How Music Got Free
Penguin Random House
224 pages; Average reading time 4 hours 42 min
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Stephen Witt worked as a hedge fund manager for several years before graduating from Columbia University’s School of Journalism. Being an audiophile and music bootlegger, he got interested in the subject of music piracy. Eventually, he wrote this book, which is a story of three men who hugely redefined the history of the music industry.
Story 1: How MP3 was born & sentenced to death- Karlheinz Brandenburg
MP3 versus CDs
Karlheinz Brandenburg, the father of the mp3 audio format, started doing his path breaking research while working on his PhD thesis at the Fraunhofer University based in Germany. Brandenburg’s thesis adviser was a man named Dieter Seitzer, a pioneer in the field of psychoacoustics. Seitzer wanted Brandenburg to use the knowledge about the way humans perceive sound to develop a novel audio format. He wanted it to be a competitor to the compact disc (CD), which made its debut in the music industry markets in 1982. CDs used more than 1.4 million bits to store a single second of sound. Seitzer wanted Brandenburg to accomplish this difficult feat using just 128,000 bits, by exploiting the flaws in the human ear. Brandenburg started working on the project in the year 1983, when computing technology was not at all well developed.
The human ear cannot scoop up all the frequencies in an environment. Brandenburg utilised this information and assigned fewer bits to frequencies that were too high or too low in comparison to the frequency of the human voice. Also, most people can distinguish between two simultaneously played tones that are half a note apart. However, if the two tones are closer in pitch, humans hear only the lower pitched tone. Brandenburg used this phenomenon of auditory masking to eliminate sounds in recordings that the human ear wouldn’t hear anyway. He did this by developing an algorithm based on auditory research that could reduce the size of an mp3 audio file each time he ran the audio through his program. At the age of 31, when he defended his thesis, he was already in possession of multiple patents for his work. Soon, he was working at Fraunhofer University, managing a team of engineers. He and his team spent several years refining their algorithm so that the mp3 format could be reliably used to store good-quality sounds, music, speeches, etc.
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