The Digital Music Revolution
by Clark L. and Kathryn H. Kidd
Recently, the youth in our ward sponsored a prom for the old fogies (like us ). The Young Men assumed the disc jockey duties, and did a good job of selecting the kind of music their parents would have listened to when they were in high school. One would have thought everyone had stepped into a time machine and gone back 30 years, except for one difference. Gone were the old turntables and stacks of vinyl records, replaced by one lone computer sitting on a table in the corner. The disc jockeys were still selecting the songs to be played, but this was done by dragging and dropping instead of opening and spinning.
Computers have changed the way we listen to music, just as they have changed the way we take photographs or shop or write term papers. A few years ago, a new computer would be pretty much mute unless you paid the extra money for a sound card and a set of speakers. Those who were avid gamers would often pay the extra money to enhance their experience with superior sound, but the rest of us were pretty much content to use the tinny speaker built into the machine for the few programs we used that actually made noise. But all of that started to change a couple of years ago. Buy a new computer today, and it will likely come with a set of speakers and a sound card as part of the base package. The intent is not only to make software more useful, but to allow you to listen to music as part of your computer experience. You may not realize it, but all of the items needed to turn you computer into a sound machine are probably already installed and waiting to be used.
Turning Your Computer into a Sound Machine
If all of this is new to you, here is some information to get you started.
The first thing to do is to insert a music CD into your CD drive. If your computer is configured correctly, it may start to play the music without further effort on your part. A program to play the CD should be automatically launched within a few seconds from when you insert the CD. A number of different programs perform this function. Older Windows machines came with a software program called CD Player. Newer versions of Windows have replaced CD Player with a more powerful program called Windows Media Player. There are other non-Microsoft programs that may have been installed on your computer, such as RealPlayer (www.real.com), Winamp (www.winamp.com) or Musicmatch Jukebox (www.musicmatch.com). If a music player program does not start automatically, you may have to look through your list of installed programs for one of the program names mentioned above. Look in the “Accessories / Multimedia” program folder, other program folders, or on the Windows taskbar that usually appears on the bottom right of the screen.
When you start the music player application, the controls that will appear on the screen will be similar to those found on the control panel of a real CD player. You will see buttons that correspond to functions such as Play, Pause, Stop, Previous Song, and Next Song. You may also find functions such as Shuffle, Repeat, Volume Control and Balance. There may also be digital displays showing the length of the song being played and the amount of time played or remaining to be played. Some players also have visualization options that display colored patterns or designs that change as the music plays. If there is no volume control, or the volume is too soft or too loud, you should also be able to adjust sound levels on the speakers themselves or using the speaker icon on the Windows taskbar.
Music on Files
But computing and playing CDs at the same time is only the beginning. The next step is to copy the songs from your music CD and turn them into computer files. Just as numerous data files can be stored on a single software CD, a music CD can consist of many separate files that each correspond to a different song. The process of copying these files onto the hard drive of your computer is known as “ripping.” Advanced music players such as the Musicmatch Jukebox have a built-in ripping feature, or you can get individual software programs that do nothing but rip tracks. Once you start the program and place a music CD in the computer, the ripping feature/program will usually show you the songs found on the CD, and the playing time of each track. Although the name of the album and the name of each track are not stored on the CD, some rippers have a feature that will connect to the Internet and determine the artist, album name and track name by accessing a CD data base (CDDB). This makes the result far more useful than just showing Track 1, Track 2, and so on.
How many CDs do you own where you love all the songs on the album except for just one, and you get tired of having to skip over that song each time you play the album? Now is your chance to forget that pesky song forever, simply by skipping over that track when ripping the CD. There are other options that you should set before you “Let her rip.” You need to set the output to specify a directory on your hard drive to contain the output. You also need to determine the quality of the output desired. The highest quality can be obtained by creating “wave” files (file suffix is WAV). The problem with wave files is that they are quite large. For example, we ripped a 5-minute song from a CD and the resulting wave file occupied 52 MB (millions of characters) on our hard drive. A more common option is to use a compressed file option known as MP3 (file suffix is MP3). Ripping the same song using an MP3 format consumed a more reasonable 7 MB of hard drive space. Most ripping programs allow you to control the “sampling rate” to be used when creating MP3 files. A higher sampling rate results in better sound quality but larger files. You may need to experiment a little to determine the level of sound quality that you will accept.
Advantages of MP3 Files
What is the advantage of having your albums as a collection of MP3 files rather than just playing the CDs you want to hear? We mentioned the one advantage of being able to ignore the songs you don’t like. It is also easier to play albums without having to fuss with the CD each time. If you travel a lot and carry a laptop with you, it is easy to take a dozen of your favorite albums without having to drag around a separate CD player and a stack of discs. But the biggest advantage is probably that it puts you in control of your music. For example, when you start Jukebox, the program lists the names of all of the albums you have ripped at the bottom of the monitor screen, and displays a blank play list at the top of the screen. If you see an album you want to play, use your mouse to drag it up to the play list, and the music will begin. But you don’t have to play an entire album. Clicking on an album name will expand that name into a listing of its individual tracks, and you can drag your individual selections up to the play list. You might choose three songs from one album, one from a second, and six from a third. You can build play lists of all types of music – maybe some pop, some country, some jazz, and a little bit of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to round things out. Once you have built a play list you particularly enjoy, you can save it and reload it later when you’re in the mood again for that particular mix of music.
Once you have your music collection stored and organized on your computer, it would be nice if you could make use of that same music away from the computer. You’re in luck, because you can do that as well. If you have one of the newer CD drives that can create CDs as well as read them then you will be able to “burn” your own CDs using your favorite music. Most of the advanced players mentioned above have features that allow you to create a music CD once you have your play list built to your satisfaction. Depending on where you plan to play the CD, you may have to experiment with the recording options to make sure the resulting CD will play on your music equipment.
Another option is to buy an MP3 player. These are designed to read and play MP3 files, either from a CD that you have created, or by connecting them to your computer and transferring the MP3 files to the hard drive or memory of the player. Some of these newer players contain huge hard drives (20 GB) and can store up to 500 albums, yet they are small enough that you can wear them while jogging or walking. Imagine being able to browse through your entire music collection while walking around the park!
As you might expect, the recording industry is not altogether happy about the explosion of digital music. You might remember the Napster web site that was shut down a few years ago because it allowed users to easily exchange MP3 files. But no one knows yet whether the availability of technology will depress or encourage music sales. There were similar concerns when radio stations starting broadcasting music, yet that resulted in an increase in record sales. We hope that most Church members are basically honest and will not use this technology to deprive artists of their royalties. Yet advances in digital music have enabled all of us to more easily adapt our music to our lifestyles – and that is a good thing.
2002Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.