The social history of the MP3 music revolution

Recommended blog essay by Eric Harvey:


“A lot of forces would have to coalesce for any sort of revolution to happen. More likely, it will take a while, as it did with radio and the phonograph, for mp3s to stabilize and reach a point where the old ways of doing things learn from the new tools. The mess left by free digital music– a collapsed industry, a rising generation of kids with a vastly different notion of musical “value” than their parents, a subset of that set with more eclectic tastes than a teenager should be capable of, and a wave of lawsuits that are going to appear increasingly surreal and ridiculous as they fall into history– is going to take a while to sort out and clean up.

This is our attempt to survey the damage, assess the gains, and try to put the mp3’s first full decade in perspective. Keep in mind that while the mp3 is a radically new technology, it’s not a different musical medium: The mp3 is still “recorded music”– that’s not going to change until Apple unveils the iBrain– but it’s recorded music that moves around very differently than ever before. As a result, mp3s have opened up vast new musical horizons over the past 10 years– how we discover it, the value we give to it, and how we see ourselves connected to other people through it– that both depart from and build upon the innovations that came before it. Everything’s still messy at the moment, but it’s not going to be this way forever– a few decades from now, we’ll most likely find ourselves nostalgic for the mp3 decade.”

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