8.5. Creating a buzz: posting MP3 files to the Internet
Before we begin, here's an observation: very few MP3 files on the Internet have a right to be there. Original compositions and music or audio streams to which the person doing the posting holds the copyright are the only files that can be legally shared with others. Nevertheless, some readers of this book are musical artists looking to use the Internet as a distribution mechanism. It is also possible that you're creating an "Internet radio station" that will allow others to listen to your music without downloading it. This section is for those readers. It is not intended for people who simply want to encode their compact discs to MP3 and share their files with the world. Doing so is illegal and unethical (why would you want to rip off the artists you respect and like?), and we do not condone the practice. (See the sidebar "Copyright issues" earlier in this chapter.)
After you have successfully encoded and auditioned your MP3 files and are pleased with the quality, the next step is to make them available to other Internet users. Unlike other complex streaming formats that require specific posting methods and server configurations, such as RealAudio, Flash, or Liquid Audio, posting MP3 files is easy. Simply post the MP3 files just as you would any basic file, taking into account any legal or copyright issues, of course. A simple HREF tag is all you need to allow users to download MP3 files:
There may be one more step to consider -- web servers need to be configured for each new file type, so they can send proper header data to visiting browsers (which, in turn, use the data to launch appropriate helper applications or to know how to display the page). There's a good chance your web server (or your ISP's web server) is already set up with the proper MIME types. If the download doesn't behave as you expect it to, ask your system administrator to add the MIME types:
audio/x-mpeg .mpeg, .mpg, .mp3 audio/x-mpegurl .m3u
Note that other MIME types also are commonly used for MP3 files, but they are technically illegal. Make sure you're using audio/x-mpeg and not audio/mpeg. The server software may need to be restarted for the new MIME types to take effect. Consult your server software's documentation to see how to map MIME types to filename extensions if you're not sure how all of this works. There are dozens of servers for many different operating systems, and it would be impossible to give you blanket guidelines on MIME configuration here.
8.5.1. Creating your own MP3 site
Because it is so easy to post MP3 files and serve them to the Internet public, you may think that there is nothing else to do. However, there are a couple of considerations to take into account before building your MP3 site.
First of all, if you plan on hosting your own MP3 site, you may want to set up your own FTP server because of the increased control and security features it affords over HTTP. With an FTP server, you can limit the permissions and access that a user has to your database of MP3 files. For instance, you may wish to allow users to download only a certain number of files. Likewise, you may opt to use the strategy that many others have employed, which involves allowing so many downloads for every upload. The usual ratio is somewhere around three downloads allowed for every valid upload received. In this way, the size and depth of a site like this will continue to grow without the site creator being the sole entity responsible for adding new music. In this way, the site will become self-perpetuating by its very nature. Note, however, that while you control the files you contribute to the site and can make sure they're legal, it becomes quite difficult to check for and enforce the copyright legality of files contributed by others.
The main difference between hosting a web site and an FTP server is that an FTP server offers specific features to control access and upload/download permissions. There is a lot of information out there on setting up FTP server software. You'll find listings of other popular FTP sites at http://www.mp3.lycos.com and http://www.2look4.com. Another helpful web site, complete with FTP software and configuring information, can be found at http://www.jgaa.com.
Popular web and FTP server software for various operating systems are listed in Table 8-2 (search your favorite software library for these if they aren't included with your OS). Far more options are available than are listed here -- these are just some starting points.
Table 8-2. FTP and HTTP server software for different platforms
Once you have your MP3 files and/or FTP site ready for prime time, you can advertise and make them available to the world via some of the popular MP3 repositories. If you don't have the resources to host your own files and would like an excellent listing, register your original works with MP3.com. MP3 search engines such as Lycos (http://mp3.lycos.com) or 2look4 (http://www.2look4.com) are also excellent resources, featuring numerous MP3 files and FTP site listings. 2look4 even allows you to add your FTP site to its archive of MP3 sites. MP3now (http://www.mp3now.com) has a listing of the top 20 MP3 download sites. However, these sites list legal as well as illegal sites, and the success rate of finding MP3 files may be adversely affected since pirated illegal sites have a short lifespan. If you are looking for a more traditional record company persona, Emusic (formerly Good Noise), the Internet record company at http://www.emusic.com, may suit your needs. Emusic is one of the first online sites to offer MP3 files for purchase.
If you choose to create your own MP3 web site in order to promote your band's work, you may want to consider an alternative to normal MP3 downloads. Imagine, for instance, a web site for a garage band. If they simply post full-length, full-quality, 4.5 MB files of all their songs, they may not have many listeners. Who wants to download 4.5 megs of an unknown quantity? One alternative is to provide streaming files -- possibly RealAudio, Flash/Shockwave, or streaming MP3s -- so that users can start hearing the music as soon as the download begins. If they like what they hear, they can choose to download the full files. Another possibility is to put up samples of each track, say 20 seconds long, that will provide a high-quality sound bite of the band's music. Even though these MP3 files are small in comparison to the original files, they still require downloading time. For fast quality, simplicity, and quick access, consider streaming your MP3 files, a technology we'll cover in the next section.
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