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Is MP3 the Death of the Music Industry?

Sandra Prior
Jun 4, 2008
MP3 - short for MPEG audio layer 3 - has generated so much press coverage that entire rainforests have been destroyed to cope with the demand for newspaper, and the hot air emanating from panicky music industry meetings has punched a new hole in the ozone layer.

The reason for the fuss is that MP3, a way of storing CD-quality music in reasonably sized files, is slowly taking over the world - and it's almost as popular as sex. That claim might sound bizarre, but 'MP3' is the second most popular term tapped into Internet search engines by music hungry web users.

A whole new culture has sprung up on the Web, with thousands of sites offering MP3 files for download and hundreds of software companies trying hard to get in on the act by producing players, creators and streamers. Record companies are worried that the technology means the death of the music industry as we know it, while the companies who spotted MPS's potential in the early days are zooming around in Ferraris and giggling like schoolgirls.

If you've ever mucked about with music on your computer, you'll know that CD-quality WAV files can easily reach sizes of 60MB or more. MP3 files, on the other hand, manage to sound almost identical to the source but only take up 4 or 5MB. Because the files are so small and so easy to make, it's the logical choice for delivering music over the Internet.

Instead of queuing up to face the surly assistants at your local record emporium, you can browse the Web for the music you want and download it in a matter of minutes. With a range of portable, cell phone and car MP3 players on the market, you don't even have to lug your computer around with you when you want music on the move.

Musical Mutation

MP3 files are very easy to make, and most music software includes the option to create an MP3 file. Specialist programs go a step further, using a process known as ripping to read music from your CD-ROM drive and turn it into MP3 files. Because MP3 is a proper standard created by the same people behind MPEG video, there's an incredible amount of software that can play back MP3 files, and most of its available free. Windows media player which comes installed by default can easily play MP3 files and you don't even need to find another MP3 player.

Although it's perfectly legal to make MP3 files of your own music, it's illegal to copy pre-recorded music without permission, even if it's for your own use and that's exactly what thousands of people are doing. Countless illegal MP3 sites are offering CD-quality versions of almost every song you can think of, including the latest chart hits and even songs that haven't been released yet.

Although the record companies are miffed, it's the phenomenal number of illegal MP3 files that's responsible for the huge popularity of the format. The scale of illegal MP3 files on the Net is staggering. Stick the words MP3 into a search engine and you'll get millions of results, and a quick browser will uncover plenty of sites offering several hundred current and recent chart hits together with links to 50 or 60 similar MP3 sites. The files are almost indistinguishable from the CD originals.

MP3's isn't just for illegal things. You find spoken word tracks and comedy tracks on many legal MP3 sites and MP3 radio stations. Bands looking for that elusive record deal use MP3 files to get their music heard by as many people as possible.

Record companies have always been suspicious of any technology that could threaten their bank balances. Despite their best efforts, the industry has been largely unsuccessful in its attempts to fight the MP3 pirates. Some record companies have started to realize that the MP3 genie is well and truly out of the bottle.
About the Author
Sandra Prior runs her own websites at http://usacomputers.rr.nu and http://sacomputers.rr.nu.
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