
* What is MP3 and what can it do for you?
The Internet is huge, but until recently, it hadn't really been rocking. It's been a great way to get text, and a pretty good way to get pictures, but because our ears are really amazing organs, it was horrible at sending recorded music. Our ears hear very precisely and pick up lots of subtleties in sound, and we can tell if those subtleties aren't right. In order to fool our ears into believing that they are really hearing a band perform, a recording needs to be very precise. The recording needs to hold a lot of information about the original sound.
Information, in computer terms, takes up space. A clearly recorded song takes up a lot of space on a computer's hard drive. Sending that much information over the Internet takes a lot of time. Sending an hour-long CD-quality music recording over the Internet using a fast modem generally takes about a day and a half. In addition, you could probably store only a few of those recordings on your hard disk, even after deleting your copy of Space Bunny Blaster, WordMasher, and all those romantic emails from that geek you used to date.
MP3 Saves the Day!
All these limitations of online recorded music were true until folks devised a way to use a lot less information to re-create the sound. People now use a format called MP3 (I'll explain that weird namelater) to keep that clear, crisp recording sound—a format that uses about one twelfth as much disk space! Now you have room to keep lots of music on your disk without eliminating the evidence of your geek-dating background (although you may want to do that anyway). Downloading a song takes mere minutes. The Internet is suddenly useful to music fans and music makers.
So What Does MP3 Let Me Do Now?
All this talk about the wonders of compression and sharing your music with the world makes it sound like something from the 1930 World's Fair, telling you how nuclear-powered flying cars will make life a breeze in 1965. Plenty of people are predicting that MP3 is the future, but it's easy to overlook all the wonderful things it can do in the present.
Free Music: Two of My Favorite Words, Together
There are already tens of thousands of songs legally available for download on the Internet, free of charge. More are being added all the time. These songs range from rock to classical, folk to rap. They aren't hard to find, either; there are a number of popular sites that offer large music catalogs.
Much of the free, legal music that's out there is from new and unknown bands, which means that much of it might be somewhat overpriced at "free." However, there are some high-quality discoveries to be made. In addition, more and more established artists are distributing free MP3s to drum up publicity and fan response.
Sink Some Shillings into Some Sounds
There are also sites that let you download popular songs by well-known musicians for a small fee. This fee is much lower than the cost of a CD-single, if that song were even available as a single at the time you went to buy it; the fee is also cheaper still than buying an entire CD for the one song you like. (It's cheaper yet than hiring the famous artist to hang around your house and perform the song whenever you want, although admittedly not nearly so cool.)
At this point, the number of songs available for commercial download is fairly small—at least when compared to the amount of songs available on CDs. However, it has been growing and will likely continue to do so as the music business works out ways to make selling downloadable songs profitable.
The Shu-Bop Heard `Round the World
If you're a music maker, the MP3 revolution is your chance to get your music to the people. It used to be that to get your music heard, you either had to travel around and perform publicly or find a way to get your music on the radio. If you turn your song into an MP3 file, however, you can put it onto the Internet, where thousands of people a day can download and listen to it.
Turning your recordings into MP3s is easy. Once you've done that, you can upload it to major MP3 Web sites, where others can download it. Not only do the sites not charge for this service, some will also provide free Web space to promote your band, or even help you sell a CD of the recordings you've made.
Even if you're just looking to send the music to one person, emailing your MP3 files means that your music will arrive quickly and sound clear as a bell when received.
Make PC Stand for Polyphonic Collection
If your PC is equipped with the proper sort of CD-ROM drive (and most modern PCs are), you can take tracks from your favorite CDs, compress them into MP3 files, and store them on your hard drive along with all your downloaded MP3s. You'll be able to listen to those through your PC speakers.
"So what? If I wanted to hear the songs on that CD, I'd just play that CD," you mutter. The difference? When that CD is over, you have to go and put on another, and then another, and then another. You also have to suffer through the songs you don't like. Even if you have one of those big CD jukebox things with a randomize setting, you end up hearing all the wrong music at all the wrong times. It's good, but it's not ideal.
If you have all those songs on your hard disk, there's no need to switch CDs! Better yet, you can easily make and store separate playlists (lists of songs you want to hear) for different moods. You can have one playlist that tells your MP3-playing software to play only upbeat songs (to pull you out of a bad mood) and another playlist full of nasty and harsh songs (if you want to fully enjoy wallowing in a bad mood).
Portable Player Power
Those MP3 songs don't have to stay on your computer. There are portable MP3 players that let you bring the music with you, and they can do things for you that your CD player never could.
With an all-electronic MP3 player, you can download an hour or so of your favorite music from your PC and carry it with you. These players have no moving parts, which gives them three big advantages over portable CD and cassette players:
* They go through a lot fewer batteries. A good MP3 player will use one battery in the same time that a CD player uses four.
* They're lighter, which is important if you jog.
* They're immune to the problems caused by shaking and jostling. Shake a CD player and the music will skip. Shake a cassette player and the music will tend to screech. Shake an all-electronic MP3 player, and your a arm eventually grows tired.
If your PC has a CD-R (CD recorder) drive, you're ready to take advantage of a different sort of MP3 player. A CD-based MP3 player looks like a standard portable CD player; in fact, it will play standard CDs. The player also can read MP3-compressed songs from CD-ROMs. Those CD-ROMs can store around 12 hours of music. (Standard CDs store about 74 minutes.) By making your own MP3 CD-ROMs, you can carry around your entire Beatles collection on a single disk, your entire Wu-Tang Clan collection on another. You can even make a disk with all of the Starland Vocal Band's greatest hits and still have 11 hours and 56 minutes worth of other music!
But I Heard MP3s Were Evil and Cause Warts!
There have been a lot of negative stories in the media lately about MP3. The record industry has come out attacking this format. If it's just a simple and high-quality way to compress music, what's all the fuss about?
The problem (as the record companies see it) is that it's too simple and too high-quality.
A lot of people have been purchasing CDs, making MP3s out of the songs, and illegally sharing those files online with people who have not paid for the music. The record industry fears that people who would otherwise have bought the CDs are instead listening to these illegal MP3 copies. Performers don't make any money from the illegal copies. Worse yet (in record industry eyes), the record companies don't make any money.
Of course, illegally duplicating music is nothing new. The record industry hasn't just been going after the illegal copiers, however. They've been going after MP3 altogether, through attacks in the media and in the courtroom.
Later in this book, we'll discuss the legal and ethical implications of MP3s and talk about how you can use them legally.
What Is Digitally Compressed Music, Anyway?
Music for Mathematicians
Deep inside, computers only really deal with numbers. If you want to find a way for a computer to deal with a word, a picture, or anything else, you have to find a way to convert that thing into a series of numbers. For example, when a computer is dealing with words, it's using a special code, in which the letter a is 32, the letter b is 33, and so on.
Sound is not naturally made up of numbers. Sound is actually a very small vibrating motion (called a sound wave) that is carried through the air. That vibrating motion shakes your eardrum, and that's how you pick up sound. A microphone is just a device that turns that air bounce into an electrical vibration that heads down the microphone cord. Speakers work the other way, turning vibrating electricity into vibrating air.
Turning sound into numbers is called digitizing. A computer keeps checking that sound, repeatedly measuring how high the bounce is. By stringing together these measurements (called samples), the computer records the path of that bounce. How exact the re-creation of the vibration is depends on how precise each measurement is and how frequently the measurement is taken. For example, sound measurement on a CD (which was the first popular form of digitally recorded sound) takes over 44 thousand samples per second—each sample can be any of 65,536 different heights. As if that isn't enough, it's doing that all twice, to record separate sounds for the left and right ears and thus make stereo. Sure is a good thing we have computers to do the work because it would take a long time to figure that all out by hand!
When the recording is stored on a CD or as an uncompressed computer recording (called a WAV—pronounced wave—file), the file just has a list of the value of each sample. You can easily understand how all those thousands of samples add up to a lot of information very quickly.
Your ears are amazing things. In addition to helping keep your sunglasses from falling into your soup, they can also hear precisely enough that they don't get fooled easily. Thousands of sound samples per second are needed to fool the ear. At least, that's true for part of the sound.
For other parts of the sound, though, the ear is not so precise. It doesn't recognize all of the information that's in an uncompressed file. If that information isn't being used, why bother saving it? That's where a lot of the compression takes place: getting rid of sound information you can't hear.
Another aspect of MP3 compression is that the vibration of sound goes up and down in certain shapes. Just as you can't step down 100 feet with one step and then up 100 feet with the next (unless you have pogo shoes!), a series of samples can't bounce quickly between the highest and lowest possible measurement. Instead, the sound moves smoothly from level to level. The compression can record the shape of the sound more efficiently than recording the height of every single point along the curve.
Stereo offers another place to use less information. An uncompressed digital recording stores separate full recordings for each ear. The two recordings are very similar. MP3 uses less information space by keeping one main recording, and then keeping track of how the sound differs from ear to ear.
Finally, MP3 saves space by keeping track of repeating information. If the same number is repeated 10,000 times in a row in an uncompressed file, all that information is stored on the disk. It's kind of like telling someone to get to the store by saying "walk one block north, then another block north, then another block north, then another block north...." When the MP3 compressor sees repeated information, it counts the repetitions and stores the information, as well as how many times it repeats ("walk 10 blocks north").
Squishing Sound to Death
When we say that compressed MP3 music sounds are as good as uncompressed music, we're talking about the best qualities of MP3 compression. You can use MP3 to compress different amounts. Even if you have a complex sound specifically chosen so that the ear could detect any loss in sound quality, you can compress that sound to one-sixth of its original size and still have a re-creation so perfect that your ears can't tell the difference. With standard music, you can compress down to one-tenth the space and it will sound like CD-quality to most people (although they might be able to tell the difference if they carefully compare the compressed version to the uncompressed version).
Things get a little trickier if you want to compress a sound even further than that. Compressing it that much will lose some of the information, and there will be an audible difference in quality. It's kind of like how they take coffee and turn it into instant coffee—when you turn it back into coffee, it still looks and tastes and smells like coffee. It just doesn't look and taste and smell like good coffee.
You see, in order to save space, the compressing program starts throwing away some of the vital information of the sound. The notes just won't sound as crisp or as clear. It will sound less like a CD and more like listening to the same music over an FM radio. Compress it more, and it sounds like an AM radio. Compress it even more, and it sounds like it's coming out of an old See 'n Say toy. Still, highly compressed sound can be good for things that don't need high-quality recording, such as books on tape or audio letters from Aunt Martha.
|Part 1: What the Heck Is MP3, Anyway?||5|
|1 Compressed Music: What It Is and Why You Want It||7|
|2 MP3: A Compressed History||15|
|Part 2: Getting and Playing MP3s||23|
|3 Installing and Using MP3 Player Software||25|
|4 Where to Get `Em and How to Download 'Em||55|
|5 Portable MP3 Devices and Other Hardware||75|
|Part 3: Making MP3s||97|
|6 Rippin' Good Music||99|
|8 Sound Squishing||117|
|9 Spreading Your Sound Around: Distributing Your MP3s||133|
|10 Band of Gold||149|
|Part 4: Music Police 3: MP3 and the Law||157|
|11 Making Money from MP3s When You Aren't a Musician||159|
|12 Pirates, Legal Troubles, and Big Business||167|
|13 Permission for Distribution||177|
|14 Compressed Successes||189|
|Appendix A: MP3 Musicians: Their Music and Opinions||195|
|Afterword: The Future of MP3||265|