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Mp3 and Digital Music Distribution

Page history last edited by Jeff Martinek 15 years, 7 months ago


"What  is happening with the dissemination of MP3 technology is a revolution in the distribution of sound recordings [9]."




MP3 stands for MPEG Layer III, which is an abbrevation for Moving Picture Experts Group I Audio Layer III [8].  An MP3 is a computer file format that is a compressed size of the original version.  The MP3 computer file becomes stored as digital audio data [3].  The MP3 format is a compressed system for music [2].  MP3 files are simple to copy, quick to download, and easy to distribute.   MP3 files are opened and played with special software from the computer.  These files can also be transferred onto MP3 players or burned onto CDs [5].  The objective of using MP3s is to reduce a CD-quality song by a factor of 10 to 14 without being able to distinguish a difference in sound quality [2].  With the compressed storage, hundreds of MP3s can be stored on the computer.  This technology has made it easier to play your favorite music from the computer.              


Background Information


Audio can be turned into digital information by converting into a computer file [2].  Digital data compression technology has made this process possible [9].  MP3 is an audio file format just like .doc is a text file format [2].  The MP3 can take a song and change it into a digital format and then digitally compresses it.  In order to compress a song format certain parts of the song have to be eliminated.  Digital compression makes the file smaller by eliminating parts of the song that the ear does pick up on.  This reduction process allows for more storage space.  MP3s do not sound exactly the same as the original version because of this reduction process.  MP3s are used for digital storage and music distribution [8].  Redundancy and algorithms are used in the compression process to shrink the file.  It locates the patterns of repetition within the data and then stores only one copy of the information in the new file.  It focuses on recreating the most organized and efficient format.  Audio files are broken down into small components and then transmitted into storage where they can be recombined and used again later.  A user can choose how much information they want encoded onto the MP3 file.  The bit rate is the number of bits per second transferred onto an MP3 file.  There are multiple sites on the internet that are known as music servers.  These sites allow you to download MP3s to your hard disk.  You can listen to different songs as streaming files or fully download them. The more information discarded will result in a lower bit rate.  MP3s can be transferred online and downloaded onto computers and MP3 players.  CD songs can be converted into MP3 files with the right software and then shared with others on the Internet [2].  Freeware, shareware, and "rippers" are programs that can encode CD Audio into MP3 format [8].  The following image helps depict the step by step process of the MP3:    









 The convergence of digital media for music storage through the Internet became popular in the late 1990s.  The MP3 was used to encode and decode audio information into a new format.  The MP3 movement was an enormous advance in the music industry.  Portable music device were first marketed in 1998, but were not easily connected to the computer.  The portable music devives have evolved from the walkman to the iPod [2].  Napster is a music server that emerged in 1999.  In 2001, 1.5 million people had simultaneously shared files worldwide through the use of Napster's software.  Napster had manipulated the consumer into believing that downloading songs from the Internet was the way to go.  This convenience allowed them to bypass the phase of actually buying established distribution forms of music, such as records, tapes, or compact discs [2].  Napster was shut down in 2001 by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) but the idea of downloading, storing, and sharing files was already widespread.  New peer-to-peer (P2P) sites were created that disobeyed the file sharing regulation.  The RIAA was trying to shut down sites but they kept popping up online.  Apple Inc. launched the iTunes Store in 2003 to implement its own legal digital distribution.  The site sells songs and videos that can be stored on the iPod which is the company's portable digital media player.  By 2006, 100 million iPods had been sold by Apple, and over 2 billion songs had been downloaded from the iTunes Store.  Shared proceeds from the downloads are then redistributed back to the record companies and artists [2].  By 2008 other commercial music services had been launched such as Amazon.com and Microsoft.  It was during this time that Amazon.com negotiated a deal that they would price their songs according to the fluctuations in the market.   "In a way, the music industry is returning to its roots -- the music single is becoming popular after nearly dying out during the CD era [2]."


The following outline gives a detailed account of the MP3's history:


"Timeline - History of MP3"

  • 1987 - The Fraunhofer Institute in Germany began research code-named EUREKA project EU147, Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB).
  • January 1988 - Moving Picture Experts Group or MPEG was established as a subcommittee of the International Standards Organization/International Electrotechnical Commission or ISO/IEC.
  • April 1989 - Fraunhofer received a German patent for MP3.
  • 1992 - Fraunhofer's and Dieter Seitzer’s audio coding algorithm was integrated into MPEG-1.
  • 1993 - MPEG-1 standard published.
  • 1994 - MPEG-2 developed and published a year later.
  • November 26, 1996 - United States patent issued for MP3.
  • September 1998 - Fraunhofer started to enforce their patent rights. All developers of MP3 encoders or rippers and decoders/players now have to pay a licensing fee to Fraunhofer.
  • February 1999 - A record company called SubPop is the first to distribute music tracks in the MP3 format.
  • 1999 - Portable MP3 players appear.






Songs can be downloaded faster with the use of the MP3.  MP3s are known to be as easy as 1,2,3 [2].   It is one of the most popular ways of storing and distributing music through the Internet [5].  With the increase of internet speed and trasfer rates downloading a song has become time efficient.  A whole album can be downloaded in a reasonable amount of time [8].  People argue that it is impossible for the human ear to distinguish the difference between an uncompressed CD file and an encoded MP3 file [2].   The MP3 movement has made it easy to distribute music for free.  Music is instantly accessible and easy to find.  People have been informed on how to manipulate sound from a computer. Technology has made it more convenient to locate, download, and play your favorite music.  Desktop computers have been loaded with powerful tools such as:

  • downloading MP3s from the internet and being able to play them
  • encoding MP3s from music CDs 
  • recording your own songs
  • converting MP3s to CD files
  • rip songs from CDs
  • storing MP3 data onto CDs
  • transferring MP3 files onto portable devices







Some people don't think the MP3 can compare to the CD or vinyl album version of the same song.  They believe that the quality is harmed in compressing the megabytes.  Audiophiles are people who try to find the best ways of experiencing music.  Some of these people do not respect the MP3 format.  They argue that even MP3s of top quality are still inferior to Cds and vinyl records [2].  MP3s cause problems with original artists because they are trying to protect their music through copyrights [5].   People are scared of change and that's exactly what MP3s have insinuated.  Both musicians and audio engineers are worried that recordings are going to be altered.  They are concerned that the format will "flatten" the dynamics.  They do not want the pitch and volume to be manipulated [2].    


 Implications For Media Ecology


The MP3 format for digital music has altered the way people collect, listen, and distribute music [2].  There is no doubt that MP3s have changed the world of music.  Online music servers are now used to sell songs.  Several changes have evolved since the MP3 movement.   The progress consists of the MP3 format and the Internet's ability to distribute files [2].  Computers have evolved to satisfy the conditions of the MP3 process.   


The world is beginning to become a quiet place because people are blocking out the noise with their own personlized iPod.  The iPod has taken the "social" out of the term society.  People are walking around the streets in a daze oblivious to what is going on around them because they are so tuned into their own music world.  People are narrowing their own lives because they are too busy isolating themselves.  We are drifting farther and farther apart from each other.  Music used to be a shared experience but is has become focused primarily on the individual.  Every iPod is filled with different songs, playlists, and videos.  The device is individually formatted to suit the otwner's preference.  People are missing out on the simple things in life like overhearing conversations, listening to the laughter of children, and hearing the birds sing.  We need to realize that there is a world outside the soundtrack we have selected for ourselves in this digital world [6].        


Link to Andrew Sullivan's "Society is dead, we have retreated into the iWorld"


Digital technology has created a digital universe.  The term "digital" has different interpretations to describe different terms.  "Relating to an audio recording method in which sound waves are represented digitally so that in the recording wow and flutter are eliminated and background noise is reduced," is the most compatable description for this topic.  Analog and digital are both formats for supporting sound.  Digital information is made up of binary codes.  The digital wavelength is a curving sine wave made up of boxed subcomponents whereas the analog wavelength is a smooth varying line with an infinite number of possibilites.  The information stored in an analog format can not be directly stored into digital format.  There are significant advantages to converting music into digital format.  The subcomponent boxes within the sine wave can be manipulated to create a sound that is nearly indistinguishable from the original copy.  Editing music in digital format is a simpler process and noise reduction becomes more effective.  The playback function is straightforward and the song is always identical to the recording.  In analog format the file deterioates each time the song is copied.  "The truth of the matter is that just as a CD is a digital representation of an analog signal, i.e. music, sounding to our ears nearly identical to the analog original but missing tons of information, our universe may be a digital representation of some far greater reality, looking real to our limited sense but missing tons of information [7]."        


Link to "Analog Vs Digital: The True Nature of Reality"  http://shotsacrossthebow.com/archives/003231.html



[1] "MP3." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 23 Nov. 2008 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/754559/MP3>. 

[2] Brain, Marshall.  "How MP3 Files Work."  01 April 2000.  HowStuffWorks.com. <http://computer.howstuffworks.com/mp3.htm>  23 November 2008.

[3] "MP3." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2008.  Merriam-Webster Online. 23 November 2008 http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/MP3

[4] "MP3." Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World: Performance and Production. London: Continuum, 2003. Credo Reference. 24 November 2008 <http://www.credoreference.com/entry/8322457/.>.

[5] "MP3." Dictionary of Computing. London: A&C Black, 2008. Credo Reference. 24 November 2008 <http://www.credoreference.com/entry/8249349/.>.

[6] Sullivan, Andrew. "Society is dead, we have retreated into the iWorld."

[7] "Analog Vs Digital: The True Nature of Reality." 15 December, 2008. <http://shotsacrossthebow.com/archives/003231.html>.  

[8]  "MP3." (2003). In Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World: Performance and Production. London: Continuum. Retrieved December 04, 2008, from http://www.credoreference.com/entry/8322457/.

[9] FISCHER, PAUL D. "Recording Industry." Encyclopedia of Communication and Information. Ed. Jorge Reina Schement. Vol. 3. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2002. 845-849. 3 vols. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale. Iowa Wesleyan College. 3 Dec. 2008 


[10]  "The History of the MP3." 15 December, 2008. <http://inventors.about.com/od/mstartinventions/a/MPThree.htm>.




Sullivan, Andrew. "Society is dead, we have retreated into the iWorld"




Comments (5)

Kate M. Fisher said

at 8:54 am on Dec 2, 2008

I got your message. I linked Sullivan's article for you. Let me know if it is showing up okay for you on your screen. Have a great day!

Jeff Martinek said

at 10:59 am on Dec 9, 2008


You might think about incorporating some of the discussion about analog vs. digital from the handout I gave in class on Monday. The link to the site where I got the material from is here:



Jeff Martinek said

at 11:04 am on Dec 9, 2008


You ought to do a bit more research on the invention of the process by the German company Fraunhofer and how and why the "Motion Pictures Expert Group" was formed. Fraunhofer has a site with their own version of the story here:



Jeff Martinek said

at 11:08 am on Dec 9, 2008


There is a timeline about the history of MP3 here (with links to many other relevant-looking articles):



Jeff Martinek said

at 11:09 am on Dec 9, 2008


In your reference list, put last name, first name of author before title and give whatever publishing info you have after title. See my model in "General Semantics."


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