joys of MP3 music
Some extraordinary news was reported recently:
for the first time ever in the history of the Web
search engines, "sex" was not the most frequent
search term. It has been replaced by "MP3." This is
By now many of you are probably into MP3, and I
have to admit that I'm a bit behind the curve on
this one. But if it's news to you, read on, and
find out what makes MP3 so sexy.
MP3 is a way of digitizing music that creates a
relatively small file size, resulting in a quantum
leap in the ease of distribution on the Internet.
Because MP3 players and encoders can be freely
downloaded from the Internet, there's been a huge
explosion in the digitization and dissemination of
The quality is nearly the same as a CD, and
hundreds of thousands of files are now available on
the Internet for downloading. Whatever your tastes,
from rock to rap to classical to world music, it's
all there. You simply download a free player, which
is a small software application that resides on
your computer. Then you may need to configure your
browser to recognize the MP3 file type
(instructions available online), and then you start
downloading music files. You're ready to create as
large a music collection as you want--for free.
Or if you already have a large music collection
on CD, you can download a free encoder which allows
you to play encode your CD as you play it on your
CD-ROM drive. By the time it finishes playing,
you've got it in MP3 format on your computer. Why
would you want to do that? Some people find that
it's an excellent way to store and organize their
large CD collection. They prefer to have their
favorite music all on one place in their computer
rather than on various CDs, mixing and matching
with their electronic jukebox to create a playlist
of songs they like.
MP3 takes about one megabyte for each minute of
playing time. Since, it's common for computers
these days to have four gigabyte hard drives you
could easily 30 hours of playing time or over 600
songs if you had a couple free gigabytes.
Admittedly, there's a lot of controversy
surrounding MP3. For one thing, many people have
ignored intellectual property rights and have
illegally posted copyrighted music on the Internet.
The big record companies are trying hard to stop
But there is also a huge amount of legitimate
music available. Many record labels will put a
portion of the CD online, hoping to get you to buy
the whole CD. Also, many recording artists are
making their work available in an effort to build
their reputation as well as to sell albums.
A good place to start is MP3.Com.
This site has been around since the MP3 boom began
and has long given useful information about the
various players available and how to get set up.
Lately, however, they've gone into partnership with
Real Networks, so now most of their information is
oriented toward downloading and setting up the free
Real Player software. This is what I've been using,
and it works well enough. The Real Player software
also allows you to hear the music via streaming.
That means that instead of taking 10 minutes to
download a two-megabyte file using a 33.6 modem,
you can click on the streaming link and the music
will start playing immediately--but the quality
won't be as good as when you download the file.
If you have a fast connection, then you're set.
You can get high-quality streaming or fast
downloads of songs. Your main limitation will be
There are a variety of free, shareware, and
commercial players available, with "digital
jukeboxes" becoming very popular. Two that are
widely used are WinAmp for Windows and MacAmp for
Macintosh. The Mac's QuickTime software (version 4)
can also be used to play MP3 files. You can buy
portable Walkman-type players that let you download
30-60 minutes of music from your computer. Since
they use RAM cards, there are no moving
parts--ideal for someone on the run.
MP3.Com has over 150,000 files available, and I
was impressed with the variety of their classical
music. They are careful not to offer pirated music.
Lycos offers an MP3
search engine, which indexes half a million
files. This is also a good introductory site.
So if you haven't yet explored the joys of MP3,
a whole world of music awaits. Time to get your
© 1999 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.