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MPEG (Motion Picture Engineering Group) Layer 3 compression format, an audio compression format capable of dramatically reducing the size of audio files with minimal loss in sound quality. It works using lossy compression which means it throws away redundant information to reduce the file size of the final audio files.

MP3 is a very popular for exchanging music on the Net both legally by artists seeking quick and easy exposure and illegally by fans swapping music.

If you haven't heard of it yet, it kicks arse. Really handy way of getting lots of good music.

To find mp3s you can go to the public, legal sites or find them using Napster or Gnutella which are distributed file sharing systems. A more community based system, much like bulletin boards, for getting them is Hotline.

A new format without the patent issues of mp3 is Ogg Vorbis which is free software in both senses and is marginally better in its quality/size ratio.

How To Make Archive Quality MP3's.

It's easy to make archive quality mp3's. Simply use the r3mix option - a specific high quality setting for the mp3 encoder Lame.

The setting takes it's name from the website r3mix.net which uses a small (but respectable) amount of scientific evaluation and audiophile listening test analysis to recommend the best MP3 encoder, and what settings to use.

Best in this context means transparent CD quality with smallest file size and fastest encoding time, (bitrate is not limited). The need for these settings arises because the near CD quality (normally 128kbps) offered by most encoders, whilst sufficient for everyday listening, is not good enough for archives of important recordings.

The space requirements for r3mix quality mp3's are approximately 1.4Mb per minute (the average bitrate is about 180kbps). In other words, you can fit roughly 10 albums on a CD-R, or well over 400 albums on a 30Gb hard disk - standard with today's new PCs.

The current encoder of choice at r3mix.net is the Lame encoder (and hence the programmers of Lame have paid tribute to the website by using its name as shorthand for their preferred settings). To make the best mp3s you can use the following command:

lame --r3mix infile.wav outfile.mp3

"--r3mix" is a synonym for

  • "-V1 -mj -h --athtype 3 --lowpass 19.5 -b112" in Lame 3.88 beta, and
  • "--nspsytune --vbr-mtrh -V1 -mj -h -b96 --lowpass 19.5 --athtype 3 --ns-sfb21 2 -Z --scale 0.98" in version 3.90.

Some versions of all-in-one ripping software like the latest CDex and Audiograbber now include an r3mix setting in their options, but the site recommends using ExactAudioCopy and Win32Lame for best results.

The History of MP3

The Early Years

The development of the now-ubiquitous MP3 audio compression scheme can be traced back to 1987, at the Fraunhofer Institut Intergriete Shaltungen in Erlangen, Germany. A project was started to develop a high-quality, high-compression audio codec; this was dubbed EUREKA project EU147, Digital Audio Broadcasting. The end result of this product eventually became known as ISO-MPEG Audio Layer 3, A.K.A. MP3.

In January of 1988, the Motion Picture Experts Group (MPEG) was created as a committee within the International Standards Organization (ISO). In 1989, Fraunhofer got a patent for their compression scheme, which was submitted to the ISO in 1992 and included in the MPEG-1 specification, published in 1993. In 1990, Fraunhofer developed the first MP3 player, but by all accounts it was a fairly underwhelming bit of work. The first song compressed into MP3 format was "Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega, because of its dynamic range. On the 26th of January, 1995, Fraunhofer applied for a US patent on MP3, which it received on 26 November, 1996. All was quiet on the MP3 front until...

"And then there's running, and screaming..."

In 1997, Tomislav Uzelac, working at Advanced Multimedia Productions, wrote the AMP MP3 playback engine, the first 'real' MP3 player to be publicly available. Then a couple of students, Justin Frankel and Dmitry Boldyrev, put a pretty face on it, made it run in windows, and called it--yep, that's right--WinAMP. Basically, this little piece of free software, released in 1998, nine years after MP3 was originally patented, sparked the "MP3 Revolution." A proliferation of players, rippers, hardware devices, and search tools soon followed.

In 1999, a record label called Sub Pop began to distribute some of their tracks in MP3 format, apparently the first record label to do so. One other major development occurred in 1999--Napster, written by a 19 year old student named Shawn Fanning. Let it never be said that a teenage geek can't change the world overnight. WinAMP had already made MP3s easy to use; now Napster made them virtually effortless to find. The RIAA and the US legal system have since put a stop to Napster. However, it is still certainly possible to find MP3s, and they're not going anywhere soon.


Sources:
Adam Walker (the Tom's Diner tidbit)
Behind the Files: History of MP3, by Gabriel Nijmeh, http://www.compunotes.com/ArticleSection/behindthefilesmp3.htm
MP3 Overview, on hotwired.lycos.com
The History of MP3 and how did it all begin, http://www.mp3-mac.com/Pages/History_of_MP3.html

"MP3" is the third album from the alternative rock trio Marcy Playground (thus the title). Released March 23rd, 2004. Was their first album since the commercial and critical flop "Shapeshifter" was released in November 1999. That album was released on the heels of their 1997 self-titled debut that went platinum on the Top 40 success of the one song that everyone and their grandmother knows them for, "Sex & Candy." This album comes in with even less hype and considering even my local knowledgeable record store clerk didn't know they were still around, won't exactly shoot them back into the mainstream.

Yet, the album's first (and probably only) single, "Deadly Handsome Man" is having modest success on modern rock radio right now. Plus, even after all the one-hit drama and all the hoopla over their 2nd album falling to the "sophomore curse": Marcy Playground still shows they know how to craft a great rock song unlike few still can.

Track List:

1. Spoonfed - 4:08

2. Blood in Alphabet Soup - 2:19

3. No One's Boy - 2:51

4. Hotter Than the Sun - 4:19

5. Rock and Roll Heroes - 2:55

6. Jesse Went to War - 3:37

7. Flag and Finger - 3:26

8. Deadly Handsome Man - 3:31

9. Punk Rock Superstar - 2:54

10. Paper Dolls - 2:35

11. Death of a Cheerleader - 4:45

12. Brand New Day - 3:36

13. Sleepy Eyes - 3:52

14. Barfly - 5:17

Notables (IMO) include: "Paper Dolls", "Blood in Alphabet Soup", “Brand New Day”, "Flag and Finger" and "Sleepy Eyes."

As a format, mp3 still exists and is good as it ever was. As a way to listen to music, the idea of a format has been superseded by curated social platforms.

A few weeks ago, as the large scale quarantines were beginning, Nine Inch Nails announced that they were releasing a double album for free on their website, as some free content to help people get through the trying times. I went to their website, found the zip archive, downloaded it, unzipped it, and added it to my WinAMP playlist. That got me to thinking: did other bands still have free mp3s on their websites? I have been clicking around trying to find if there are still sites that host free mp3s. While such things exist, they are harder to find than expected, with a smaller selection than expected, considering the gigantic size of the internet.

A brief history of how mp3s were distributed on the internet. When I first got a 56K internet connection, in the autumn of 1998, mp3s were hosted as links on websites. Some of these were legal, some of them were not, but in both cases, the links were ephemeral, and had an eclectic mix of whatever was available at the time. I remember downloading standard pop songs as well as odd Europop dance mixes. An mp3 was commonly about a Megabyte per minute. On a 56K modem, with an optimal download speed of about 5 Kilobytes per second, this worked out to about 200 seconds to download a minute of mp3. A short pop song, if you had good luck, would take 10 minutes to download. Often, with the vagaries of the Windows operating system and modem connections, it would cut off before you were done. So back in 1998 or 1999, if you were one of the cool computer kids in your dorm room, and you spent your weekends clicking around on webpages buried deep in the Yahoo! site hierarchy, you would have a few dozen mp3s on your computer. Half of these would be standard pop songs that you could hear on the radio. The other half would be promotional tracks by German techno groups. Many would be truncated by download failures. Many would be mislabeled (exacerbated by the limitations of the Windows FAT32 naming table, where files would be titled something like "THEBEA~2.MP3"). It was glorious fun, at the time.

The next big shift in mp3 usage came as file sharing programs like Napster took off. This also coincided with the spread of DSL and other broadband technology. Soon, people could easily download entire albums in a short while. The industry started noticing and cracking down. Getting an entire album in ten minutes was a lot different than getting half a song in 10 minutes. In 2001, Apple introduced the first iPod mp3 player. Mp3s were becoming either big business, or a scourge to it, depending on who you asked, and they stopped being solely a hobby. At the same time, most of the chaos remained. Limewire was full of novelty songs wrongly attributed to Weird Al Yankovich, and many of the mp3s shared were still of bad sound quality, or were truncated. Mp3 files were also shared across chat clients like AIM. They were also available as legal demo or public domain files.

So when did we enter our current age, when the mp3 format is no longer important? Like many things on the internet, it happened slowly. One of the main developments was probably the adaptation of broadband that allowed realtime video and audio streaming. Once people had YouTube, with any music video or song from the past few decades available on request, the need to collect and archive songs on someone's own computer waned in importance. In the past decade, streaming and distribution platforms such as Soundcloud, Spotify and Bandcamp and a few other services have consolidated online music into social and commercial activities.

"But" someone might be saying "Musicians have to make money, they can't just give away everything for free", and I am not debating that. But as I poked around on different bands websites, I was surprised to find that they didn't have even a token selection of downloadable music. Even bands like The Grateful Dead and Phish who encourage live taping don't have an mp3 section on their sites. For bands to include a few outtake or rarity mp3s on their website in mp3 format for direct download doesn't seem like it would be too detrimental to their commercial prospects. I did find in my searches that there are a few sites that still provide mp3s for free download, including the Free Music Archive. Most of these songs are by obscure and non-commercial bands, however.

In general, the ontological priority of the internet has shifted, and mp3s are a part of that shift. Whereas mp3s used to be discrete units that people had control over, this has shifted to music no longer being a thing, but rather part of a relationship, where people are members of sites that deliver them music. These sites are also, needless to say, commercially oriented, and interact with an online person that is described by a series of common internet social media platforms, such as signing on to Soundcloud with a Facebook login. That this change in how the internet defines things was perhaps inevitable. We have gone from the simplicity of the Unix "everything is a file" approach, to a world where computer and internet usages are defined by membership in social media platforms. Perhaps inevitable, but I miss my day of mismatched, abridged mp3s from diverse sources floating in my harddrive.

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