The MP3 Phenomena and Innovative Music

Reprinted with the permission of Judy Dunaway. All rights reserved.

(The following paper was presented at the Institut für Neue Musik und Musikerziehung in Darmstadt, Germany on April 9, 2001. Since then, many of the topics discussed have undergone considerable changes (most notably the corporate assimilation of MP3.com and Napster), and certainly more changes will occur. Nevertheless, the important structures and movements revealed by this research will remain pertinent for years to come.)

How is quickly downloadable sound directly from the Internet changing the availability of innovative music? This article, intended for a general audience that may or may not be “net savvy,” opens with an overview of the MP3 compression format and how it works. Other sound compression formats are also discussed, including the free-proprietary player and encoder from Vorbis. An anonymous focus group of Napster participants reveal how file-sharing is expanding the audience for innovative music. A survey of artists on MP3.com gives insights into new international online communities of innovative artists that reach their audiences without reliance on traditional methods. Interviews with programmers of Internet radio programs show how webcasting allows innovative music to leave local boundaries. Three pieces of Internet sound-art are assessed concerning their effectiveness at using sound-compression and the Internet to redefine the roles of composers, performers and audiences. The final chapter explains obstacles for the distribution of innovative music on the Internet and how the new opportunities opened up by MP3 will quickly disappear if corporate music business practices are not regulated in the public interest and/or alternative approaches are not developed that bypass corporate control.

My title “The MP3 Phenomena and Innovative Music” requires a bit of clarification as to exactly what “innovative music” might be. I believe that any kind of music has the potential to be innovative. But, for the purposes of study and research, I narrowed the field to genres such as contemporary, minimalist, electro-acoustic, computer-music, sound art, free jazz, free improvisation and noise, as well as hybrids of these various styles.

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