Introduction to web audio

Creating audio content for the web is like producing a radio broadcast but with some key differences:

  • It’s cheaper
  • You need very little equipment
  • You don’t have to do it live

Types of audio content

Some sites stream background music as soon as a visitor opens the home page

This can work quite well for music-based sites such as Myspace, where you hear a track from a band as soon as you visit their page.

Here, a site selling background music uses music to display its wares.

But sometimes it works very badly – as in this case [Oops, broken link – will try to update].

Other audio is generally in the form of a podcast – which is more like a conventional radio broadcast – either a music show, or talk-based.

Embedded or downloadable?

Most of the podcasts discussed on this page are embedded in web pages – but some have a link to an audio file that needs to be downloaded. This one is an interview at a technology conference.

Podcasts: one person…?

Sci-fi author John Scalzi made a very simple podcast by recording himself on his PC using an internet microphone. There’s just him and his voice and nothing else. It’s spectacularly boring – unless you are a fan and want to hear him answer his readers’ questions. Even then, it’s not appointment radio. But it’s interesting because he used Twitter to quickly get a range of questions in from his readers, then used a podcast to answer them and post them on his blog for the readers to hear. In all, it probably took no more than a couple of hours from his first call for questions to putting the podcast online (it took 35 minutes to get the questions in). He then advertised the podcast on both Twitter and his blog. It’s a good use of social media as a journalistic tool. But you need to have an existing audience to make this work.

…or two?

This one from Econtalk.org is a simple chat format with two or more people, either together in a simple studio, or connected by phone.

The topic is dry (economics), but the fact that you have two people talking helps. Note the lack of anything other than voice in this podcast.

Add music

Here’s what happens if you take this format and add some more sound effects and music. These are podcasts from science-fiction publisher Tor. They generally feature a two-hander interview, but also include a jazzed up beginning with music. This helps it seem more professional, more lively, and also gives it some brand identity (like a radio jingle).

Team talk

Add in another person and you get something like a real radio show. This one is a news and reviews show for mobile phone dealers and distributors.

Going on location

Because it’s much easier, most podcasts are made indoors next to a PC. But sometimes people go on location to record outside. For example, the nature-based Wiggly Podcast 0174 went outside to the Wiggly team pond to report on how the frogspawn was doing. It’s surprisingly atmospheric hearing the live ambience of the wildlife.

Add visuals to complete the package

The Geekly Weekly is made by and for geeks about comics, sci-fi, video games and technology. It uses sound effects, music and input from several contributors to create the content. But it also uses visuals on the Geekly Weekly web page to illustrate the different items. (You can also download the show as an MP3 without them).

Adding visuals is the icing on the cake. And when you think about it – once you get to this stage you are just a whisker away from creating a video.

Audio slideshows

Another way of adding visuals to audio content is to create an audio slideshow. This can be a basic voiceover narrative illustrated with images, like this business one from the BBC – or it can use music and interviews to make it more lively, like this profile of an old seaside music hall act.

How interesting are audio slideshows? Not very actually – the business one seems like a bit of a waste of time, and the graphics are a bit contrived. The seaside entertainers one is better, but you could just hear it as a radio clip and it would work just as well.

But this audio slideshow from the Financial Times works well. It’s a tour around the headquarters of Google in California and it’s worthwhile seeing images of the locations the narrator is describing. Such audio slideshows can be useful for travel-type reports or reviews, where it is really helpful to see what is being talked about, and where perhaps it is difficult to do a video shoot.

Formats

Things have simplified a bit since the early days of the web, but there are still a number of formats to confuse you.

MP3 – this is the best known, and the easiest to deal with as it is very common. You will have no problems if you stick with this as your preferred format.

Others include:

WAV – a Windows format that tends to be uncompressed, so has a big file size. You will encounter this sometimes for very short sound files like downloadable sound effects.

Real audio files are going out of fashion, though the BBC still uses them, as it got into web audio quite early.

Flash audio – you’ll mainly see Flash audio used with Flash video, or as a Flash-based player wrapped around an MP3 file. Don’t worry about this yet.

Ogg Vorbis – a weird name for what is actually a royalty-free equivalent to MP3. Virgin Radio and Spotify use Vorbis for their audio streams.

Hosting

When you’ve created your audio file you’ll need to put it online.

You can upload it to your own web server if you have one, and then place it into your web page. Or you can upload it to a third-party hosting site, and then just get something called the embed code to put on your blog or site. This code will then tell a web browser to look for the audio file wherever it is kept.

If you have a Blogger blog, you can upload audio direct to it. But if a lot of people visit your page and listen to the audio it will slow down the server. It is much quicker and easier to get someone else to host the actual file.

One audio/podcast hosting site is Podbean. It’s free for basic use and is quite user-friendly. There are others, but often you have to pay a fee.

There’s a description here of how to upload a podcast to Podbean and then create a WordPress blog post with the audio embedded in it. This also works with other blog formats and you should be able to use the Podbean embed code in any web site you create.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

WordPress SEO
Login