Happy 25th birthday to the MP3

Back around 1996, I heard about this new thing called an “MP3” from a guy who was working security at a club where I was DJing.

“It’s the best! You can find any song you want on the internet! And it’s all free! I’ve been collecting obscure 12-inch remixes, stuff that has been out of print for years!”)

Given that I think I still had a dial-up modem at the time, I didn’t pay much attention. At first, anyway. Then I dove in–as did the rest of the planet. Within a couple of years, CD sales had begun to tank, the recorded music industry was panicking, and Steve Jobs was on his way to cornering the digital download market for Apple.

The MP3 extention–.mp3–first appeared in an official way on July 14, 1995. Frequent contributor Gilles LeBlanc takes the story from there.

I am an admitted sucker for music-related anniversaries, the more obscure the better. So when I learned July 14, 1995 was the day the .mp3 file extension officially came into existence, I kind of feel obligated to acknowledge the format taking up digital real estate on more than one of the external hard drives my wife asks me every so often why I still have around.

I can barely remember what I said to her 25 minutes ago, let alone when I would have started downloading MP3s in earnest. It was certainly well before Napster became a dominant online presence in 1999; the scourge of Metallica’s Lars Ulrich was simply a more streamlined way to hunt down content housed on disparate FTP servers.

The MP3 was developed by Germany’s Fraunhofer Society for the Advancement of Applied Research, basically compressing songs that would be ten times bigger in terms of data if ripped from a compact disc without discernible differences to the human ear. Der mann who was primarily responsible apparently had “Tom’s Diner” by Suzanne Vega on a continuous loop to ensure consistent audio quality. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to sing along to “doo doo doo doo doo doodoo doo” at work over and over again?

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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