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Chapter 1. The Art of Sound Design

This book is about adding audio to your web site. Why would you want to do that? Simply put, to enhance the user experience. If sound were not an integral part of the user experience, we'd still be sitting in silent-movie houses watching the likes of Gloria Swanson swoon and bat her eyelashes to convey a romantic interest, or Valentino beating his chest to show us the remorse of lost love. Instead, filmmakers learned to use audio technology to incorporate sound and music to transform the movie-going experience.

Just as sound and music in film and television help drive the audiences' emotions, you can provide a more engaging and compelling experience for your audience by adding audio to the text, graphics, and animation you've already developed for your site. The soundtrack of a film is often the element that makes us cry, sense fear, or feel the adrenaline of an exciting chase scene. A web soundtrack helps you communicate and connect with your audience by setting a mood that draws in visitors, makes them stay longer, helps them navigate easily using audio cues, and gives them occasion to return often. Take away the audio and you have a silent experience that is no more real or gripping than a postcard.

But while good use of sound attracts people to your web site, poor use of sound detracts from it. In fact, a badly designed soundtrack or poorly recorded audio clip may make your site sound unprofessional and even turn people away.

This chapter teaches you how to effectively use web audio to increase sales and customer satisfaction or simply how to make web content more interesting and engaging. We'll cover the basics of sound and digital audio, and show you how to apply the principles and techniques of film, television, and CD-ROM production to your site. The techniques and workarounds presented in this chapter will help you build a great web soundtrack for both low- and high-bandwidth sites and will point the way to the future where web audio rivals the quality and sophistication of film and television sound production.

1.1. A brief history of web audio

While audio is now commonplace on the web, it took the rise in commercial interest in the medium to generate the developments you see and hear today. Prior to events such as the initial public offering of Netscape in 1996, web sites were largely non-profit affairs with sparse, text-based pages and few, if any, graphical embellishments. The meteoric rise in commercial browser use created an almost clamorous demand for professional graphic designers with high-quality media production skills. In little time, huge numbers of web sites were transformed into polished corporate marketing brochures, and the once dry text pages of scientific journals were looking more like slick designer magazines.

But as much as the Web was improving in its graphic appeal, it remained a silent medium. The only audio content available other than MIDI were large .wav or .au files that took minutes or even hours to download before they could be played. The Web was far from an entertainment or broadcast medium.

In late 1996, RealNetworks broke through the silence with the intro duction of RealAudio, a monophonic streaming technology. RealAudio allowed users to click on a link and listen to audio "streaming" across the Internet. Since its inception, RealAudio has made huge advancements in its sound quality. Meanwhile, the competition in the web audio space continues to intensify with the introduction of another new technology, MP3 (see Chapter 8, "Playing, Serving, and Streaming MP3" for more information). Streaming MP3 can provide even higher quality audio over limited bandwidths.



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