Web Development for Music Educators pt 3

Mike Lawson • Technology • July 1, 2006

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Audio and video Internet streaming media has changed the Web as we knew it. Namely, the Internet has changed from a static text- and graphics-based medium into a multimedia experience populated by sound and moving pictures. This remarkable technology allows a Web site visitor to click on a button and, seconds later, listen to or view CD-quality music along with a video as a powerful presentation. Streaming works by first compressing a digital audio/video file and then breaking it into small packets, which are sent, one after another, over the Internet. As the packets reach their destination (the requesting user), they are decompressed and reassembled into a form that can be played by the user’s system. To maintain the illusion of seamless play, the packets are buffered or preloaded, while packets play and more packets are being downloaded and queued up for playback.

Music educators can benefit immeasurably by having their music ensemble groups/students featured online. I can’t think of a faster way to stimulate interest in your music program than by featuring performances by your students and music ensembles over the Internet in real-time. Have you ever seen and heard a 200 piece marching string orchestra? Duluth High School in Duluth, Georgia has one and it can be viewed at: www.kuzmich2.com/parade2004/parade2004.ram. Once you have created a streaming file (in this case, parade2004.rm), it only takes one more step to prepare everything for posting on the Internet. Go to a text editor, HTML editor or a WYSIWYG application and create a one-line file with the URL of where the streaming file will be located on the Internet. In this case, the text or HTML file will read: http://www.kuzmich2.com/parade2004/parade2004.ram. Then just have a link for that text file as, http://www.kuzmich2.com/parade2004/parade2004.ram and you are ready to view the video-streaming file. For examples of how audio streaming can promote your students, go to www.kuzmich2.com/Reva_Gig/Reva_Gig.html and you will see many examples including a violinist sounding like Jimi Hendrix entitled, “Reva Song #7” (both audio and video streaming on that URL). The audio streaming file for this example is: www.kuzmich2.com/Reva_Gig/Track%2007.rm and its correlated text/HTML file with the streaming file name inside of it is www.kuzmich2.com/Reva_Gig/Track%2007.ram. Spotlighting your students and concerts is a perfect reason of using audio and video streaming on your school Web site. Viewers will need to download Real Player to view the audio or video streaming saved in the Real format.


Choosing Tools
There are currently more than two dozen formats for audio streaming over the Web, from widely used formats, such as RealNetworks’ RealAudio, streaming MP3, Macromedia’s Flash and Director Shockwave, to Microsoft’s Windows Media Player and Apple’s QuickTime. There are also many video file formats to choose from when creating video streaming. The most common formats are: Windows Media, RealMedia, Quicktime, MPEG (in particular MPEG-4), and Macromedia Flash. There are pros and cons for each audio and video streaming file format, but in the end it comes down to your personal preference. If you want to reach the widest possible audience, you should create separate files for each format, but that can take up a lot of your free Web space. My preference is RealNetwork to post streaming files.

Normally, I can post an entire concert with audio streaming on the Internet within one hour by first converting audio files to MP3 files and then converting them into RealAudio streaming files. For detailed instructions on how to do audio streaming, go to: www.superscopetechnologies.com/press/IAJEcolumn2.shtml and www.superscopetechnologies.com/press/IAJEcolumn.shtml for recording the concerts digitally. The process of posting video streaming is similar to audio streaming but it takes a bit longer because the size of the video files are much larger. For step-by-step video streaming instructions, go to an article dedicated to this at: www.sbomagazine.com/sbomag/dec00/technology.aspx. If looking for online tutorials on video streaming, go to: www.realnetwords.com/resources/tutorials/index.html.and www.mediacollege.com/video/streaming/overview.html.

What do you need to convert your audio files into audio streaming? You’ll need two products: a music ripper (converts audio files to mp3) and a streaming product for converting an audio file (wave or MP3) to a streaming file. Two of the best music rippers include Pyro Plus (www.cakewalk.com) and iTools (freeware) by Apple (www.apple.com) for converting audio files into MP3 file format that work on both Mac and Windows platform. Note: there are many free music rippers that you can search for on a Web browser as well. Media players that can do audio streaming include RealPlayer (www.realplayer.com), QuickTime (www.apple.com) by Apple and Windows Media Player (www.microsoft.com). Be sure to put a note on your Web site indicating which media player is required to load your audio streaming file. Note: audio streaming files are proprietary and can only be loaded by their own players (free and full feature versions).

Video streaming requirements similar are in that you will need a designated player. For creating streaming audio and/or video streaming files, Sony Media Software has several excellent professional level products such as SoundForge for audio editing and production, ACID Pro 6 profession music-based creation and Vegas for audio and video editing and production. But Sony also has home studio solutions with Vegas Movie Studio DVD, Vegas Movie Studio DVD, Sound Forge Audio Studio, and ACID Music Studio. RealNetworks has two excellent products: Helix RealProducer Basic and Helix RealProducer Pro. The Helix Basic product is a freeware. Both of these products are excellent with either audio or video files for generating streaming files. Ulead (www.ulead.com) has an easy to use entry-level video editing applications entitled MediaStudio Pro 8 that works in HDV, DV or MPEG videos with two quick-to-master tools, including Smart Compositor and Smart Proxy for powerful editing.

If video editing is not something you feel comfortable doing because it takes considerable time to learn and do, then consider Visual Communicator 2 Studio by Serious Magic. It offers a unique way to eliminate traditional video editing timelines of digitizing video, marking video clips, creating custom graphics, sequencing the clips with graphics and effects in a timeline and rendering the output video. This allows for dramatically faster video creations, including streaming video productions over the Internet and converting native PowerPoint shows (.ppt) into video presentations with broadcast-quality transitions. It is a complement to traditional nonlinear editors because it does what they cannot: create video productions that look and feel like a television newscast that occurs in real-time!

Visual Communicator 2 Studio is based on a creation process that lets users create a video presentation quickly around a script or outline, and then record it in real-time as they talk or perform and then publish videos by automatically compressing them for audiences with any type of Internet connection. It is great for distance learning, video term papers, media training, narrated photo albums, video resumes, video invitations, or personal ads for upcoming concerts. But that’s not all, there are seven ways to share your videos: add to your Web site, attach to an email, burn to a CD or DVD, enhance any PowerPoint show, save to video tape, live Internet streaming and live, full screen out to a projector, TV, VCR or second monitor. I like the capabilities of keeping your audience engaged by using dual-window effects and dazzling transitions, and reinforcing key points using template-based graphics or insert any picture or PowerPoint slide. You can superimpose a person over a virtual background to instantly look more professional or just type your name, school or other information and it automatically appears in the titles. Not only does it include everything (templates, royalty-free graphics, music, transition effects and a teleprompter you need from start to finish, but it also works seamlessly with standard cameras and software. It’s powerful for developing lessons on the Internet especially when up to three camcorders/cameras can be used. For more info, go to: http://www.seriousmagic.com. To give some indication of how easy this application is to master, I have 7th graders successfully using this product for producing original video productions.

Web Database Capabilities… and More!
While static Web pages are nice and can be useful, interactive Web sites featuring database forms that collect needed information, can be invaluable for obtaining information from your parents and students. DB or database is a collection of information organized in such a way that a computer program can quickly and retrieve select desired pieces of data for your use and analysis. But as a Web site grows, the time involved for maintenance can be counterproductive. Database-driven Web sites can be created correctly to update and generate links themselves.

For example, www.kuzmich.com/carmody/Web _conference_form4.html and www.kuzmich.com/Web _conference.html each collect information for online parent-teacher-student conferencing information done in CGI scripting language. The first example is primitive because it does not sort the collected data nor tabulate the data that is received electronically by e-mail; it only collects information. You have to tabulate the data yourself and with many responses this can be tedious. But CGI forms do not require a proprietary Web site and there is no charge for using. And the latter example is just a fax copy for one to fax to the teacher.

Scripting Languages
For definition purposes, a scripting language is a programming language that is interpreted by another program at runtime rather than compiled by the computer’s processor such as C and C++. When scripting language is embedded with HTML, it can add functionality to a Web page. One of the problems with CGI is that each time a CGI script is executed, a new process is stated. For busy Web sites, this can slow down the server. Today, there are better scripting languages for doing the same thing than CGI. JavaScript, ASP, JSP, PHP, Perl, Tcl and Python are examples of scripting languages that are more powerful. My favorite scripting language for Web database use is PHP, which is widely used and general-purpose. It can perform any task that any CGI program can do, but its strength lies in its compatibility with many types of databases. And it can communicate across networks using IMAP, SNMP, NNTP, POP3 or HTTP protocols. For a good entry-level starter PHP tutorial, go to: www.w3schools.com/php/default.asp. For resources, articles and profiles on thousands of PHP developers on PHP, go to: www.php.net and www.Web reference.com/new/991028.html#feature. And for the final word on PHP, go to PHP’s official Web site at: www.php.net which also has a good set of tutorials. The entire site was coded and formatted in PHP.

One problem with the newer/better scripting languages is that they are more difficult to implement than CGI. Perhaps a more efficient way to go is a database application on either Mac or PC such as FileMaker Pro, which is designed as a complete solution provider. It not only manages the data the way a Database management system does, but also provides a customizable user interface for accessing the data. So you can use the information more easily for entering, searching, printing, and sorting. FileMaker Pro provides its own scripting language so that you can expand its functionality and customize its operation. It provides a wealth of features such as built-in spell checking and find/replace for text. FileMaker’s tools let you devise screens and printed reports with precision and sophistication. Its built-in functions give you a range of tools to perform calculations on data and you can store these calculations if you want. And FileMaker takes care of updating calculations as needed when you click out of a field. And better yet, FileMaker Pro even has an Instant Web publishing mode that offers powerful and flexible Web layouts that go beyond database layouts into creative Web page layouts.

For more insight about working with graphics, sounds and movies on the Web with FileMaker, go to: filemaker.com/downloads/documentation/fm8_instant_Web _publishing.pdf. For creative illustrations of CGI, PHP and FileMaker Pro 8.0 for page layout design and updated forms, please go to: www.kuzmich.com/Web development_music_educator.html. On this Web site, there will be more editorial comments for additional insight and depth of understanding about CGI, PHP and FileMaker Pro plus more Web examples to view their capabilities . An excellent entry-level book on learning FileMaker Pro is FileMaker 7 in 24 Hours by Jesse Feiler, published by SAMS at: www.samssplublishing.com. It provides not only step-by-step instructions, poses essential questions and gives good answers and notes and tips pointing out shortcuts and solutions to help you steer clear of potential problems. For more insight about how flexible, powerful and easy FileMaker Pro is to learn and use, go to: www.filemaker.com.

Still looking for more information on scripting? Go to BigNoseBird at: www.bignosebird.com and find over 300 pages of tutorials, reference materials and other free resources including free CGI scripts for your site such as e-cards, survey, form submission, guest book, error trapping and more. There are free graphics (bullets, icons, backgrounds, bars) software tools to build and maintain your site. And, their HTML tutorials are outstanding with 50 tips and tricks to help you deal with the little quirks of HTML.

Closing Comments
Once you get your HTML chops going with some of the applications mentioned in the first installment, your Web pages will pop with excitement as you creatively incorporate tables, frames and Cascading Style Sheets. Content-wise, audio and video streaming will improve the content of your school Web site by featuring your students’ ensemble and individual music performances. Database enhancement with CGI, PHP and/or FileMaker Pro will provide unique opportunities for interactive sharing of information coming directly to you from your Web viewers. The secret is to spark viewers’ need to repeatedly visit your Web site. By creatively changing your site with the formatting tools discussed here, plus audio and video streaming and database input, your Web presence will never be static again. For more attractive Web techniques, the final installment in this series will cover interactive Web -based instruction and offer you additional ways to improve instruction in and out of the classroom.


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