Playing mp3s In Browser

or, “The V in FLV Means ‘Video'”

The good thing about Flash becoming such a ubiquitous audio player online is that it has, essentially, killed off proprietary formats like ASX and Realmedia. Nearly every browser has Flash installed so it makes it easy for site operators to allow mp3 playback without having to worry about what players the user has installed or what the default download options are or whatever. You put up a simple Flash audio player and it works without any of the overhead that might scare away less computer savvy users. Additionally, Flash’s extensibility allows site operators to create players with the features and appearance that they want. They can’t do that with third party players unless they’re of the size of Microsoft or Apple.


Of course, these content providers want to have their cake and eat it too. They desire the ubiquity of flash and mp3 but they also want to restrict and contain the music, so that it’s not easily downloadable (Flash loads mp3s through the browser and if it can load them, the browser and the user can grab them too. Quite easily.) This has resulted in some overly complex mechanisms using tokens and sessions and other sorts of obfuscations, as seen in the above image. None of which work. These measures do nothing but add inconvenient speed bumps akin to the annoying “spaceball.gif” image overlays on Flickr and the old-school “do not right click” javascript popups. None of which ever worked.

Lately I’ve noticed a new trend, as seen in the imeem Player. Certain sites are now encoding all their audio as .flv, Flash Video, format. There’s no video, of course, since the format is being used as a wrapper for the mp3 audio. I understand why they do it. Their logic is that flv files can’t be as easily and freely distributed as mp3 files can (a lot of people wouldn’t know how to play an .flv file), but come on. Stop trying to ram a square peg into a round hole. There’s already a perfectly fine file format for playing back audio: mp3. Wrapping it up in some camouflage won’t work because it can easily be unwrapped.

Here’s a word of advice: if I can listen to your file in my browser it’s because it was already downloaded and it’s on my hard drive. This is how browsers work. Stop trying to put ineffectual roadblocks around this. If you are going to share it then share it. You’ll get more sales and promotion out of it. It worked for Nine Inch Nails and it’s hopefully working for Flashbulb. “Soundtrack To A Vacant Life” is a pretty solid album. Buy it.

Modal image