July 14, 1995: MP3 Gets Named; Suzanne Vega Connection

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MP3-Symbol-Beaver-on-the-BeatsToday’s history lesson…

Its full name when it was christened on July 14, 1995, was “MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3.” Put simply for all us less techie types, it is an audio coding system with a compression algorithm that made music files smaller and more easily able to be transferred on the Internet and take up less storage space on computers. Previously, a three-minute song encoded on a compact disc took up about 32 MB (million bytes). The MP3 reduced the size of most songs to 2-3 MB. The technology was released to the public a year earlier with the introduction of the L3enc encoding software. Files had borne the “.bit” extension until this day.

To say the development was revolutionary is an understatement. As Internet connection speeds and the size of hard drives on personal computers increased, the phenomena of “file-sharing” and “music piracy” also grew. Major record companies also failed to embrace the format and the Internet as a way to market music, and by the turn of the century CD sales began to drop precipitously.

The song that key MP3 developer Karlheinz Brandenburg used to test and perfect the technology was the 1987 #5 pop hit “Tom’s Diner” by Suzanne Vega. Its nearly monophonic nature and wide spectral content made it easier to hear imperfections in the compression format during playbacks.

As a result, Vega earned the nickname “The mother of the mp3.”

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