Want to encode your own mp3's for internet distribution? Learn to get the best sound from the smallest file here.
With .mp3 hype ruling the day these days I figured it was about time we covered the basic of making and using .mp3 just in case there are some newbies out there that don't know exactly what they are, or how they can benefit your mission of becoming music stars...
.mp3 files are much under fire for the same reason that they are loved by others. They provide (in some people's opinion, not mine persoanlly) a great sound quality, with a very small file size. The reason they are such a forbidden fruit to many is because of this small file size they are easy to post on the internet, and quick to download, which in turn means that piracy is an obvious outcome. This ticks of the artists and labels who get screwed out of their royalties from there music, even though everyone has it. I digress, however, and will not get into that debate, the purpose of this column is to educate musicians on how this technology can be used to help promote themselves on the internet.
The upside for us little guys is the same as the downside is for the big guys. .mp3 makes it easy for us to get our music out there and get heard, and since most of us don't pay the bills and feed our families with music wages, the concern of people taking our music by the handfuls is more atractive then a threat.
Any band that has a website has an obvious reason for wanting some music in .mp3. They can put it out there for all to hear, even if you don't want your music ripped off, you can still put a section of a song to give people examples of your work.
The Encoding Process
There are several tools out there that can encode .mp3, arguably, the most common being Audio Catalyst, now owned and developed by MixMan. Also, most mastering programs such as WaveLab, SoundForge, Cool Edit and others have .mp3 export features, or addons that will do it. For the purpose of this simple introduction to encoding I will use Audio Catalyst as an example, all the settings and such will apply to any program, you would just find them in different places in the apps.
There is really not much to encoding, essentially you just set a bit rate for your encoding (128kbps is typical), fill in some ID tag parameters and go. Before going on let me cover this a little deeper. Since many of you are into the digital recording realm currently, bit rate should be a pretty easy concept to grasp...the higher the bit rate, the more accurate and rich the sound of the finished product...simple enough. The ID tags are simply some information that is encoded into the file to state the artists name, song name, copyright information and such stuff like that. When you open your .mp3 player and you open a file in it have you seen how it says the artists name, album name, etc? This information is extracted from these ID tags. Therefore, if you want full credit and visibility from your work, be sure to fill those out, most programs will encode without it, so it won't warn you before encoding!
To take songs off of any demo CD is easy with Audio Catalyst, that's what it was actually made for in the first place...just put a CD in your drive and open the program, it will then list out the tracks on your CD and you just check the ones you want to encode, check the "mp3" button and click "Grab". Audio Catalyst does all the rest...Audio Catalyst also provides customizing functions to allow you to set if you want the tracks all automatically checked by default, or if you want none of them checked, you can also by default check the mp3 button and the normalize button. The normalizing I don't think particularily good, but it is better than nothing at all. By default it normalizes to 98%, I prefer to normalize right to the top, but, hey, it beats a sharp stick in the eye, right?
Also, clicking on the mp3 or normalize button will bring up a dialog to edit the settings of these features. With Audio Catalyst you don't have to rip to mp3, you can just extract a CD song to wav if thats all you want to do.
This is the general dialog under the settings menu, here you set the way you want files named...by artists, song name or track number, where you want the files put and what hardware you wish to use if you have more than 1 CD-Rom or soundcard. You set the speed at which it ripped and encodes, the silence before and after songs and a couple misc. other settings. Most of these work fine left at the default settings. Just for fun, tho, you can change them and try a rip and see what you get, maybe some of them will help you get a better sound...never hurts to try, right?
The ID3 dialog you get to from the settings menu, here you enter into the encoding of the file your band name, song name, album name, copyright information or any other information you wish to label your mp3's with to mark them as your own.
Now how easy is that? So get going, start making your .mp3's and get your self distributed on the internet NOW!
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