The mp3 encoder/decoder was reverse-engineered and released as a freeware. Two young entrepreneurs saw a chance to help move music forward to a digital market, but life had other plans.
Enjoy this post, the last of a series in which we explored the history of digital music.
1999, just two years after the incident that freed mp3 encryption as freeware, Shawn Fanning, 19, was frustrated with the difficulties of browsing for music on the Internet, which consisted in using a regular search engine to look for whatever song you were looking for.
Shawn then got an idea to build a software based on the peer-to-peer protocol, which would consolidate the browsing and downloading of the users' music files collections using a centralized server.
Compact discs contain digital files that could be read ("played") as music, the sound was already a collection of ones and zeroes, the issue was the size. A team of German researchers, the Internet, a hacker, and a couple of entrepreneurs later, and music underwent a hell of a ride that took it to where we are today.
Converting music in a digital format was a success, compact discs sales were booming, and the market adoption was pretty much ubiquitous. Now the 1980s were here, and with them the Internet came along and served as the catalyst that prompted change this time.
Music started out free from any physical form until Edison managed to encapsulate it in a wax cylinder, which later evolved to shellac discs, and we got used to buying a thing that contained the music. Now music is digital, and since digital can be consumed in virtually any device with internet access, it is once again free. It’s a completed cycle that can hardly be called the end, with an uncertain future ahead.
How did we get here?
Ones, zeros, and compact discs
It all started, as is usual, in another field, seemingly unrelated to music: Telecommunications.
Transatlantic phone calls required cables, but they kept breaking because Earth moves and continents drift. It was an expensive but necessary endeavor, so they set out to make things cheaper, the first approach was to squeeze more simultaneous calls in the same cable, and thus, unknowingly, the race towards digital music began.