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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Liberating Your Online Radio - How To Live Record Internet Music

Online radio is wonderful, allowing us easy, legal, instant access to our favorite artists and songs. recently made headlines, announcing the availability of full tracks. But there is, of course, a catch, as there is with any other cool service: the inability to save or download the tracks. It's a simple matter of business and profit: by only allowing you to play tracks, they ensure a cash cow for themselves - listeners have to keep coming back to hear music - as well as protecting the financial interests of the artists themselves. Miley Cyrus doesn't sing for free, does she? I admit, this is a vastly oversimplified perspective, but us people, the music consumers, only care about getting the music - right?

Today, I'll be showing you how to live record online radio into tangible, I-get-to-keep-it MP3 files. I'll be using the uber-popular site as the example. To handle the recording portion, we will be using the excellent, free and open-source program Audacity. For the MP3 creation, we will couple Audacity with the just-as-excellent, also free, defacto standard of MP3 encoders, LAME. Without further ado, let's get started!

Install + Configure Audacity and LAME

We will be using the latest version, which is 1.3.4 Beta. Download here. For most users on modern systems, the Win2000/XP/2003/Vista EXE installer is recommended. Run the installer and accept the default installation parameters.

The next step is to install the LAME MP3 encoder. Due to patent restrictions and legal concerns, the LAME binaries are not bundled with Audacity. Binaries aren't even provided by the LAME developers - just the source code. So we must look to third parties to pick up a few binaries (unless you feel inclined to compile some source...)
You can choose between the 3.97 stable build or the 3.98 beta 6 build - in my experience both are stable enough for general use. Once you have downloaded the ZIP file, unpack lame_enc.dll to a location of your choice, preferably the installation directory of Audacity: c:\Program Files\Audacity 1.3 Beta (Unicode)

Now start up Audacity. If an info popup appears, just click OK. Go to the Edit menu and click Preferences (or do CTRL+P). In the window that appears, select the Audio Files tab...audacity-lame.jpg

Now click on Find Library as shown above. Point the dialog to the location of your lame_enc.dll. The window should now be showing the version of the LAME library you have. Close the Preferences window when finished.

The next step is to prep Audacity's recording source. We want to record whatever is coming out of the speakers. Any half-decent sound card, even most integrated sound chips, should be able to do this.audacity-recsource.jpg

You should be seeing the Audacity main window. Look to the top right of your screen. There is a dropdown box that allows you to choose your recording source. Choose the input that represents your sound output - on my sound card, the appropriate source is called "Stereo Mix". Yours may be called "What-You-Hear", "Mixer Output", etc. We are basically taking input from the output. There is always the oddball sound card that does not support this feature - if so, you're out of luck unless you go buy a better sound card.

Recording the Music and Making the MP3

Well, here comes the fun part. Go to your favorite online music site. For example,


Make sure your volume control is NOT muted. Go to your Audacity window and hit the big record button on the top toolbar, or R on your keyboard. Switch as fast as you can to the music player and start playing it there. If everything is setup up correctly, you should see sound waves appearing in Audacity:


Once the music stops, simply hit the stop button to stop recording. There will probably be some blank space at the beginning due to playback/recording delay. If you want to get rid of it, just highlight it with your mouse and use Edit -> Delete (CTRL+K).

Finally, the last step: making the MP3. Go to File -> Export. A file save dialog will appear. You can use the Options button to fine tune the parameters of your MP3, such as bitrate, stereo modes, etc.


Congratulations! Internet radio is now YOUR music, anytime, anywhere, online or offline. By having a real file, you have a tangible, permanent recording to enjoy.

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