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Social History of the MP3

25th August, 2009 by Daniel

Pitchfork: social history of the mp3. Some thoughts on this.

In 2001 for GCSE coursework we were tasked to do a ‘Personal Research Project’, basically we had to come up with a topic, look into it and draw some conclusions. I can’t remember what grade I got for it in the end but I remember it not being as good as I thought it would be. I thought I’d picked a great subject, one that nobody else in the school was looking at and it’s one that is still talked about in mainstream press to this day. My topic was Will MP3’s kill the Music Industry? To put the timeframe into perspective Apple didn’t release their mac-only firewire iPod until October of that year, the first iPod that supported USB properly was the 4th Generation model in 2004.
Through my uncle, who’s a conductor, I got an interview with a record executive at Virgin Records and he completely dismissed the idea of MP3’s. He couldn’t understand the appeal whatsoever and having followed the story since he seems to have summed up the entire industry. He was telling me about his expensive hifi and that the experience could never compare with poor quality compressed sources. At yet at school we were getting excited about Napster and AudioGalaxy, a friend had a 256MB Rio mp3 player. We had seen the future, Moore’s law was on our side and hard drives were getting cheaper and more capacious. Nowadays I can store all my music in a tiny box, ironically it sits next to our collection of CD’s which get heaved around the place taking up an entire wall. Not to mention the LP’s and 45’s which feed the Wurlitzer. I just came back from a Week long trip and in one device had at my fingertips pretty much every song I’ve ever loved.

So how have MP3’s changed the way I enjoy music? Certainly they have, certainly bands like Radiohead’s worries about the enjoyment of proper albums are true. I tend to employ playlisting along with listening to an entire back catalogue of an artist at a time. Other’s will just listen on random which is something I don’t like so much but I can see the appeal. But it’s got me thinking, have I enjoyed more recent albums as much as i’ve enjoyed albums I lovingly transferred to mini disc for my walk to school? Now that I can have 1000’s of tracks with me compared to a mere two maybe three albums do I listen to those songs in so much detail anymore? Is the music having less of an affect on me?
Time was I’d buy a CD and listen to it endlessly while buying more CD’s and only replacing it on my hallowed essential list if deemed worthy. Now it’s just so easy to have so much with you that there is no need for that one must-have disc to be kept on your person all the time, just bring it all…

I do think it has helped find new things though., Spotify – I have a bit of an obsession making sure listens are scrobbled so I can track and compile my habits. But finding new things isn’t quite as satisfying as coming across something you love so much you never tire of it.


  1. Rob says:

    I do like to think that the reason the “old” music industry failed entirely to capitalise on the digital revolution was due to them being unwilling to look, rather than failing to see what was in front of them. They didn’t want the CD days to end – if you have seen the chart that’s floating around on the internet, it’s obvious why.

    On your last point I couldn’t agree more… I very recently was reminded of the band Bush, who to my shame I had completely forgotten about, and it’s almost eerie how well I can remember their songs when I haven’t heard them in so many years.

    The digital revolution is still very much underway, it’ll be extremely interesting to see where we are in 10 years time.

  2. Daniel says:

    Yes! *racks brain to think where I saw that chart* The comment went something like as each format was released sales were going up and then there was the CD which just got them comfortable, every format since hasn’t done nearly as well.
    But yeah I have the screensaver on my computer the throws up the artwork from your mp3’s and I just stare at it going, “oh I haven’t listened to that in a while”

  3. p?aszcze says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post. Great step by step description!

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