The end of MP3?
MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3, which is more commonly referred to as MP3, has been in use on domestic audio players for about twelve years. It was developed by several teams of engineers, led by engineers at Fraunhofer IIS in Erlangen, Germany. The standard is a ‘lossy’ compression, ie in order to reduce the size of the file, the amount of data which is compressed is reduced. This means we lose some of the data/music, but it is tailored to the abilities of the ear to hear high and low notes, where most of the data loss occurs. This still gives a faithful version of the original recording, although music purists reading this will be crying in to their valve amplifiers and record decks at that comment.
Its rise in popularity can probably be traced to the release of the Rio PMP300, in 1998, one of the first portable MP3 players to be released, despite legal suppression efforts by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The internet, and the ease by which whole albums could be downloaded has helped it gain popularity. The effect upon the music recording industry is not to be underestimated. Many artists now recognise they will not make much money from music sales. Artists started by releasing tracks for free download, and performers such as Prince even gave away their albums for free download. The significant sums are to be made from touring and merchandising.
The music industry is fighting back, with the introduction later this year of a new standard – MusicDNA. It is aim is to entice music lovers to once again pay for their music, and in so doing they have had to give it added value. The music itself remains in MP3 format. However, if a listener is playing the music on an internet-enabled device, they can view videos of recent performances, pour over artwork and sleeve notes, find out about concerts and buy a tour T-shirt, while following any blogs or tweets the musician might write. The information given with the legally downloaded files will update automatically with tour dates or releases etc, but pirated files will remain static. Will this spell the death of MP3 as we have grown to love? I doubt whether music lovers will quickly switch to the new standard. They will in the longer term if they receive value for money, and the music companies will be keen to explore this new revenue stream.