Tag Archives: online audio

Online audio – Music & audio libraries

Now that we’ve talked about freely available internet radio and podcasts, let’s start looking at your music and audio – the stuff you’ve downloaded or copied from your CDs.

What Is It?

Not too long ago, your personal audio library – the recordings you owned – might have included vinyl records, magnetic 8-track or cassette tapes, or laser-decoded compact discs (CDs). You usually kept these storage devices on a shelf, organized by title, by artist or by genre. You might even have had the same album in three different formats at one time or another.

Since the invention of the mp3 file format in the 1990s, music listeners have been moving away from physical recordings to all-digital music libraries. Music is stored on a computer or a device just like any other computer file, usually in MP3, AAC or WMA format.

Digital music libraries began as folders on the computer, organized like other files of documents or images. In 2001, Apple released iTunes for Mac computers and the iPod, a portable audio player (and in 2003, the iTunes Store and the music industry has never been the same. Now, music lovers are able to easily buy albums or individual songs, quickly share music over the internet, and take their entire music collections with them wherever they go.

The latest change in personal music libraries is streaming (remember streaming?). Music files are stored on your own computer, but you can also securely access that music over the internet or from a mobile device. Now, no matter how big or small your collection is, you can have it all with you all the time. We’ll discuss this feature in our next Learning for Life Online post on music “in the cloud.”

How Is It Useful?

Why digital? The obvious answer is that owning digital audio takes up no space in your home – no more shelves of records, tapes or CDs. Also, by syncing your personal media player to your library, you can bring most of your collection with you on a single device – no more lugging around a bag of cassettes or CDs! However, it’s the flexibility of having your music in digital format that’s really exciting.

Music library software is designed to make it easy to get, store and organize your music, not just by the album but by each individual song. You can put all of your music into a single collection and then sort by artist, album title, song title, genre, time, date added or dozens of other details. You can easily add and remove songs from playlists you create, use the search bar to find specific songs or artists, or randomly play anything in your library. In the newer programs, you can see album cover art and (in iTunes) have the computer Genius create playlists that show off your music in interesting ways.

iTunes is the most well-known music library software out there, but there are others: MediaMonkey, Helium Music Manager, JetAudio and MusicBee (for Windows only) are just a few. Most of these programs work on either Windows or Mac computers, and will cooperate with many of the mp3 players on the market.

Try It Out

If you already have a music library program like iTunes on your computer, poke around in it and try something beyond clicking Play. Create a playlist and add items to it, change the details you can use to sort your music, or add star ratings or descriptive comments to a song. This is your music library – customize it to work the way you want it to.

In our next, last post in the online audio series, we’ll look at purchasing music and moving it “to the cloud” – what that is and what it means. Stay tuned….

Help & Resources

Music Library Programs

General Audio File Information

Online Audio – Internet Radio

How Is It Useful?

I’m answering this question first this week because the answer is simple: internet radio takes all the ease of listening of broadcast radio and brings it to any device you have. Most of the time, you just visit a website and click Play; sometimes, you need to create an account first.

Whether you’re in an office, at home, or working in a shop, internet radio provides an easy way to play music or listen to talk radio in the background during your day. Having it on a computer or portable device makes it easy to interact with, change stations, and get additional information about what you’re listening to.

Finally, what makes internet radio more useful than listening to audio you own is finding new things to listen to. Just like traditional radio, internet radio stations help you discover different bands, singers or ideas. Unlike traditional radio, there are millions of songs and stations out there to find out there.

What Is It?

Internet radio is precisely that: a radio station playing over an internet connection. You use a web browser or mobile app to get to the station or service and just start listening.

By 2011, most traditional radio stations (such as NPR, WFNX and Magic 106.7) are also broadcasting online. Try to find your favorite station online, or see the Help & Resources section below for ways to find stations across the US and around the world. International internet radio helps people visiting or living in other countries keep up with news back home.

Radio Paradise is one of the giants of internet-only radio, providing commercial-free, listener-supported alternative music radio over the web. While you’re listening, you can browse through a playlist of current and prior tracks, chat in discussion forums and read additional information about featured artists.

Magnatune provides access to the music of independent artists around the world. You can listen on a song-by-song basis, but the genre mixes let you discover new music in styles you enjoy. Here’s the World Music, Classical and Hip Hop mixes to try.

LastFM works in several different ways. From the Music tab, you can browse popular hits, listen to genres of music, or search for a specific artist or song. The Radio tab creates a station for you based on an artist you request, which you can change and update however you want. From the Community tab, you contribute to the service by “scrobbling” the music you like. You don’t need to register with last.fm just to listen, but you do for the other features.

Pandora is a free online service powered by The Music Genome Project. First, you create an account and ‘seed’ a radio station with music you like. As your station plays, Pandora adds other music related to what you chose. You can give each song a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, move it to a more appropriate station, or find out why Pandora suggested the song. Over time, you fine-tune your own stations and discover tons of new music.

Recently released in the United States, Spotify combines internet radio – continuous streams of music, easy search, quick links to more information, recommendations based on what you’ve listened to, easy sharing – with the ability to listen to all of the music in your personal mp3 library as well. Truly a 21st century radio service. Note: Since Spotify is still new in the US, you need to sign up to get an invitation. But don’t worry – they’re making good on those invites. Update: No more invitations needed, just sign up!

Try It Out

Try one of the services above, or use a search engine listed below to find a radio station that interests you. Or, if you already listen to a station, go to that station’s website and find their online version.

Help & Resources

Online Audio – Podcasts

Unlike online video and photos, online audio comes in a few different forms. We’ll look at each of them in the next few weeks of Learning for Life Online.

What Is It?

Podcasts are audio broadcasts used to spread the word across the social web. Podcasts are created by professionals, amateurs or anyone with access to a computer and a microphone, and can be on any topic under the sun.

What makes podcasts different is that new podcasts usually come out daily or weekly, with a changing topic or guest speaker. You can subscribe to podcasts through a service like iTunes or through your RSS feed reader, or listen to the cast directly at its site.

As a note, podcasts are different than streaming audio or internet radio. Podcasts have distinct starting and ending points, while streaming audio flows like a river of sound. Our next post will discuss streaming audio online.

How Is It Useful?

Podcasts are a great way to get news updates, to listen to a weekly show, and keep your music updated and fresh. Most importantly, once you’ve subscribed to a podcast, it comes to you automatically as it comes out – you don’t need to keep going and getting the latest episode yourself.

One of the most natural podcast sources is radio. NPR’s podcast directory is a testament to the continuing appeal of well-created audio-only news and entertainment. Find other sources of radio podcasts at PublicRadioFan.com or using your favorite search engine.

Speaking of radio, have you ever heard of live radio dramas? Before television, these terrifying or hysterically funny shows were audio-only entertainment on radio stations around the world, full of special sound effects and live music. Thanks to the internet, they’ve made a comeback in the form of podcasts. Local to Boston, the Post Meridian Radio Players bring live radio drama to the air with its science fiction series The Mask of Inanna and its stage and studio horror performances of Tomes of Terror and p.m..

Other podcasts from traditional media include Nature magazine, the New York Times, PodMed (the Johns Hopkins Medicine News Roundup), C-Span, BusinessWeek and Sesame Street!

If you enjoy running for exercise or for fun, check out the Podrunner podcats from DJ Steve Boyett. These weekly podcasts feature free music mixes for an hour of workout time, either for running or interval training. You can subscribe to Podrunner directly through iTunes or another service, or use the new iPhone/iTouch app to get to the music directly.

Try It Out

How do you find all of these podcasts?

  • Ask friends, family or coworkers to recommend podcasts about topics you have in common.
  • See if your favorite news/entertainment/educational station has podcasts available on its website.
  • If you use iTunes, just click on the Podcasts tab in the iTunes Store to find thousands of possibilities.
  • Search a podcast directory site such as Podcast Alley, Podcast Bunker or Podcast.com to look for podcasts on particular subjects.
  • If all that fails, use your favorite search engine to look for “a subject of your choice” AND “podcast” and you’ll turn up more results than you’d thought possible. For instance, check out a podcast on hockey, knitting or travel.

Help & Resources