Imagine getting practically any song, anytime, from anywhere in the world. MP3 Agents are very good at this, and they make it very easy to get the music that you want. Welcome to the most heated debate on the Internet – MP3 Agents. They are changing the face of music distribution and it has many people in the music industry very concerned. MP3 offers a variety of benefits because it is portable, easy to distribute, and it allows you to store hundreds, or even thousands of your favorite hits on a computer or portable MP3 player, and arranges them in custom play lists with all of your personal favorites.
What is MP3?
MP3 (MPEG-2 Layer 3) is an audio/music file format that offers small file sizes (12:1 compression) while maintaining near CD quality. MP3 audio file names usually end with the .mp3 file extension, so it is easy to identify the files. The size of an MP3 file varies based upon recording quality, but most are at about 1 meg for every minute of music (2-5 megs in size). The bit-rate identifies the level of compression of an MP3, and the higher the bit-rate, the better quality MP3 (but, conversely, the larger the file size). This combination of high fidelity and small file size has made MP3 the file type of choice for transferring audio over the Internet.
Finding MP3 Music
Searching for audio files is as easy as typing in the title of a song, name of the artist, or an album name. You can download over 120 free MP3 Agents and experience the ease and use of this new technology. Sites like MP3 Center, Pure Mac, and MP3.comidentify numerous MP3 Agents and music file sharing programs currently available on the Internet. You can also check out the ZDNet software library for a large supply of different software programs. Sometimes just searching in general search engines such as Lycos, Yahoo, Altavista and Hotbot also produce good results.
Kazaa is the most popular MP3 Agent combining chat features with a music player, and lets users share their MP3 libraries with each other. This software makes finding MP3 files easy, and they have access to a massive online music community. Like most file sharing systems, no files are actually hosted on their servers. They provide access to music files on other computers connected to the network. There are 4 major components:
- Search capabilities able to search linked computers throughout the world.
- A chat program to enable users to chat with each other in forums based on music genre.
- An audio player to play MP3 files inside the software, in the event that users do not have an external player, or prefer not to use one.
- A tracking program to allow users to keep track of their favorite MP3 libraries for later browsing.
The Gnutella site has also distinguished itself as one of the foremost authorities on file sharing programs as well. Agent MP3 uses newsgroups as a source to find MP3s. Songs can be saved separately or in a group, and searches can be conducted by category: classical, dance, rock, etc. MP3 Album Finder finds full albums, and single MP3 files on the Internet and on FTP servers. It resumes downloads if it loses its connection, retries when sites are busy, and tells you all the information you need to know. MP3 Grouppie is a MP3 newsgroup-monitoring agent that allows previewing of music, and since you’re downloading from a computer located at your Internet service provider, downloads always occur at the fastest possible speed.
MP3-Wolf is a search robot that continuously scans the Internet, and it can locate, sort and verify 10000’s of music files and links per hour. Planet.MP3Find claims to find any song, by any artist, in under 60 seconds, and it automatically locates and determines which MP3 Music Servers are online. TrackSeek is completely multi-threaded, which means it can check many search engines at the same time, and it combines the power of multiple search engines to bring you one of the most comprehensive MP3 search programs available. REAL MP3 Finder is multi-use and utilizes many different search engines to find MP3 files and lyrics!
3PMMP3’s MP3 Alert Service will search for MP3 files regularly and send you an email when music is available, so you don’t need to check back every day in the hope your song has appeared. Rio Port is a full-featured jukebox that allows you to copy, download, organize, and playback digital audio files. Enhanced features allow you to burn audio CDs from WMA & MP3 files for playback on any CD player! You can even listen to streaming audio and view video clips. There are also Meta Search engines that allow you to search many of the major search engines and directories all at once. There are also download managers that manage downloads for you. They can schedule downloads to take place while you’re sleeping, and they will automatically re-start interrupted downloads, resuming where they left off.
Playing MP3 Musicfiles
If you’re using Windows, you can play MP3s using Windows Media Player, or even better, you can try Winamp or Sonique. If you have a Mac try Soundjam or Macast (or MVP for PC/Mac). Plus, you don’t necessarily need a computer to play MP3 music files. There are some very cool portable MP3 players on the market. In addition, there are a few car MP3 players emerging to bring warmth to those long lonely drives around the block. A great comparative list of portable and car players can be found at MP3.com. There are also a lot of other units summarized and reviewed at MP3car.com. If you have access to a CD-R burner, you can copy MP3 music files to a data CD, or convert the MP3 files to WAV format and burn the wave files to an audio CD for playback.
Now if you’re a purest DJ type and you actually want the beats of the songs synchronized, check out Virtual Turntables from Carrot, or Visiosonic’s PCDJ, which will allow you to do actual DJ type effects going from one MP3 song to another. You can also try other software for mixing and special visual effects. You can create a playlist containing all the MP3 files you have on disk, and there are many other MP3 databases programs that help you keep track of all your MP3 files.
Does MP3 offer good sound quality? Well, it depends on your equipment, the quality of the recording, and your hearing capability. Good encoding software really makes a difference. Some encoding software produces results that sound awful, whereas other software produces good results. The BladeEnc encoder produces MP3 files that are usually acceptable. The LAME encoder, an open source project, is another good free alternative. Musicmatch Jukebox lets you encode at all bit-rates using a version of the Fraunhofer encoder.
128 Kbps compression is on the low side, while 192 Kbps done by a good encoder should sound pretty good under most circumstances (but higher kbps produces higher quality). Uncompressed CD audio data requires a transfer rate of 1,411.2 kpbs (16 x 2 x 44,100), so MP3 data encoded for 128 kbps is compressed by a factor of 11.025. Kbps (kilo bits per second) refers to the rate at which the audio data would need to transfer for real time playback. It is also a measure of how much the audio data has been compressed in creating the MP3 files.
Making MP3 Musicfiles
Making MP3 music files is easy, and you can create MP3 files from any recorded music you have. If you are recording a song off a CD, you will usually need a recorder (or “ripper”) that extracts it as a wave file. Exact Audio Copy is a good ripping program that produces good clean rips in difficult situations (tricky hardware, CDs in poor condition, etc.). Then, you’ll need an encoder to make the wave file into an MP3. There are free burner programs from Feurio and Fireburner. There are also some specialized programs that clean up the effects of scratches and noise during recording. You can also record to MP3 from tapes or vinyl albums. You can connect the output/headphone socket to the line-in of your sound card, and then use a program such as Cakewalk or Goldwave to record to WAV files.
You can also record streamed audio such as web radio using a standard WAV recording program such as Total Recorder or Goldwave, which will let you record and then encode the WAV file with any MP3 encoder. It’s important to make sure that you are intercepting the digital stream before it is sent to the soundcard, instead of digital-to-analogue. There are software programs for editing MP3 files, but editing MP3 files is tricky since MP3 is frame based. In any case, there are programs that will perform some basic slicing of MP3 files. If you want to do more than simple snips, you will need to decode to WAV and use a WAV editor like Cakewalk or Cool Edit.
Real Time Chat, Trading, Newsgroups, UseNet
There are many groups that talk about MP3 technology, especially the usenet groupsalt.music.mp3 and alt.binaries.sounds.mp3. Try searching on Deja News for “mp3” and you will get a lot of results, or use special programs specifically designed for retrieving MP3 files from newsgroups (NewsShark), and other “file trading” programs such as iMesh, Spinfrenzy, and MediaShare. To use IRC, you’ll need an IRC program, and MIRC is probably the best known.
MP3 Agents – Legal Issues
Are MP3s legal? Well, like VCRs, and CD-Rs, yes they’re legal. It’s what you do with them that make them questionable. There are many sites offering free, legal downloads, although there seems to be many sites that are fostering the illegal distribution of copy-written material. The Transcript of the chat held by the musical band Metallica, with ArtistDirect and Yahoo expresses some very serious concern. The Recording Industry of Association of America (RIAA), the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA), the Business Software Alliance (BSA), and many others are very active on the subject, and they have filed several large-scale lawsuits. Plus, they have established the the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), which is a forum that brings together more than 180 companies and organizations representing information technology, consumer electronics, security technology, the worldwide recording industry, and Internet service providers.
But, there is a group of highly respected musicians such as Madonna, B.B. King, Prince, the Eurythmics, Bono (U2), the Dave Matthews Band, Green Day, and Chuck D who are expressing open opinions on the subject. The RIAA and NMPA say, “we are not suing a technology, we are suing a company that is stealing work that does not belong to them. They cannot build a multi-billion dollar business on the backs of other people’s work”. According to a report released from Forrester Research, the music and book publishing industry stands to lose billions in revenue from online file sharing, and there is not much anyone can do about it. Digital Security Systems or lawsuits don’t seem to be able to stop Internet theft of content. It only takes one person to break the encryption, and then it is available to everyone in the world. It seems that music consumers will move to underground Internet services, and it is estimated that record labels will lose billions of dollars because of file sharing (book publishers too). Musicians will actually benefit from this technology and it is proving to be a good way for small bands to gain a wider audience.
The combination of high fidelity and small file size has made MP3 the file type of choice for transferring audio over the Internet. Searching for MP3 audio and music files is as easy as typing in the title of a song, name of the artist, or an album name. MP3 allows you to store hundreds, or even thousands of your favorite hits with complete playlists and database management tools. MP3 Agents and file sharing services are changing the face of the entire music and publishing industries, and they are impacting the whole Internet. It is also proving to be a good way for small bands to gain a wider audience. Sites that embrace artistic work will see the profits that traditional publishers lose, and artists will start to move toward self-publishing on their own websites. Everything is changing and it is starting to get exciting. There are large companies, famous artists, the massive public, and big money involved. It will be very interesting to see how everything turns out.
Author: David Jurus