Digital Audio From the Cyber-Underground
By John Avignone
AUGUST 4, 1997:
Millions of consumers have dished out a couple of grand for a computer, lured by
the promise of spectacular, eye-popping, ear-popping, interactive multimedia
the reality has been closer to Lost In Space than Star Wars.
there are some pretty cool games, but a $200 Sony Play Station or Nintendo 64
blows away your $2,000 desktop computer for sizzling 3D graphics and
game play. For computer savvy music fans, the PC revolution has been
disappointing. We've been told our computers will allow us to download whole
of music, bypassing and eventually maybe even eliminating major record labels
the local record store. Sure, you can probably play an audio CD in your
to actually store, process, and play digital audio files from your hard drive
a bunch of expensive software, a screamin' computer with as much memory as
cram into it and hard drive space out the wazoo, right? Plus, sound files are
big, it would take forever to download them anyway. Digital computer audio
strictly for the professional, just another unfulfilled techno-promise. Until
Thanks to a new type of audio compression called MPEG Layer 3 Audio (MP3
anyone with a decent computer and the right stuff (see side bar) can
manipulate and play sound files of CD quality or better. Here's why: With
technology, one average song from a CD would take anywhere from 50 to 200
hard drive space. The same song, compressed with MP3 technology, takes three
megs of space. Translate that into download time from the Internet and you're
10-20 minutes as opposed to hours.
Still not convinced this is exciting stuff? How about this: MP3 makes
to do everything you could do with a DAT (digital audio tape) recorder and
your current home computer for a total outlay of about $50. (Ever priced
recorder?) You can now run a line from your computer to your stereo. Next
have that big party, you can program hours of music to play automatically. No
silent gaps, no more beer spilled on your CDs.
Another exciting thing about MP3 is it gives the power back to the people
make the music instead of the trend peddlers. Got a great band with great
can't get a record deal? Put your songs on the Net as MP3 files, maybe charge
a song with one free as a demo. You can afford to sell your music cheap
have no manufacturing, packaging, promotion, or distribution expenses.
website can be much less hassle than dealing with any record company. No tour
illustration by Tom King
Even though it's a far superior form, MP3 is still relatively unknown.
for "MP3" with a Yahoo search engine, and you only get 64 matches.
it's because MP3 represents a threat to the power elite in the music biz, or
it's just the underground feel of trading music. Maybe it's that new European
take a while to catch on in the states. Still, as revolutionary as MP3 is,
every media outlet in the country isn't giving it massive exposure. So far,
been universally ignored by mainstream media.
Okay, you think it sounds cool. What do you need to play MP3 files on your
First, check the system requirements in the sidebar to make sure you have
to Play MP3 Files
- 486/66 or better (math co-processor required)
- 8 megs of memory (16 recommended)
- Windows 95
- A sound card or on-board sound support
- Any Power PC
- Mac OS 7 or above
- Sound support
Additional requirements to make MP3 files from CDs
- At least 200 megs of free hard drive space
- A 4X or better CD ROM drive
- Software to copy songs from CD to your hard drive
The following instructions are for PCs running Windows 95. The first thing
need to do is download and install an MP3 player. This is the program that
play MP3 files on your computer. The best one I've found is WinPlay3, version
You can download a demo version of WinPlay3 for free from a website in
your browser to http://www.iis.fhg.de/departs/amm/layer3/winplay3/index.html
http://www.public.asu.edu/~master/mp3/players.htm to download from a U.S.
The free trial version will only play the first 20 seconds of any song. To
this limitation you must buy the software. The current price is about $40
To download WinPlay3, click on "free demo version" on the
site. Save the file, it's called wp200.exe, to a temporary directory or your
top. This is a self-extracting Zip file, so all you have to do to begin
is double-click on the file icon. When prompted, choose "Setup" and
the on-screen instructions.
The same folks who released WinPlay3 have a new version out for Macs. It's
as fancy as the Win95 version -- MacPlay is just a naked player, no frills or
interface, but it works. (Watch for more MP3 software to be released for Macs
To download MacPlay 3, point your browser to
http://www.iis.fhg.de/departs/amm/layer3/macplay3/ and select "free
version" or "MacPlay 3 0.99 Installer" (the links are the
installs like any other Mac software. Just follow the on-screen
Now you've got the player, you've got it installed, you've registered it
fully functional, but you don't have any MP3 files to play. First, you should
learn a little more about MP3, what it is and how it works. There is an
MP3 general information site at http://www.public.asu.edu/~master/mp3/. This
should answer most questions you may have about MP3. It will also tell you
cool accessories that are available for WinPlay3 that allow you to automate
or make your own MP3 files from CDs.
Another good site for MP3 accessories is the NONAGS software archive. They
a Texas-based mirror site at http://www.txk.com/nonags/main.html. Here you'll
several new MP3 players and a good selection of MP3 utilities. NONAGS is also
source for all shareware and freeware programs -- every program is tested and
Plus, as the name implies, they only carry shareware and freeware without
registration nags or set evaluation periods. Before you drop bucks on new
check NONAGS. Odds are you can find what you need for free.
Now you're good to go, but you don't have any songs. This is the tricky
for now. See, MP3 scares the pants off the recording industry. They freaked
DAT machines came out, allowing anyone to make CD-quality copies -- but
ballistic over MP3s. The industry delayed the U.S. introduction of DAT
by almost two years and when they were sold here they were equipped with a
prevent making a copy from a copy. (My advice is get it while it's hot. Or at
Industry groups have recently forced several MP3 Internet archives, one
Texas, to close down under the threat of lawsuits. Still, there are all sorts
MP3 files out there if you know where to look. A good place to start is the
news group alt.binaries.sounds.mp3. On my last visit I found rare stuff from
Twenties, out of print bebop cuts, big band tunes, classical, and lots of
releases being traded. If you're patient, you can find pretty much anything.
you can always make your own MP3s from CDs.
So you've found and downloaded some groovy tunes. Now what? To play an MP3
just double-click on the file icon. The first time you do this, Win95 will
what program you want to open the file with. Look for Winplay3 on the list.
not on the list, hit "other" and browse to the location of
on Winplay3.exe. (Make sure the "always open with this program" box
checked.) From now on, double clicking on any MP3 file will automatically
and play the song.
A quick legal note. The same laws that govern tape recording apply to MP3
This basically means you are entitled to make a copy of music you have bought
personal use only. Public domain stuff is fair game. You can do anything you
with music in the public domain but most songs will be protected by copyright
As with taping songs from the radio or making tapes for friends, use a little
sense and listen to your conscience.
Over the next few weeks I will be trying to create an independent Austin
MP3 archive on the Internet. As this will be one of the first fully legal MP3
anywhere, it is sure to garner attention from around the world. If you would
to have a song included in the Austin Music MP3 Archive, if you're interested
sponsoring the archive, or if you just want more information,
e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.