How many times have you read in an online forum or a web design tutorial that embedded midi (Musical Instrumental Digital Interface) files are “bad”? Probably more times than you care to remember. For the most part, embedded sound files of any kind have been categorized as web site “bling-bling”, right along side animated gifs, flashing banners and complex frames layouts. Essentially, they just contribute to unnecessary glitz and clutter that does nothing more than distract visitors and significantly slow page download times.
There is historical justification for this stereotype, as many beginning webmasters tend to go overboard with the bells and whistles on their first web design attempts. This is just part of the learning process and should not be judged too harshly.
With all the bad press that embedded midi files get, some of the more accomplished web designers tend to avoid using them. This is unfortunate, because if implemented and managed properly, midi files can add benefit to some types of web sites, both for the visitors and the web site owners. In fact, I’m going to go as far as to say that an appropriately implemented midi file can actually drive more traffic and even increase sales! Sound fishy? Maybe so, but just hear me out.
The key to using a midi file effectively is to help create a desired mood in conjunction with the color scheme, graphics, and layout of a given web page. Let me give you an example.
Let’s pretend that John and Jane have just lost their precious little Maltese of 12 years to kidney failure. They are surfing the Web, looking for a perfect pet memorial to celebrate the life of their dear friend. They have narrowed their search to your site ‘A’ and a competitor site ‘B’. Site ‘B’ has a professional looking site, reasonable prices, adorable pictures of other pets whose owners have bought from and recommend them, and detailed descriptions and images of the various memorials. It almost brings a tear to your eye. Almost.
Now, your site ‘A’ has comparable professionalism, prices, emotional design, etc., but in addition, you’ve included an embedded midi file that plays a sad little, heart-tugging, piece of music in the background. Those eyes that were almost ready to tear up at your competitor’s site now start watering full tilt as the background music helps them remember all the wonderful times they had with their pup. Who do you think they’re going to buy from? Exactly.
The previous example may be a bit over-dramatized, but the theory is sound. Sometimes, little psychological nudges in the right direction can mean the difference between a two-week vacation in Cancun and a day trip to the local water park.
The real problems with embedded midi files arise when webmasters do not give their visitors any control over the sounds emanating from their web pages. Most people become frustrated and annoyed when they are forced to listen to music that they cannot shut off at leisure. Using the example above, I imagine that even John and Jane would be getting pretty annoyed around the 10th time the background music loops as they are still trying to decide between the granite and the obsidian plaque.
The IE browser makes it a bit easier in cases like this because the toolbar stop button is capable of stopping midi play, along with page download and all other animation, of course. However, other browsers like Mozilla Firefox that have to rely on a QuickTime or other third party plug-ins do not have this luxury. If the site designer does not supply a control console of some type, the visitors are held prisoner and will likely escape at the first chance they get.
There is no voodoo involved with displaying a midi console on a web page. The basic EMBED code is fairly standard. You’ve probably seen or used something similar to this in the past:
The trick is getting the darn console to display properly across all browsers using different plug-ins. The embed statement shown above, for example, will not display properly in Firefox or Netscape using the QuickTime plug-in.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. If you have an existing web site or are in the process of building one that you think might benefit from a bit of midi psychology, then track down an appropriate file and give it a whirl. You may be pleasantly surprised.