Pitchfork’s ‘Social History of MP3’ Presents the Big Picture

Pitchfork’s ‘Social History of MP3’ Presents the Big Picture
Caleb Kramer
  • 25 august 2009

For the past decade or so capitalists have struggled to maintain control over the distribution of music. We’ve seen the trend reports, multitudes warning about the demise of the industry. We’ve also seen artists like Radiohead and front man Thom Yorke demonstrating a little optimism by facing the situation head on; see paywhatyouwill pricing and their decision to quit the album format cold turkey. Innovation is present, Mos Def’s T-shirt marketing, leak strategy, and new perspectives on album art included. Quite simply, the business of music is evolving and it is important to remember it always has been.

The most recent technological disruptor of course is the MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3 (MP3) codec which freed audio recordings to be transferred digitally. To “celebrate” the format’s decade-long existence Pitchfork’s Eric Harvey took an in-depth look at the history surrounding it. He covers everything from the ironic birth of MP3, its seemingly natural settlement on the web, the similarities of economic effects between MP3 and 45s to changing social behaviors alongside technological evolution.

Harvey points out how Michael Jackson’s recent death looks back to a time where artists had the ability to command everyone’s attention at once. He also provides observations about music becoming a collectible object, the roles of fans as both publicists and distributors, and finally the new and almost epic ability for anyone to distribute culture globally. Underlying his analysis is this basic idea: music is a social process in a constant state of change.

‘The Social History of MP3’ is part of Pitchfork’s ‘P2K The Decade in Music‘ where they’ve also featured their Top 500 Tracks of the 2000s.

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