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This article was originally published on the London Tribe web magazine in December 2000.


As if we didn't have enough formats to play our favourite music on, here is another one. This one is slightly different, though, because mp3 does not rely on pre recorded albums supplied through a retail outlet and you don't need to fork out for a new stereo to use it (as long as you own something like a PC).

So what is mp3 and how does it work?

Mp3 and mpeg Audio Player files are converted .wav files containing audio (and sometimes visual) data that allows you to listen to music on your computer. The difference between mp3 and the previous CD/cassette/LP/ formats, is that mp3 is software rather than hardware, which means you can store mp3 files on CDs, cassettes, mini disks and your hard drive.

Most of  the hype about mp3 is  Internet  related  because  the Internet allows people to copy and send their favourite songs via email to each other and even to create entire web sites where other Internet users can download copyrighted material that previously would have only been available  in the  shops  (or on dodgy bootlegs).  Never has  the  music industry been so scared of the consequences of a new technology and its switch to  the  MP3 is  being held  back until  there  is a secure way of actually "selling" the products, instead of accidentally giving them away. Companies like Napster.com have  been  accused of  promoting music piracy by allowing people to upload copyrighted material to their server so that other Internet users can download it at the cost of a phone call.

From a consumers point of view, mp3s are great. The Internet has opened up a platform for new bands and artists to perform their music globally, allowing people all over the world to hear their sound, without the expense of having to mass produce and distribute CDs or cassettes - and without the frustration of having some record producer throw their demo tape in a bin. It also allows music listeners to find music that fits their personal taste and hear new music without having to buy a whole album.

Once you have found the music that you like, you can download it onto your computer and store it in a variety of places: on your hard drive; on a floppy disk; on a mini disk; on CD; on a cassette and eventually on DVD. This allows a truly portable music format that can be transferred between various music players.

When the music industry eventually sorts out how to market artists on mp3 a total transformation will occur in the way we buy our music. An artist's songs could be sold over the Internet individually, instead of on an album and it would be possible to create your own "album" of songs from a variety  of  artists.  It will  also be more efficient  for  the music industry to produce a wider variety of artists, instead of the current small number of mainstream signings. With mp3, record labels will be able to distribute the music of fifty artists for the current cost of producing one artist, cutting out the CD retail sales market.

So how do you get mp3s and what software do you need to play them? You can get mp3 music at http://mp3.com. Alternatively, go to altavista.com and select the "audio" link. You can then type in a search for the name of the artist or music that you want to find. Napster can be found at  http://napster.com.  You  can  play  mp3  files on  any midi player software, but it is worth looking at the links for mp3 players.

Jasen Quick
December 2000