MP3: the future of popular music?
Technology is moving at such speed that has never been seen
before. We live in the Digital Age. Computers are relied on far more than
ever before. They are in our offices, our libraries, our homes, our gyms,
our cars and our microwaves. We depend on new technology to structure
our day. We see examples of it everywhere – web site advertising is now
commonplace. It is the internet that seems to be at the forefront of the
digital age – offering unlimited, uncensored and unmediated information
to all with access. It is seen by many as a positive invention as it has
provided valuable information to people who would not normally be able
to get it. Recent cases include people who’s lives have been saved
by browsing for cures to their illnesses. The internet or “world
wide web” is here to stay.
This dissertation will look at one aspect of this largely new phenomena
– Internet Music.
“Every day, hundreds of thousands of music fans across the globe
are accessing music by their favourite bands, and thanks to sites like
Napster – which offers fast, free access to MP3 files to be stored on
your computer or burned on to CD discs – they can tap into this virtual
jukebox for the price of a phone call.”
Ben Marshall, NME, 15th January 2000
The MP3 file is the means by which one may compress music to a memory
saving size to download and then play back on the computer. Such files
are widely available for free as the internet allows people to upload
their entire music collection to their web server and other people can
then download it to their computers. This has been a case for much uproar
in the music industry who see such behaviour as being totally destructive
to the music business. I will look at this notion in this dissertation
and try to come to the conclusion as to whether or not the MP3 will herald
the death of the music industry or the birth of free artistic expression.
During the course of writing this dissertation I undertook a vast amount
of research. Due to the nature of MP3 being a fairly new phenomena I was
not able to call upon too much published theoretical material. However,
there has been plenty of reports both in the printed press and the internet.
I have referred to these as they are much more cutting edge and relevant
to now – the time of writing. It would seem that technology would not
wait for me to finish this work and there have been many developments
even at the stage of writing up my research. For this reason, many of
the stories referred to may have had significant developments between
the time of writing and the time of reading. I have included the results
of my own extensive research. I gave questionnaires to a quota of one
hundred people, from which my results have been collated and presented
in graphical form. I also interviewed ten separate people in depth to
find out more individual opinion on the subject of MP3. All of my data
is referred to at the relevant parts of this dissertation.
What is mp3?
“You, the consumer will be able to obtain every single
piece of music ever recorded for absolutely nothing.”
Ben Marshall, NME, January 15th 2000
Before looking at the implications of MP3 let us look at what MP3 actually
is. Basically, MP3 is a computer file which contains music or films. It
is interesting because it can compress data so that a file which would
normally be 40MB becomes only 3MB. This compression means that whole albums
can be downloaded from the internet at once. There are a few debates around
as to the legal implications of MP3. To get the facts about MP3 defined
for this essay I will refer to Michael Robertson (1998), writing for MP3.com
who outlines a few defining factors of MP3.
MP3 is not illegal, it is simply an audio compression format.
“MP3 is an audio compression file format and by itself is not illegal
or legal, but like many technologies it can be implemented for both legal
and illegal uses. It is similar to zip compression common to most PC users.
Zip files can be used to distribute copyrighted materials illegally or
for legitimate purposes. Some persons use MP3 to distribute unlicensed
music, but many use the technology for completely legal applications.”
A legal MP3 file would be a recording of uncopyrighted music such as
one’s own band or musical doodlings. Most classical music is also
free from copyright, unless the individual performances are copyrighted.
MP3 is the standard for high quality music and will soon be on every
“MP3 is an open standard, meaning no one organisation controls
it. On the Internet, open standards win and this is why even without any
significant corporate backing, MP3 is already the de facto standard. There
are more MP3 listeners, software programs, and hardware devices than any
other CD quality audio format in the world. Microsoft has built MP3 support
into Windows98 SP1. Macromedia Shockwave uses MP3. Newest version of RealPlayer
will support MP3. Microsoft NetShow also supports MP3.”*
Because nobody controls MP3 it can be used everywhere. This leads to
the modern equivalent of home taping. MP3’s are not copy-protected
so anybody can duplicate the files. They are also not restricted, for
example Microsoft’s Liquid Audio (not MP3) enables users to download
music files that can be listened to for a limited time, when they expire
they no longer work.
MP3 gives artists and labels freedom to market and sell their music anyway
“Artists and labels can employ MP3 technology in the best way to
suit their individual needs. Give away one song to sell a CD, distribute
low quality versions of songs, sell individual songs for digital delivery,
prepend an audio commercial to songs, there are limitless possibilities
for artists to explore.”
This view is supported by many unsigned bands who use providers such
as Peoplesound, MP3.com and Napster to distribute their own music. Signed
artists such as David Bowie, Asian Dub Foundation, Prince, Chuck D and
The Beastie Boys are all in favour of MP3 for this reason. They have the
control now that they never had with their record labels – they control
the means of production and distribution.
Hundreds of companies are building businesses around MP3.
“A large number of software, hardware and content companies are
building thriving businesses around MP3.”
It should be noted that there are many illegal MP3 companies who deal
in MP3 CDs at computer fairs. These companies buy existing commercial
CDs and copy them, in MP3 form to other CDs so that up to nine albums
can fit on a single CD. These CDs vastly undercut the legal copies and
sell from between £3 and £10 an album.
Thousands of artists are distributing content in mp3 today.
“There are many thousands of artists already distributing their
content in MP3 format today. Thousands sell MP3 files and thousands are
using MP3 to market their work as on the MP3.com website.”
MP3 is the most cost effective and easy way for artists to explore online
“It costs nothing to begin playing MP3s (simply download a free
player from MP3.com). With a modern PC, anyone can construct MP3 files
from audio CDs with a literally a few clicks of a mouse.”
MP3 can be as secure as any current audio format.
“MP3 is simply a file compression method which can also include
any advanced technology to regulate the use of MP3 files. Technologies
such as digital watermarking, preventing digital broadcasts from being
saved, restricting the playback of an audio file to one computer are all
possible and in use in MP3 applications today.”
Because nobody owns the rights to MP3, regardless of the fact that it
is possible to make the files secure there will always be unsecure files
available on the net. People will not necessarily want to download a limited
version of an MP3 file that offers unlimited use.
The music industry is not losing billions to MP3.
“Press releases have quoted losses in the billions to MP3 piracy.
If CD sales are lost due to piracy, many are sure to be made up by exposing
people to more music who then buy CDs from bands they would not have ever
heard otherwise. In reality, it’s an impossible number to measure. The
true impact of MP3 has yet to be felt on any grand scale.”
Artists and labels can make money employing MP3 technology on the net.
“Given the world audience the internet provides, smaller music
niches can be successfully identified and courted. Bands can touch a multi-million
person audience at little to no cost using areas like the MP3.com, mailing
lists and other online tools.”
MP3 users should respect copyrights.
“MP3 makes it a breeze to create digital reproductions of audio
works, but that does not nullify the copyrights of the author. Audio lovers
should always get author or copyright holder’s permission before distributing
content in MP3 format.”
This point is obviously MP3.com’s disclaimer for the implications
of all of the previous points. The fact that many people are enjoying
the fruits of MP3 can be attributed to its anarchic two fingers up at
the recording industry.
So MP3, it would appear, is here to stay. America certainly seems to
have been enjoying the technology for some time. The internet seems to
have a way of hyping up things, especially when it thinks it is destroying
commercial areas. I undertook some research here in England to find out
exactly how much people know about MP3 and whether they think it really
is the future of music.
What the people think
I carried out some research to find out what people’s
opinions are about mp3. My survey was with one hundred people from different
class, gender, sex and ethnicity. The aim of my research was to discover
what people actually think and know about MP3. Whilst the research may
not be wholly representative of the population it serves the purpose of
this dissertation adequately – particularly when the percentage gives
an overall bias in either way. The results of my research are detailed
here. The results are represented in percentages.
[stats chart here]
Of the people surveyed 67% had heard of the MP3 and 67% also knew what
MP3 actually is. Only 43% of the survey owned a personal computer and
of that 43% only 25% had internet access. Nobody in the survey owned a
MP3 player but 50% would consider buying one. 33% would spend no more
than £30 on a player whilst 50% said £50 and the remaining
17% said they would be prepared to spend £70. Nobody in the survey
would spend any more than this.
Question (advantages) Yes No
Music is easily accessed from the internet 71% 29%
Saves on time trying to find what you want from a record shop 43% 57%
Saves money as MP3s can be free 86% 14%
Better because one can create ones own selection of tracks for a CD 100%
Saves money because purchaser doesn’t have to pay for packaging,
p&p etc 86% 14%
They cut out the middle man doing away with greedy record executives 71%
It takes ages to download MP3s from the internet 71% 29%
Takes ages to find what you want on the internet 71% 29%
The legal MP3s are only from unsigned bands 57% 43%
The traditional LP or album is lost as MP3 tracks are selected individually
MP3s have no packaging – there is no tangible item 71% 29%
Because the internet is not regulated the products are do not come under
quality control 100% 0%
10. Are there any other issues you would like to raise regarding MP3?
Question ten is an open-ended question which I included to try and discover
any points that my questionnaire may not have covered. Whilst many left
this space blank one particularly important issue was raised:
“Although personal MP3 players are ok – I am waiting for the release
of in car MP3 players which would offer not only great versatility for
reading audio CDs but if one were to use MP3s for one’s own music
collection, this would do away with multi-audio CD systems – 200+ tracks
per cd.” (answer from one questionnaire).
The point above raises an important question. At present, the personal
MP3 players are basically mini-computers and cannot hold much more than
sixty minutes of quality audio. However, it is possible to buy (on the
black market) CDs full of MP3s that can be read by personal computers
if the have the relevant software (all included on the MP3 CD!).
I went to Bletchley computer fair and for £5 bought one CD containing
no less than six albums: “Standing On The Shoulder of Giants”
– Oasis, “The Beach Soundtrack”, “The Who love at the
BBC” – The Who, the new Death in Vegas album, The Brits double album
and John Lennon’s “Imagine”. The six albums all together
would have cost me £77.94 to buy from the shops, yet I managed to
get them all for a fiver! The traders were also offering five such MP3
CDs for £20 – a five pound saving. So for £20 one could have
the complete back catalogues of Queen, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles,
The Who and Madness. The Madness CD even came with lyrics to all 160 of
the songs on the CD. This prompted me into thinking that I could do away
with ever buying CDs from shops again, all I would need to do would be
to wait for the monthly computer fair and take £20 to get 1000 songs
from the latest releases. I counted three separate stalls dealing in illegal
MP3 CDs of all the latest chart CDs as well as classic albums. Each CD
came with a copy of WinAmp (MP3 playing software) and scans of the front
and back covers of the jewel case for the buyer to print out. In my plastic
bag I later found a price list and mail order form to buy by mail at no
When I got home I promptly copied the encoded new Oasis album onto a
regular CD to play in my Hi-Fi. Whilst it was copying I printed out the
front and back covers to give me an authentic looking CD. Total cost of
new Oasis album = £1.54 (£0.83 (£5.00/6) + £0.46
(blank CD) + £0.25 (ink)) This made me a saving of £11.45
as at the time the equivalent legitimate CD was £12.99 in most supermarkets.
Of course this was all for research purposes! If music companies provided
music legitimately in MP3 form on a CD it would indeed be possible for
in-car CD players with MP3 facilities to flourish. Instead of buying a
Jam box-set full of CDs from HMV one could get it all on one CD to easily
listen to with constant CD changing. If MP3 technology is going to take
off there could be catastrophic consequences for the recording industry.
In the next chapter I will look at these implications.
mp3 & The Future of the Recording Industry
“…the means to hurt big record companies are
now at almost everyone’s disposal.”
Steve Lamac, BBC Radio One
If music is to made available for free on the internet it could be said
that time could very well be called on the music industry as we know it.
Free MP3s of favourite bands would certainly be preferable to spending
up to £16.00 on a CD in Britain. If everybody in the country were
to buy a PC and download the music they want for free from web sites such
as Napster large companies such as EMI/Time Warner would need to act quickly
to ensure they retain their business. In this chapter I will look at the
implications for the music industry by looking at recent examples from
Writing for NME’s January 15th edition, Ben Marshall looks at the
implications of MP3 technology. He outlines some important points regarding
the time when cassettes first threatened the music industry. Twenty years
ago, Malcolm McClaren, the manager of The Sex Pistols had a plan to destroy
the music industry. He created a band called Bow Wow Wow whose first single
was called ‘C30,C60,C90 Go!’. The song encouraged people to
copy albums to tape and give them to their friends. The single was also
only released in cassette form. Marshall calls this “brutal, simplistic
nihilism” and suggests that the new MP3 ‘revolution’
takes McClaren’s anarchy to a new level. Marshall explains that
home taping did not kill the music industry but maybe MP3 will. “..the
means to hurt big record companies are now at almost anyone’s disposal.”
He says that every song ever recorded will soon be available for free
on the internet. On the minus side, he argues that commercial music will
no longer be produced. If the record companies are destroyed there will
be no funding for album advances. The excellent sound quality people have
become accustomed to from extravagant recording studios will be lost because
there will not be any funding.
The most notorious case of late is the ongoing battle between Napster
and the music industry. Napster (www.napster.com) is a program the enables
users to share their record collections online for free. People who download
the program from www.napster.com can create a virtual record collection
on their harddrive, consisting of Mp3s they have made from their CDs.
These Mp3s are then stored in a directory on their own computer (not Napsters).
When online other users of Napster can view and download entire collections.
Napster has come under fire from many within the music industry for infringing
copyright law. Both Metallica and Dr Dre are suing Napster for making
their records available for free online. Their argument is that they should
not be done out of their due royalties by the thieving internet users.
Napster argue that because no files are actually stored on their server,
they can not be to blame if users decide to share their music collections
illegally. Speaking in an interview with online magazine ZDNet (www.zdnet.com)
Napster’s founder Shawn Fenning says that his aim was not to promote
illegal copying of music but to allow users to communicate with each other
and share their own files. However, the RIAA say that Napster must shoulder
the blame due to the fact that the illegal sharing of music would not
be possible without the Napster program.
NME’s online site (www.nme.com) has been keenly following the Napster
case. In a report on 23 May 2000 one writer explains that “rock
‘n’ roll is poised on the brink of civil war over MP3. Fans are taking
on the record labels and bands in the Internet revolution that is MP3
downloading.” It is explained that whilst Metallica may be able
to block Napster users who illegally download and share tracks, they cannot
prevent the same people re-registering under pseudonyms each time they
are blocked. NME suggest that the music industry is fighting a loosing
battle. Not all bands follow the policy of Metallica and Dr Dre in their
anti-free download stance. NME.com says that Blur, Courtney Love, Public
Enemy, Smashing Pumpkins, The Offspring and Limp Bizkit are all pro-Napster.
Public Enemy’s Chuck D spoke at a Congressional Committee in Washington
in defence of Napster on 24th May 2000. He said that sites such as Napster
were vital to unsigned bands in getting their music heard. Of the existing
recording industry he is quoted in ZDNet (www.zdnet.com) saying “This
system needs to be eradicated and we must start from scratch.”
Perhaps Chuck D’s vision is naïve. When I downloaded the Napster
program I was certainly not doing it to listen to the new unsigned bands
that people like Anthony Wilson were interested in. I, like many others
was interested in getting hold of albums that I would be paying nearly
twenty pounds for in the shops. If the internet is to be a breeding ground
for new exciting unsigned acts that Peoplesound (www.peoplesound.co.uk)
would like to suggest then it would seem that for maximum publicity the
bands concerned would be fighting with all the other unsigned bands on
the net to get their music heard. The end result may mean that nobody
actually gets their new music heard because there is a wealth of competition
out there. When offered with thousands of bands with the description “OASIS
soundalikes” or one original Oasis album for free it could be suggested
that the majority of people would opt for the original, safe bet.
One way record companies could survive is to allow companies such as
Napster to charge a monthly fee for downloading all music. The fee could
be then split proportionately amongst the record companies. A recent survey
in the States revealed that 73 per cent of college students use Napster
at least once a month. But 58.5 per cent of them said that they would
be happy to pay a monthly fee of $15 dollars – around £10 – for
the service. Another study found that 60 per cent of people using college
computers were using them to download music.
Many artists are in favour of using the internet to distribute their
music and could be seen as being more forward thinking than their record
companies. Courtney Love, singer of grunge group Hole spoke out in support
of Napster at the Digital Hollywood conference at Los Angeles saying:
“Stealing our copyright provisions in the dead of night when no-one
is looking is piracy. It’s not piracy when kids swap music over the Internet
using Napster. There were one billion downloads last year but music sales
are way up, so how is Napster hurting the music industry? It’s not. The
only people who are scared of Napster are the people who have filler on
their albums and are scared that if people hear more than one single they’re
not going to buy the album."
Hole are currently in dispute with their record label, according to NME.com.
Geffen Records claim that the band owe them five more albums. Hole could
make their music available in MP3 form online, to get away from the legal
problems of swapping to another label.
"I want to work with people who believe in music and art and passion.
I’m leaving the major label system. It’s a radical time for musicians,
a really revolutionary time, and I believe revolutions are a lot more
fun than cash, which by the way, we don’t have at major labels anyway,
so we might as well get with it and get in the game."
Courtney Love, (Quoted on nme.com)
The Beastie Boys are another group who are in favour of using the internet
to give away free music. The band were one of the first to see the high
potential in internet marketing. In 1999 the band made available tracks
on their web-site:
“…before fans downloaded the band’s songs they must
first submit their email addresses. The band has thus collected more than
10,000 addresses – a valuable marketing tool.”
The Guardian, January 22nd 1999
This can be seen as a positive step for the Beastie Boys. They seem to
have a head for online business and are still helping with their record
company’s profits. However, many artists would love to see the back
of the record company full stop. The people they had once relied on to
distribute may now be redundant, now the MP3 technology is here.
"I don’t know that much about it, but if it destroys record companies,
then it’s good. Whatever gives bands the most artistic freedom and the
chance to make more money out of the fruits of their labour than the record
company does is alright by me. Because right now, record companies are
worse than the fucking Mafia."
Bobby Gillespie, Primal Scream (in NME, April 2000)
Ani Das of Asian Dub Foundation is supportive of Gillespie’s attitude.
He says in The Guardian (January 22nd 1999) that “The real reason
that a band needed a record company is for distribution. That’s
the only thing the musicians didn’t have access to.”
MP3 could also mean a great change to the way in which classical music
is distributed. Clive Gillinson, manager of the London Symphony Orchestra
explains in The Guardian (January 22nd 1999) that his musicians will be
able to copyright their own performances and sell them online to their
It can be argued that the internet offers a high potential for the distribution
of music whether illegally or legally. Briefly turning away from illegal
MP3s, there has long been an argument that internet companies undercut
the high street retailers by around 25% because one deals directly with
the wholesaler and the middleman is cut-out. Legitimate internet companies
such as Amazon (www.amazon.com) and The Jungle (www.jungle.com) offer
cut price CDs. I managed to buy The Very Best Of Ian Dury and The Blockheads
from Yalplay (www.yalplay.co.uk) for considerably less than my nearest
HMV. Then there is Let’sBuyIt.com where the price of goods decreases
with the amount of people ordering. All of these companies, along with
MP3 providers can certainly be seen to herald the end of the music industry
as it is today.
The record industry, however, is not completely defenceless. NME ran
a MP3 feature in the January 15th edition explaining that “The more
techno-savvy record companies are threatening to withdraw their advertising
from search engines like Yahoo and Alta Vista.” Of course revenue
can always be found elsewhere and there will always be the illegal search
engines to search. Jeremy Ford, Editor of .Net Magazine thinks that if
the record company is to survive it should really play on it’s trump
card – the notion of the artefact.
“(record companies) should simply encourage the notion of the artefact
– the thing you can hold – and lower their prices. Home taping didn’t
kill music and neither will MP3s, provided record companies realise that
pop is much more than just music. Why do they think we posters on our
walls? More than ever we live in a designer age. People want stuff they
can show off. You can’t show off an MP3, it doesn’t fucking
exist. Not in any material sense.”
Jeremy Ford, Media Editor of .Net Magazine.
Holding the above point I will now look at what exactly this could mean
for us, the consumers. As consumers of music we will loose the CD, the
Sleeve, the artwork, the photos, the lyrics, the jewel case. “What
is an mp3 file? It’s a song. That’s it, just a song. The whole
thing is about songs, individual, naked, unpackaged, singular, pieces
of lyric, melody and rhythm.” – Antony Wilson (Head of Factory Records,
The Guardian, Thursday May 6 1999). As Wilson says, all an MP3s are is
raw song. No packaging, no jewel case, no sleeve notes, no artwork, no
physical object. Online stores such as amazon and Jungle still deal in
the CD as it is presented in the shops. There are screen shots of the
cover artwork nearly always accompanying a few customer reviews and album
track listing and audio samples. This is not so for MP3s. Bands do not
need to waste resources on commissioning somebody to create some artwork
or packaging. There is no need to put the music on a CD – the PC takes
on this role. The PC provides the reusable hardware. So the future of
the music industry could almost certainly lead to the loss of all the
things that record and marketing companies deal in – the image of the
artefact. On the other hand, postmodernists such as Baudrillard (1993)
say that western society is highly concerned with the image. If people
are so concerned with what things look like, how will MP3 take off? MP3
is, after all, just a file.
People actually like collecting the physical artefact – The CD or LP.
People have music collections they like to show off. The notion of being
in control of the music is very important. CDs are like fashion statements.
CD collections can tell people a lot about the owner. In the next couple
of chapters I will look at why people enjoy the notion of the artefact
and the music collection and how the music collection helps with forming
mp3 and the death of the artefact
If MP3s come in to wide use the physical artefact will disappear.
What one will be left with is the guts of the product – the music itself.
Baudrillard (1993) would say that MP3 will never ever take off because
we are obsessed with what things look like. What does an MP3 look like?
People a less warming towards MP3 because they can not see it.
I asked people in my interviews about the aesthetics of the CD against
the MP3 file. Many were in agreement that the CD is more appealing because
there is an actual object to touch and hold:
“…with a CD you actually know you’ve got something
for your money, MP3 files are just things on your computer. My computer
got a virus last year and everything got wiped. I had some MP3s on my
hard-drive which I obviously don’t have any more – with a CD you
know it’s not going to get wiped.”
Emma Kent, 21, Bournemouth University Student
“My computer has got shit speakers, the music that comes out of
it sounds really crap – There’s this annoying buzz as well. You
can take CDs around to your mates houses or put them in your car. You
can’t do that with MP3s unless you’ve got an MP3 player but
they’re crap ‘cos you can’t just swap over music like
with CDs, you’ve got to go back to the mothership (the PC) to get
Adam Cooke, 23, Nuneaton Designer
“I like CD packaging! When I buy a CD I buy into the whole deal
– I like to get the music, band photos and lyrics. It’s really annoying
when you buy a CD and the packaging’s cack. I don’t mind getting
MP3’s for free but I wouldn’t pay money for them. I think
they’re just another fad like mindiscs were. If you could buy a
CD with the full monty packaging you’d go for it over this bland
Austin Early, 21, Manchester University Student
These people obviously prefer the CD to the MP3. Only one person really
fought for the MP3 saying:
“Why would you really care about the standard CD if you could get
200 tracks in MP3 form on a CD? If they start putting out CDs of MP3s
out I’ll certainly be buying. It’d do away with having to
constantly change your CDs over. I buy a lot of singles but It’s
well annoying to have to change them over three tracks later. I really
like the idea of getting tracks off the internet and them copying (burning)
them to CD in their MP3 form to listen to later. They’d probably
be cheaper too with all the unnecessary packaging done away with.”
David Rose, 39, Unemployed
This person is the ideal candidate for MP3 as he seems to subscribe to
the idea that the image is not important, it is the music that one is
buying. He is not typical of the people I interviewed but if I had managed
to interview many more people the view may have been different. Through
my research it certainly seems clear that people buy into the whole product
when buying a CD. When I asked one person what makes him buy a CD? He
said “I buy CDs if they’ve got a good cover”. He was
unique in his answer and can be used to illustrate the postmodern theories
of Jean Baudrillard.
Kellner (1989, p68) in his analysis of Baudrillard’s work says
that “The proliferation of signs and information in the media obliterates
meaning through neutralising and dissolving all content, a process which
leads to both a collapse of meaning and the distraction of distinction
between media and reality.” Kellner was writing in 1989, when Mp3
would not have been much more than a dream to most people. Like Baudrillard
and numerous other postmodernist writers, Kellner believes that society
today has become encompassed by a mass of empty signs all fighting for
our attention but with no real meaning. The notion of image being all
is very important to them. They see the world being dominated by false
and empty ideology, marketing products which have really no use to anybody.
Mp3 technology throws a spanner in the works of such theorists. Kellner’s
belief can not be applied to Mp3 as the files are all content, no empty
signifiers. As stated earlier Mp3s have no packaging, no jewel case, they
are the bare bones, the actual song.
Boorstin (1978) says that people are happy and safe in their Postmodern
“We risk being the first people in history to have been able to
make their illusions so vivid, so persuasive, so “realistic”
that they can live in them. We are the most illusioned people on earth.
Yet we dare not become disillusioned because our illusions are the very
house in which we live; they are our news, our heroes, our adventure,
our forms of art, our very experience.” – Boorstin (1978, p.240).
Boorstin believes that the world we have created around us is the world
in which we are comfortable. Image is important and it helps us form our
identity. For this reason it can be suggested that the majority of people
will not be accepting of the Mp3 because it has no image. Questions of
how one would market Mp3 files can be raised. Mp3s cannot be sold in shops
unless retailers employ the black market techniques I discussed earlier.
If shops were to sell CDs of Mp3s it would become rather expensive for
the consumer as it would make little sense to put one album on a CD when
nine could fit. I would suggest that stores like HMV and Virgin would
become obsolete as people could order Mp3s online and download them through
the computer for a fraction of the price of the CD which pays the retailer,
the distributor, the publisher and the artist. The main problem with this
idea is how one would actually market Mp3 files.
Mp3 being what it is could not be easily marketed in the traditional
sense. Everything in effect would need to become virtual. We can already
see on advertising on the internet. All of the search engines carry advertising
as well as all of the online magazines and even personal sites. The internet
is a virtual world but is not just a direct copy of the ‘real’
world. The internet is simulacra – the original is somewhat missing. The
internet is not moderated (yet). The internet completely destroys time/space
barriers and conventions and is symbolic of the Postmodern culture employed
in the works of Baudrillard and Lee. It is an immediate culture, a ‘now’
culture whereby everybody must have what they want immediately. There
is no waiting for anything because there is always another site offering
more of the same. The internet opens up the floodgates for competition.
Anybody can use the internet to set up a virtual business (I have: www.guyweb.co.uk).
But how would one become informed and excited about the latest release
by their favourite band? I would suggest that I would not actually be
as hard as one might think. Fans could deal directly with the web sites
of their favourite artists a la Public Enemy. New music could be delivered
as soon as it is recorded without waiting for a record company to give
it a release date. The question may not be how does one market the music
but when will the old style marketing techniques be done away with?
It seems that marketing is not exactly a problem. Magazines will still
exist, be they virtual or actual. The bands will still exist and increasingly
cheap technology will enable them to put out their own music on the internet.
Advertising companies will use all the media including the internet to
advertise their bands. Potential audiences will be easily reached through
digital television and the internet. With the wealth of internet companies
out there, the actual price of advertising on the net will be driven down
as everybody fights for a piece of the action. Most importantly music
will survive and there will be a much greater range of music for people
to choose from.
Of course this assumption largely ignores the fact the many people do
actually rely on the fact that there is a physical essence to the music
that they collect. Take DJs for example – they mix records for a living,
the ‘scratching’ and mixing techniques are the soul of styles
such as hip-hop and these records exist because of record companies. They
are made available en-masse to played in clubs all over the world. What
will happen to the DJ when the artefact has been killed? I would suggest
that DJs will survive. Everybody can be a DJ now with programmes such
as the Judge Jules embraced ‘Music’ and ‘Music 2000’.
For under £40 people can gain access to thousands upon thousands
of samples and a sixty-four track mixing console! People can then create
their own house/rap/techno/handbag/garage tunes. The digital sampler has
aided modern music for over a decade and every sound under the sun has
been sampled. DJs will survive because everything they once did by hand
on the ‘decks’ can be replicated by computer technology. The
question is ‘authenticity’. Do people really subscribe to
the idea that all their creativity can be uniformly categorised and collected
into rigid zeros and one’s? Defining one’s reality through
the sensation of touch could be seen as fundamental to one’s existence.
Music has always been synonymous with feeling. It is an expressive art-form
that defies the logic of the computer.
“Digital graphics and audio-compression routines amount to little
more than tricks. Like those magic eye 3D pictures that require viewers
to un-focus their eyes in order to perceive the illusion, today’s
digital trickery demands that we blur our senses to experience the simulation.
MP3 is not a simple digital sound format, but something known as a psycho-acoustic
algorithm. Rather than reproducing music as accurately as possible given
it’s space constraints, a psycho-algorithm attempts to fool the
brain into hearing what is not there.
By eliminating the real overtones associated with different instruments
and the environments in which they are being played, then replacing them
with a set of similar frequencies, MP3 files save a lot of space. The
algorithm imitates some of the qualities of good sound production, even
though it can’t actually achieve it. Ultimately our brain must use
the sonic clues it receives to imagine the real musical event. We fill
in the blank spots.
This might succeed with electronic music, which exists in a vacuum with
no real world basis for comparison. But MP3 re-creations of recorded instruments
and voices do not impact on our body in the same way that the real recording
does. Our brain may be fooled into believing that it’s hearing an
accurate reproduction of sound, but our body resonates about as much as
it would with a cheap AM radio. It’s the disparity between what
we’re hearing and what we’re actually hearing that causes
the confusion and discomfort.
Hopefully, new digital techniques will be developed that spend the processing
power of our computers on reproduction instead of simulation. Until that
time, however, I’d prefer it if such media came with warning labels:
“Digital simulations employed.”
Douglas Rushkoff Guardian, June 1st 2000
If, as Rushkoff suggests, MP3 files do not have ‘soul’, maybe
it would be a good idea for the record companies to expose this fact to
save their means of production. So, not only does the MP3 cut out the
artefact, it removes most of the original sound and what one hears is
pure simulation. The argument against MP3 survival would play upon both
of these points. Music has always been more than just (simulated) music.
Advocators of MP3 ignore the fact that people actually like to have the
physical ‘artefact’ in their collections and define their
lives through such artefacts. As a counter argument to Baudrillard who
suggests that people are unthinking and accepting of the image that is
sold to them I suggest that people are only too well aware of this fact
but buy into the image knowingly and as a means of collectively identifying
oneself and ones group.
identity, socialisation and mp3
Throughout the age of recorded sound people have had music collections.
It all started with vinyl in the 1920s which was superseded in the 1980s
by digital Compact Discs. During the last eighty years other formats have
come and gone – the cassette, the DAT, the Minidisc, the laserdisc and
the ill-fated Eight track cartridge. All were a means of storing music
for playback at the will of the listener. I believe that music is collected
not only to be listened to but for reasons of status. Music is synonymous
with lifestyle, it soundtracks our lives and, as I will suggest, it shapes
our identity. We like to be associated with certain bands, scenes or class
through our music.
In my research I asked five people about their music tastes and their
identity. I began by asking whether they collected music. One person actively
collected vinyl whilst the other four regularly bought CDs from high street
outlets. I asked what their music collections say about them. Below are
some of my findings:
“I won’t by certain CDs if I think people will take the piss
if they see them. I get the latest garage tunes at the moment. It’s
the scene I’m really into – all my mates are too….I do like
a bit of everything…I’ve got pretty similar CDs in my collection
to my mates. Before we go out and stuff we’ll put on the latest
Jo, 18, Studying A-Levels
“I suppose my CDs are a bit of a fashion accessory yeah. To tell
the truth I’ll sometimes buy CDs that I’ve never heard before
because NME or Select say they’re really good and really hype them.
I’ve got tonnes of CDs in my collection I’ve listened to maybe
only once. Sometimes my mates’ll come around a go ‘oh my god
you’ve got KLF’s album’ and stick it on or something.
I’ll pretend to have listened to it loads but I’ll only have
heard it perhaps once!”
Harry, 21, Nottingham Trent University
I asked Harry why he spent money on albums that he didn’t even
“Yeah, weird isn’t it? I dunno, maybe my mates will say they’re
really good or loads of them have bought a copy, I think it’s part
of belonging to a group – you identify with people don’t you? I’m
into the indie scene and so are most of my mates. I’ve had some
really great nights out and I associate certain songs with those nights.
I’ve bought whole albums before just for one song. A recent example
of that is this Status Quo collection I got for £2.99! I bought
it for “Pictures Of Matchstick Men” – the rest is pretty crap,
but that track is quality. They always play it at the club I go to, along
with “Arnold Lane” and other psychedelic stuff. There’s
also this thing that one day I’ll actually listen to the albums.
They also make your collection look more eclectic, don’t they?”
From this evidence it would seem fair to say that music is more than just
songs. Music is a way of defining identity.
I asked some people to compare browsing the internet for music to browsing
a shop for music to try and discover whether actively seeking out records
was an important and enjoyable pastime or even a social event:
“Every Saturday me and a few mates would take a trip into town
to look at the CDs. I like looking in places like HMV or Virgin for rare
imports and stuff like that. The KLF album I mentioned earlier was an
American import – you know with a bonus CD in it. I like those little
gimmicks and stuff. I think it’s a male thing though ‘cos
my mate’s birds hate even going into HMV. If I’m out with
a girl we tend to not go in record shops but when I’m just with
my bloke mates we usually start with meeting at HMV, buy a few things
and then go down to McDonalds or to the pub to look at our purchases and
have a few beers. The internet is sodding boring for shopping. You can’t
go down the pub online and get a virtual-lager can you? I think shopping
is a social thing. Unless your a bit of a looser.”
Harry, Student, Nottingham Trent University
“I personally don’t find looking for music very interesting.
I find shopping as a whole good fun. People go out shopping during their
weekends to get out of the house. When you’re young you go out on
a Saturday and hang around shops because you can’t get into pubs.
I think if you can get a few quid off a CD online why not? I wouldn’t
bother for a couple of quid saving. I’d rather pay a few extra quid
for the social activity of shopping with real people.
Helen, Student, Coventry University
“I enjoy browsing the internet for stuff. You can get a much wider
variety than is available in the shops. You get specialist sites dedicated
to the music you actually want. There are no checkout queues either. Music
is usually cheaper online (or free). The internet is a godsend for people
who live out in the country and it takes ages to get to a good record
shop. I’m all for it.”
I have found differing opinions in my research. The idea of shopping
being a social activity certainly seems to reoccur. The idea that shopping
is a social activity would seem to have implications for not only the
distribution of music but for products as a whole. Maybe the reason that
so many people are against buying online is because the thing they are
buying can not be touched before it is purchased. Helen would rather go
into town to a shop to buy a product than save two pounds online. It would
certainly seem that the internet tries to simulate the actual world in
every aspect. One can see three dimensional models or simulations of the
things they might wish to buy or they may enter chat rooms for simulated
chat the options are limitless. What could be considered worrying is the
fact that the human’s relationship with the computer is entering
the realm of science fiction. If one were to do everything by computer,
soon our species might develop into pure brain. Limbs would be unnecessary.
One could be directly hooked up to a computer a la “The Matrix”
and live in a totally simulated world. The question remains – Why opt
for the simulation when the real is freely available? People like to shop
for things because it is a social thing. Shopping enables communication,
interaction and other social activity. Buying music is a form of social
interaction. Human beings are a social species that require interaction
with other people. Many people are sceptical of the new technological
world and are not so accepting because the binary world seems rather cold
mp3 for all
The new technologies of the Internet and MP3 seem to sit
comfortably with the press and the computer-literate middle class but
what of the rest of the world, the people who cannot afford computers,
or use them or even type? There is a large cross section of the world’s
population who have never even seen a PC. To them this dissertation will
almost certainly have seemed useless to their lives so far. In this chapter
I will look at people without computers in the home to gauge their opinions
of the new technologies. In my research I selected five people who, by
their own admissions are typically working class. All five of the quota
said they did not really understand what MP3 was nor did they really care.
This is fair enough, I explained and asked if the government were to give
them a free PC would they be inclined to use it to download MP3s?
“I probably wouldn’t know where to start, mate. Nobody’s
going to give me a free PC anyway. If I could get free music on the internet
then I probably would get it. Why not? I like the idea of the computer
being like the old jukeboxes – selecting your music for you.”
“Yeah, I would be well up for getting free music off the internet.
I think they charge way too much for CDs! Sixteen quid is taking the piss
really. I think music shops are really greedy, it costs about fifty pence
to make a CD apparently – total rip-off!”
Microsoft are developing a PC which should be available containing all
the up-to-date new technology to enable internet access for a mere £150.
The units will be sealed so that they cannot be upgraded. This is why
they are so cheap. The idea being that when the computer becomes obsolete
it can be thrown away and another, newer model can be purchased. This
will be similar to the console revolution seen today in Sega Megadrive,
Nintendo 64 and Sony Playstation. It is computers like these that will
be the major breakthrough in catering for the digital have-nots. If PCs
can be made available for £150 there is no reason why most households
should not be able to afford one.
Just because people can not afford a computer it does not mean they do
not have access to one. One person I spoke to, Amit Verma, 21, said that
he doesn’t own a computer but often uses one in his local library:
“I use the internet at my town library. They’ve got loads
of PCs. Sometimes you’ve got to wait a bit to get on there, but
others you can go straight on. I’ve got my own email address with
hotmail that I can check on any computer anywhere in the world. I don’t
really need a PC when I can use the libraries one for free. The bonus
is that I’m using their phone line, their electricity and their
computers. The best thing is that these computers are much faster than
some of my friends computers because they’re constantly online –
you don’t have to dial up or anything. I haven’t downloaded
any music yet, but I imagine It’d be cheaper for me to do it this
The labour government would like everybody to have access to the internet
by the end of 2001. Certainly, there seems to be access at the moment.
Many people who do have means to get the internet, still have no desire
for it. This is particularly applicable to older generations. When I spoke
to my Nan she was enthusiastic for the possibilities of the internet but
wasn’t too keen on learning how to use it. The other side of the
coin is the seller of MP3 CDs at Bletchley computer fair. He must have
been in his early sixties but seemed very clued up about the whole thing.
“New computers have given everyone the opportunity to have a piece
of the action. I make loads more money here than I did at my last job.
I’ve got a computer and a CD burner. I think it’s time to
rebel against those greedy bastards who make too much money on CDs. I’d
give the artists royalties too if they weren’t so greedy themselves.”
Stall holder, Bletchley Computer Fair.
At the moment, people such as this stall holder, are a minority. The
people with computers in their homes in this country are outweighed by
those without. This may change within the next few years. PC World now
sells very good computers with internet access for as little as £300
and prices of electrical goods continue to fall. However, technology is
getting increasingly better and more advanced and the digital have’s
are growing with it. The digital have-nots have a lot to learn to catch
up with most areas of computing. The gap is getting increasingly larger
with each generation on machine. As far as MP3 goes, the technology is
available to all. If anyone can get a computer, anybody can get MP3 playing
software for free. The MP3 part of the computer industry will continue
to grow and more people will have the ability to get free music. People
do not necessarily need to know too much about computers to use MP3 software.
Maybe the recording industry really does need to start worrying.
mp3 – a hint of things to come?
There are works of science fiction such as Star Trek which
depict a universe of simulation. In Star Trek The Next Generation the
crew are able to order food which is then simulated into being by an elaborate
machine. There is also a holideck – a place where the crew can go a run
a program which is a simulation of other worlds. Music can be listened
to by merely asking the computer for it. This may be closer to the reality
of now. MP3 is a compression format. It does away with the Hi-Fi of old.
MP3 players have no moving parts and the portable ones are much smaller
than the average Walkman. The Hi-Fi can now be thrown away thus clearing
more space. Martyn J. Lee (1993) talks about how in the postmodern age,
there is a heavy emphasis on time/space compression. Examples include
the microwave which enables meals to be cooked in a fraction of the time.
Mini Hi-Fis which are good quality Hi-Fi s but are very small, thus conserving
space in the living room. Wash and Go shampoo is to enable one to do two
operations at once thus compressing time. All are examples of the postmodern
world. Lee is critical of time/space compression saying that it contributes
to a schizophrenic lifestyle. He says that too much happens at once. Like
Baudrillard (1993) he believes that compressing time and space is detrimental
to human existence. MP3 is another time/space compression example. The
MP3 file does not conform to real time existence. It is a pure binary
form that relies on advanced computations to run. Whilst not directly
affecting our lives at the moment, it could be seen as contributing to
the time/space compression of the planet. As everything is demanded to
be available quicker, faster and everywhere maybe people will not be prepared
to wait for anything. The speed of life will be so fast and western society
may become even more schizophrenic, as Baudrillard would suggest.
The fact that music could become mere simulation of music thanks to MP3
could have wider implications for social life as it is known today. Maybe
the vision portrayed by The Matrix is an accurate portrayal of what could
happen when even one’s perception of reality is manipulated by binary
coding. Music, Movies and conversation are all being assimilated by the
Net. The enticing world of the Internet attracts many many people everyday.
Time seems to stand still when browsing the net and space is compressed.
Maybe in a few years time we will be able to physically attach ourselves,
virtual reality style into the net (as in Existenz). If the internet becomes
a perfect simulation of our own world will we disown reality for hyperreality?
On the other hand, as the Internet continues to simulate our world, we
may become sick of simulations and opt for the much more interesting real
Of course, this is another dissertation in itself. The immediate consequences
that this dissertation is concerned with are the future of the music industry.
Will the record industry continue?
With this dissertation I have hoped to illustrate what MP3
is and what it could mean for music production. There are two definite
arguments concerning the phenomena. I will attempt to weigh up both arguments
to come to a final conclusion as to how the music industry will survive.
There are many advantages of MP3s. MP3s cost less than CDs and can play
practically anywhere, in any climate. Unlike Walkmans and Discmans, MP3
players have no moving parts. MP3 music cannot be jogged like a CD, scratched
like a record or worn away like tape.
“The internet gives the consumer more clout and freedom than the
consumer has ever had in the history of buying and selling things.”
Richard Branson on the Tonight programme. (June 1st 2000)
MP3 is good because, like home taping, it enables people to make their
own compilations of music – something personal to them. MP3 puts people
back in charge of their music collections. They can order the tracks they
want to hear, when they want to hear them. This tack, far from destroying
the record industry could actually help it. EasyCD, which gave Beastie
Boys fans the opportunity to create their own DIY compilation albums,
increased sales of the groups traditional albums by 265%.
MP3s can be seen to offer a wealth of opportunity for unsigned bands who
have up to now been granted little exposure through lack of media coverage
or lack of interest from record companies. Bands and artists can upload
their music to the internet for all to download for free. For people who
artistic expression is paramount but making money from music is not important,
the internet is a great virtual gallery of work. For signed artists such
as Prince and Chuck D the internet is a means of freedom from the bondage
of the record company. Established artists can certainly continue to make
money by controlling the release and distribution of their own material.
The art in effect really does belong to the artist.
“In the 20th century it’s almost unimaginable that in the
19th to listen to Mozart properly you had to travel to Vienna on the right
Tags: Essays, Personal