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Online Music- May Drown Your Message?

By Larisa Thomason, NetMechanic, Inc.
Wednesday, March 24, 2004; 3:30pm EST

Online Music by itself isn't controversial: virtually everyone likes to hear or perform it. But they like to choose when, where, and what to listen to. A Web site is rarely the ideal presentation method. Visitors may just tune out if music is turned on.

MIDI Makes It Possible

MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a method for storing music in a small amount of space. That space-saving feature tempted many webmasters to include MIDI files on their sites. During the mid to late-1990's, it seemed that virtually every Web site had a song to sing - and sing they did.

What was once cool soon fell out of favor. But now, visitors are experiencing the return of music to Web sites, this time combined with Flash animations and other interactive media. Designers also have the option of including music in different formats too: WAV files or MP3s are the most common.

It's also possible to convert WAV files to MP3 format or convert MP3 format into WAV files.

Problems With Music

Not everyone is pleased with music's resurging popularity on Web sites. The reasons vary, so consider each issue carefully for the good of your Web site.

  • Increased download time. Remember that not everyone has a high-bandwidth Internet connection. An MP3 song file that loads in 14 seconds over a T1 line will take 10 minutes or longer to download on a 56k connection. How much patience do your visitors have? Check page download time using HTML Toolbox's Load Time Check tool. It will alert you to slow-loading pages that may annoy impatient visitors.

  • Broken record effect. In a laudable effort to decrease music file size, many designers play just a snippet of a song instead of the entire work. So if visitors remain at your page for long, they hear the same section played over and over. If you're old enough to remember vinyl records, you'll flashback to a time when your favorite LP got a scratch and stereo repeated the same few bars until you intervened - sometimes forcefully. Web site visitors "intervene" by leaving your site, vowing never to return.

  • High bandwidth usage. Of course, you can't compensate for the broken record effect by using a larger musical selection. That annoys visitors with long download time. Just as important, it may really annoy your Web host! Most virtual hosting accounts include a set amount of bandwidth per month. Sites that exceed the limit get charged extra hosting fees and may be taken down.

  • Music tastes differ. Don't ignore the importance of this one! You may think it's the best tune around, but visitors may consider it about as appealing as the sound of a good, rousing cat fight. There's no way to please everybody. Choose your selection carefully and know your target audience!

  • Copyright infringement. Unless you wrote and recorded the music yourself, you need to be very careful about including it on your site. Using music without permission hurts the artist who produced it and may violate your Web host's terms of service.

    If caught, the best resolution is that you'll have to remove the music. But you could lose your hosting account or even end up in court for violating someone's copyright.

Your Site May Need Music

Still interested in playing music on your site? Good! Some sites actually need it and benefit from it.

  • When you're selling music. Visitors expect to be able to sample the product before they buy. Most online music sites allow shoppers to listen to snippets of songs before they decide to purchase. People know they'll have to wait for the clips to download, so size isn't such a big issue.

  • When you're selling your talent. If you're a professional musician or singer looking for work, you should always showcase your talents with musical clips - just make sure you're actually the one performing! That way, when people contact you, you know they're seriously interested because they understand what you have to offer.

Give Visitors A Choice

Even if your site requires music, be kind to your visitors and don't play it automatically when the page loads. Let them choose when to listen.

People surfing while on the job will be particularly grateful. Lots of people work in cubicles where privacy is non-existent. Sites that open with blaring music annoy co-workers and may get the hapless employee in trouble. Other visitors may already be listening to an audio CD on their computer. They won't enjoy the resulting cacophony when your tunes compete with their personal selection.

Include prominent buttons that clearly indicate how to turn music on and off. That gives your visitors control over their own experience at your site. They'll appreciate it and you won't waste precious bandwidth just to irritate your visitors.

About Source of Article
The author of this article is Larisa Thomason, Senior Web Analyst with NetMechanic, Inc. NetMechanic is an online service specializing in html code checking, search engine optimization and web site maintenance and promotion. For more information visit http://www.netmechanic.com/.


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