In the simplest terms, computer audio is a catch-all concept for music or other audio that is created, listened to, downloaded, shared, or edited using a personal computer. By nature, all computer audio is digital audio, but unlike the digital audio on compact discs (CDs) and MiniDiscs, computer audio isn’t tied to specific media.
The term downloadable music refers to music in the form of digital audio files (MP3 files are a good example) that you can download from a web site, play on your computer or portable player, or burn to a CD. Streaming audio uses similar technology but allows you to listen to music via an Internet connection, similar to the way you listen to AM and FM radio.
The concept of downloadable music evokes a world without records, tapes, or pre-recorded CDs, while streaming audio suggests a world without transmitters, antennas, or geographic limitations. Both technologies have spawned legal and philosophical discussions that rage across the Web and throughout the courts. Digital audio and downloadable music have, without a doubt, changed the face of the recording industry, the way we listen to music, and the way we’ll consume music and other types of audio in the future.
Your personal computer is an amazingly capable device for recording and playing audio. You have some incredible capabilities at your fingertips, thanks to technologies that compress audio such as MP3 and Windows Media Audio (WMA); hard disks that can store thousands of songs; and the ability to download music from the Internet. Here are a few examples:
Your computer can function as a digital jukebox that stores thousands of songs, which you can organize into custom playlists and play with a click of the mouse (and the right audio software).
Formats such as MP3 and WMA let you copy your entire music collection to a portable player the size of a cigarette pack, which can store more than 10,000 songs at near CD quality.
Using the Internet, you can sample and purchase a wide variety of music from the comfort of your home and find great music from independent artists you might not otherwise know about.
With software for recording and editing audio, you can “digitize” your tapes and records; remove the hiss, clicks, and pops; and store the audio on a CD that will last for decades without losing any sound quality.
You can record more than 12 hours of digitally compressed music onto a single CD in a few minutes, rather than the dozen or more hours it would take to record the same music with a cassette recorder.
If you’re an independent artist, you can promote your music worldwide and keep in touch with fans, or you can sign with an Internet record label, retain the copyrights to your music, and keep a larger share of the revenue.