Medialess delivery, part 1

Intro

This is just a brief introduction of the available codecs, description of devices and other useful information:

  • FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec)
  • ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec)
  • WAV (Waveform Audio File Format)

For those who would like to have more information or would like to compare the above listed codecs, please visit this comparison.

The above codecs are those three codecs, that can be used for medialess delivery of music to clients. The main feature of these codecs is the lossless coding, which basically means there is no audio compression, no loss of quality and the client will hear exactly the same as he would on the regular audio CD.

Note: Please keep in mind that it is absolutely prohibited to use MP3 format (or any other compressed format) since it degrades the audio quality and we would like to avoid this. It must be clearly described to the client that they must use the files exactly as they received them.

It would be great if we could simply choose one of these codecs but sadly we can’t. In the real world we have many devices and those devices support different codecs. Don’t ask me why, it is simply like that 🙂

To be prepared for every client, we need to support all possible devices (OK, not all but the majority). Nowadays, we can count on the majority of following devices or platform:

  • Apple iOS devices (iPhones, iPads, iPods, Apple computers and notebooks)
  • Android devices (smartphones and tablets)
  • Microsoft devices (Microsoft/Nokia smartphones, tablets, computers and notebooks)
  • other multimedia players (different brands of Audio CD & MP3 players, other multimedia devices)

All of these devices must be able to playback one (or more) of the above codecs. Usually, these devices can playback these codecs:

  • Apple iOS devices can playback ALAC files
  • Android devices can playback FLAC files
  • Microsoft devices can playback WAV files
  • other multimedia players can playback a mixture of the above files

This is just a usual scenario with default players/codecs and the reality can be slightly different. But to be prepared for clients, we need to be able to deliver all of these files. This doesn’t mean that one client will use only one format. Very often families have a mixture of devices and a mixture of habits – the parents (or clients) can upload the audio files into more devices (for example into their Android smartphone and into iPad which is used mainly at home) and listen the music on several devices (whichever is free at the moment). So to make this transition as painless as possible and offer clients also some comfort, more formats would be handy.

 

How to deliver the audio content?

There are several methods how to deliver the content to the client and it depends on you, respectively on the client. The most commons ways how to deliver the content are:

  • Physical media (USB stick, SD card, CD/DVD media,…)
  • Internet (Online delivery services, Online storage services, Email, FTP server,…)

Let’s discuss these possibilities little further and compare the both methods. The differences are big and there some advantages and also disadvantages which really differ from client to client (or from provider to provider) and country to country.

Physical media

  • USB sticks
    I think all of us are now familiar with USB sticks and I think also many of you use them in the everyday life. The great thing about USB that it is cross-platform (PC Windows, Mac OS compatible and even some tablets accept them) and it is a rewritable media. The prices dropped dramatically and the storage is now sufficient for several Audio CD’s on a single stick. As mentioned before, the media is rewritable and the client can use it also in the future for audio content update (new music). USB stick can be for some providers also a marketing product – you can have your own printed USB sticks with your logo and contact information on it (samples here). For the client there is also a benefit – he receives something physical and he can use the USB after he finished the program. For you as a provider there is also a small space to make profit on this USB stick and charge for it some extra money.
  • SD card
    The situation with SD card is nearly the same as with the USB stick – if you have a digital camera, you probably use an SD card. You can use different media (Compact Flash, Memory Stick,… but SD card is the most popular) but the idea is the same as above. Prices are getting lower, capacities getting higher, cross-platform compatibility (even directly with other devices), possibility to make your own designs, clients can be happy that they can keep the media and some small space for extra profit. You don’t even need to use the fastest media since the data rate of the audio is small and the cheaper card will make it. On the quality side, I would rather stick to branded cards like SanDisk, Kingston, Lexar, and others.
  • CD/DVD media
    In this case, we are not talking about Audio CD media, but about data CD/DVD media. I think DVD is not necessary but I mentioned it because it can be used. With data CD, you have the similar advantages than with USB or SD card, just the size of the media is different. Here the media itself can be little bit misleading since some customer would expect that this is a regular Audio CD. Also some CD players are not able to playback audio content on a data CD (or even not read a burned CD) and this could cause some headaches for both parties. In comparison to the actual delivery method, this type of media is not a step forward.

These were the advantages and a short description. In the real world, we have also some disadvantages:

  • The big disadvantage with these physical media is that clients can’t use them directly with devices like tablets, smartphones or other small multimedia devices. Yes, there are some units accepting these media directly but not all of them.
  • Second disadvantage is that you need to deliver the media to client somehow – ship it, bring it to him or the client must come to pick it up. In some cases it is not a problem but if you have clients spread all over the world, it can be time consuming and there are additional costs for shipping. Not to mention if the package doesn’t arrive…
  • Third and the most critical disadvantage of these media is that they hold the files and you can copy/move/delete them easily. This is not a problem but if you can easily access the files, you can easily delete them (by accident) or what is more important – some „active“ clients can convert these files into a compressed format to save some space on their devices. Sometimes even the applications installed on the devices will „help“ to transfer the files to the device and do the compression (when transferring the files) and the customer is even not aware of this. Therefore the education of the clients about the lossless quality and all the pitfalls around the media transfer from/to devices is very important!!!

Internet

  • Online delivery services
    If you would like to send big files (and audio content are BIG files), than email is not the best way. There are some online delivery services where you can upload your content (audio files for the client), add his email address, add your email address (as a sender) and additionally add some notes or description of the files. You start the upload process which could take from few minutes to few hours – depending on your internet connectivity and size of the files. The good thing is, that you don’t need to be in front of the computer during the upload process – it is an automatic process and you can do anything you want (have a cup of coffee for example :-). After the upload is complete, the client will automatically receive an email with download link and he can simply download the audio files – on PC Windows, Apple Mac OS, smartphone, tablet or any internet connected device. Few of the the services are free, few of them are paid and the differences are sometimes very small. Also these companies do a lot of price drops and special so sometimes you can save a lot. You can check some the services I have used previously and worked very well:

  • Online storage services
    Or also called cloud storage. Similar services to the ones above but they offer some additional features. The main difference is that you need to create an account and depending on the service or plan you choose, you will get storage capacity. The above services can be used time-to-time and you don’t need to register or create an account (if you have account, you can get additional features). These cloud services offer more features and most of them have also desktop applications which upload (or sync) you local storage (selected folders) with the cloud storage. This simply means that you create a new folder in your shared folder (for example with your clients name) and copy the created files to this folder. The application will upload these files in the background and you can simply continue working on other clients (or have another cup of coffee :-). Remember, the files are transferred exactly in the same quality as they were created in your computer. Until now, nobody can access these files – you need to share them with the client. You can set also public visibility but I think it does not make sense for music (maybe for some manuals or documentation). You can simply select the clients folder and share it via email – the client will get an email with a download link and by clicking on this link he can download the files to his device. Similar procedure as with online delivery services. Some of the cloud storage systems you can use are:

  • Email
    As mentioned above, email is not recommended for sending big files and I do not recommend you to send the files as attachment in email. The only reason why email is here is that you can send download links (not the actual files) via email to your clients.
  • FTP server
    This is for more skilled providers or users. FTP means „File Transfer Protocol“ and you can use this for uploading files to your own server. For example if you have a website, it runs on a server where you could also store music files. The process of the upload is more complicated – you need a special application, you need to create some folder on the server and of course you need to know what you are doing. If you are familiar with this process (if you made your own website than maybe you are) you can use also this method. The problem is that the files are simply accessible from outside (for download, not for delete or modification) – if a visitor has the link, he can download the files. This is similar like with the cloud storage, but cloud storage has more complicated links which are hard to guess and these files are not indexed by search engines (where your files can be). Anyway, this transfer to your own server via FTP is also not the ideal solution and I mentioned it just because it exists.

 

Conclusion?

If you got to this point that you must be really interested in a different way of sending files to your clients 🙂 But what now? Which system or procedure to use? This mostly depends on you and your clients. But to help you a little bit, I think the below mentioned procedures are the easiest and most convenient for all parties.

If you want still send physical medium to your client, I think USB sticks or SD cards will do the job for you. If you would like to switch to online delivery, the best solutions are online delivery services or online storage services (e.g. cloud storage) – whichever solution or company you choose.

So, we have covered the most solutions available now and I think everyone will choose his own favorite solution. If I missed some solutions or you will have some questions, drop me an email and we can discuss them.

In the next part I will try to prepare a step-by-step guide on how to export files for medialess delivery. See you soon…