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The Future of Digital Music

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The future of digital music is simple to Bob Starrett and Josh McDaniel: MP3. They'll tell you about the format in this article and even show you how to find MP3 files.
This article is excerpted from chapter 10 of The Little Audio CD Book, by Robert Starrett and Joshua McDaniel.
From the author of

What is this MP3 that it should oust sex as the No. 1 Internet search term? Must be something, huh?

Bird's blowing confetti, but you don't hear him blow, dig? That's MP3 in a nutshell: The MP3 encoding process rids a track of biologically unnecessary sonic information, stuff we, just by the way we're built, would never hear anyway. It thereby reduces a standard digital audio track to about 1/12 of its original size, usually without any appreciable loss of sound quality. It's a tiny, tidy package, perfectly suited to our current Internet bandwidth limitations. You can upload or download MP3s as quickly and easily as you download a Flash movie: Start the download, grab a beer, read the headlines of the paper, return to your computer, and there it is-a CD-quality song occupying about 4 MB of disk space. And that's where the trouble begins.

In the News

You've probably heard of, if not heard, MP3 by now, particularly given the furor it has raised among record company advocates. The lawsuits are flying, which is having an unin-tentional effect of spurring interest in MP3. In any case, MP3 owns the music-download scene. Although MP3 is both useful and legal, many do use it illegally.


MP3 stands for MPEG-1, Layer 3, and is but one of three bears you can sic on Goldilocks. MPEG-1 audio compression comes in three flavors, Layer 1, Layer 2, and Layer 3. Each layer is based on the same encoding premise but is more sophisticated and feature-laden than its precedent. Layer 3 compression is the most complex: With its large set of compression tools, it yields the best quality audio at the smallest file size. Layer 1 and Layer 2 compression can and do yield CD-quality tracks, but those tracks occupy substantially more space on your hard disk than those produced by Layer 3 encoding.

But, well-known artists do release their albums in the MP3 format. Among the first was Frank Black and the Catholics' album Pistolero, which you could download back in early 1999 for $8.99 or you could pay $.99 a track and make your own compilation. Frank Black, as you may remember, used to go by Black Francis when he headed up one of the coolest and most innovative bands of all time, The Pixies. You can still download Pistolero, as well as a thousand other albums and tracks we've all heard of, over at, for exactly the same price: It's still ninety-nine cents a track, and the whole thing remains $8.99 (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 This is Sleater-Kinney's page over at Here, you can download whatever track you like for ninety-nine cents or download the whole album for $8.99.

So it has happened that many of us have downloaded a bunch of cool MP3s to our hard disks and enjoyed them for many hours in front of our monitors, using jukebox software. And some of us have even made a bunch of MP3s from our CD collections and organized them into killer playlists on our PCs. The thing is, what we'd really like is to listen to these tracks and playlists far away from the din of our CPU. So what then? Easy answer: Burn them to CD. It's possible to decode an MP3 to a standard CD track. You can then burn these tracks and have a nice compilation to listen to on any CD player any-where. That's what we'll show you how to do in this chapter. If you've never heard of MP3 before, we'll even show you how to go about obtaining MP3 files.


We'll tell you it's perfectly legal to download MP3s if you have the assent of the copyright holder- you're guaranteed assent if you download from a legitimate music site such as and

It's also legal to post MP3s to the Internet with the assent of the copyright holder. If your unsigned band cut a monster track and you want everyone to hear it, you can post it to the Internet with complete impunity.

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