Heyday of the MP3 – A History

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via Flickr

Did you know there are over 1.2 trillion mp3 files on earth? That’s more than 171 times the number of people on the planet! It took nearly 200,000 years to grow the human population to 7.2 billion but only 20 years to produce the number of mp3s that exist in the world today. How come there are so many? What has made the mp3 so popular?

In this article we’ll take a look at the history of the mp3 and see how it gained its foothold in the audio world. We’ll also investigate some of the newer codecs that are being used alternatively to the mp3.

In 1989, the Moving Picture Expert Group (MPEG), an international standardization organization, wanted to introduce an audio standard. They received 14 audio coding proposals from participants who were then encouraged to combine their contributions. This resulted in the creation of ASPEC (adaptive spectral perceptual entropy coding), the precursor to the mp3 (MPEG layer 3). The technology was later incorporated into ISO MPEG standardization, which ultimately led to the success of its creators, the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits (FIIC).

Unfortunately, marketing the mp3 was a bit of a disaster. In 1996, consumers were able to purchase the first mp3 encoder via the internet, which quickly led to mass distribution of the mp3. Regrettably, the software was bought by an Australian student using a stolen credit card and was made publicly available. Fraunhofer’s software business may have been laid to rest, but the result was the mp3 spreading like wildfire across the internet.

What’s more, music that was encoded in mp3, often in breach of copyright, was being distributed via file sharing and torrent sites such as Soulseek, Napster and Grooveshark. At the time, an average 128 kbps mp3 took up around 3.5 megabytes of space, a size that could easily be transferred over the internet when higher connection speeds ranged only from 56k to 1.54 mbps.

Finally, the advent of the mp3 player would solidify the mp3’s existence for years to come.

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via Flickr

The last two decades have shown that mp3s were favored over formats such as AAC because they were compatible with more listening devices at higher bit-depths. They also required less storage space than large, uncompressed file types such as AIFF or WAV. This is still true today and streaming and download services such as Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and Murfie continue to support mp3s, but they also support alternative formats as well.

There’s debate about which file formats are best for consuming music, but what consumers should be primarily aware of is the difference between lossy and lossless compression and how it affects their listening experience.

Lossy file types such as mp3 and AAC are compressed audio formats that use inexact approximations and discard data to represent the content for the purposes of storing, handling and transmitting. In other words, what you’re hearing is not the audio in its entirety. It’s similar to printing a draft on your printer as opposed to a full quality print. Less ink is used and the print is often lighter, but what remains is enough information to tell you what you’re looking at. Depending on the bit-depth of these file types the listener may experience reduced audio quality. Some would argue, however, that at higher bit-rates degradation in audio quality is hardly noticeable when compared to lossless formats.

Lossless file types like WAV and AIFF, FLAC and ALAC are containers that are able to store all of the data of an audio signal. Bit-for-bit, these file formats are more accurate representations of a signal because they don’t eliminate any data while encoding. FLAC and ALAC are newer codecs, which are compressed to some degree, but claim to deliver the same quality as uncompressed formats.  Although these containers are often massive in size, they are great for storing audio files in their original condition (true CD quality). And with the advent of hi-res streaming packages like Murfie Hi-Fi, you’re able to stream your music in FLAC on your lossless-ready devices for only $10 a month!    

When you send your collection to Murfie, we’ll rip and store the data as uncompressed audio (WAV) and make it available for streaming in 320 kbps mp3 (1411 kbps FLAC if you choose the Murfie Hi-Fi plan) or download in AAC, mp3, FLAC and ALAC.  

If you’re looking to transfer your CDs, vinyl or cassettes to digital and stream them from your preferred devices, send your collection to Murfie. To get a free quote click here. To learn more about our services, contact us or check our FAQ for answers to frequently asked questions.

Murfie is Moving (Again)!

With over 750,000 CDs in the Murfie warehouse, the time has come for the company to relocate to bigger digs!

It’s been truly enjoyable having Murfie on Madison’s Capitol Square surrounded by fantastic companies and people. However, Murfie has simply outgrown the space! With the amount of physical music being sent in to be digitized and stored, the best solution was to find a warehouse where there’s plenty of room for the growing amount of CDs and vinyl….plus all the Murfie staffers of course!

Murfie is moving to Middleton, Wisconsin, in the old Full Compass building. Full Compass is a Madison-based music company as well. The new neighborhood is looking beautiful as can be, and the staff is relieved to be able to keep all of Murfie operations under one spacious roof.

Starting today, Murfie will begin to move all inventory to the new Middleton warehouse, which will continue for 1-2 weeks. In the meantime, you can still access your music digitally, so no worries there!

Murfie has a new focus of maintaining the largest and most diverse source of lossless music on the web.  So—see you on the other side, in Middleton!

– The Murfie Crew

Murfie, Inc.
8001 Terrace Ave, Suite 201
Middleton, WI 53562

 

Meet Brandon: Murfie’s New Help Desk Manager!

This is Kayla writing this post! This month marks my fourth year at Murfie. First of all—wow, that’s exciting! Secondly—wow, things have really changed!

I began working in Operations, ripping discs and handling downloads. My previous experience in radio made me fit to create and host the Murfie Podcast. From there, I started doing more social media and PR for the company. And naturally, that’s where my role took off. I had been running the Murfie Help Desk too, but now it’s time to hand off that role to a qualified candidate, so that I can zero in on the social side of things.

And that qualified candidate is without a doubt Brandon. I went to the higher-ups with confidence that Brandon cared about the individual needs of members enough to be a great person for the job. However….can he really fill MY shoes? I had to ask him a few questions to put him on the spot. :)

K: Tell everyone a bit about yourself!

B: I am 21 years old and was born in Madison, WI. I’ve lived in Chicago, Boston, and Washington D.C. before moving back here. My hobbies include playing guitar and saxophone, painting, and enjoying video games. My favorite place to travel is the woods of British Columbia—so serene! My favorite music is electronic, classical, classic rock, and indie.

K: What do you like about working at Murfie?

B: For me, the best part about working at Murfie is discovering new music! I’ve come across LOADS of albums, either through co-workers or just browsing members’ shops, that have greatly broadened my horizons musically.

K: Why are you a good fit to run our Help Desk?

B: I’m a good fit to run our help desk because I specialize in Operations, which means I can facilitate the problem-solving process. Plus, I truly care about the needs of our members….I love the site as much as they do!

K: So, do you think you can fill my shoes? 

B: Yes! You have shown me the ropes, and I’m ready to help our members get the very best in customer support!

Brandon is ready to help with all your Murfie needs—contact him through our Help Desk and say hello! :) 

Album Review: Escape to Witch Mountain (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by Johnny Mandel

Last week, I was witness to some small magic. Or perhaps it was a minor kind of miracle. Let me explain…

Some of us at Murfie HQ were sitting around one afternoon, discussing the music of old movies we loved as kids. Films like Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang were brought up, of course. I immediately thought of Escape to Witch Mountain, and we started reminiscing about the utterly creepy theme by Johnny Mandel that opens the film, with protagonists Tia and Tony running in silhouette from viciously barking dogs.

Escape to Witch Mountain

That opening scene scared me when I was younger, so I’d hit fast forward on our VHS player. I always thought it was an odd contrast to the whimsical scenes of Tia communicating telepathically with cats, or Tony using his harmonica to telekinetically control marionettes. But that’s what Escape to Witch Mountain is; it’s what you get when you put Hammer horror director John Hough at the helm of a novel adaptation for Disney. Kid’s movies in the ’70s weren’t afraid of scaring you (e.g. How creepy was almost everything in Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory?).

While we chatted, I did what I always do in these situations—I looked for the soundtrack. Much to my dismay, I couldn’t find it. Nor could I find very many releases of Johnny Mandel’s work in general. Digging deeper, I was saddened to learn that the only released version of any music from Escape to Witch Mountain was on an obscure Disneyland Records illustrated storybook LP narrated by Eddie Albert (who plays Jason O’Day). This news was particularly shocking since Escape to Witch Mountain was—at the time—one of Disney’s most successful live action films.

Escape to Witch Mountain Disneyland
Not quite what I was looking for…

I was beginning to lose hope that I could show my colleagues this wonderful music from my childhood without lugging in my parents’ VCR. I loved Escape to Witch Mountain so much that I learned Tony’s melodic riffs by ear during my brief stint taking harmonica lessons. It is, to this day, some of my favorite movie music.

But then the magic happened. A bit further down the search results, I stumbled upon a recent post on the INTRADA forums. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because they’ve released literally hundreds of film and video game soundtracks, both new and old. Imagine my surprise when, upon reading the post, I learned that not only was INTRADA releasing the Escape to Witch Mountain soundtrack, but it was out that very day! That’s right—40 years after the film’s release, on a day that I just happened to be wishing for a soundtrack, INTRADA was delivering with their full, limited edition Special Collection Volume 309 release.

Johnny Mandel—who is perhaps best known for “Suicide Is Painless” from M*A*S*H—was absolutely ahead of his time with Escape to Witch Mountain. Mandel’s deceptively simple themes were performed with a massive 50-odd-member orchestra, but with the addition of harmonica and eerie drones from the Moog synthesizer. The outcome feels like an alien adaptation of 1970s Disney fanfares. Playful tunes like “The Flying Camper” would be equally at home in any Disney film from the era, but Mandel’s biggest successes come when he subverts those expectations. There are ideas continually introduced throughout the film’s score which are later echoed via synthesizers that sound equally otherworldly 40 years later.

Not only has INTRADA teamed up with Disney to make this soundtrack finally available, but they’ve done so with more detail than could have been anticipated. The main themes are here, but so are all of the film’s musical cues and then some. For their limited CD release of the soundtrack, INTRADA (with producer Douglass Fake) have put together just about everything they could salvage from Disney’s long-term storage tapes ca. 1975.

Escape to Witch Mountain (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
That’s more like it!

The main score itself clocks in at just over 36 minutes, cues included. INTRADA has done a nice job of weaving together the more traditional soundtrack-type pieces and cues in a way that makes narrative sense within the context of the movie. The CD starts with Mandel’s “Main Title”—creepy dogs and all—and continues from there. While it may sound like overkill on paper, the cues are unique enough that they make sense tagging along. As mentioned in the liner notes (which are extensive and appreciated), many of these cues introduce motifs that reappear in future scored pieces.

It is worth noting that the thoroughness of this CD means you will likely hear many repeated themes throughout its duration, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In many cases, a score is not put together with the intention that you listen to it apart from the film, but to Mandel’s credit, the included cues combine their own voices to tell the story. While Tony’s telekinesis may be signaled by a theme for harmonica (in reality, master Tommy Morgan), Tia’s telepathy is portrayed by an accompanying swell of Moog synthesizers (played by jazz musician Paul Beaver). Furthermore, the emotional state of the characters changes how the themes are executed.

The aforementioned soundtrack and cues would be enough to satisfy a fan of the film, right? Not for INTRADA. When I said they released every piece of material they could find, I wasn’t exaggerating. After the main score, they’ve included ten extra tracks. Thanks to the diligence of some forward-thinking folks at Disney, the recording sessions were stored in a way that allowed INTRADA to re-assemble orchestral pieces without harmonica or synthesizer cues. The result is seven previously unheard arrangements of more traditional orchestration.

Continue reading Album Review: Escape to Witch Mountain (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by Johnny Mandel

Murfie and The River Food Pantry

Murfie is running a charity event for The River Food Pantry in Madison!

From November 15th to December 15th, donate used or new CDs or DVDs to Murfie. For each CD and DVD, Murfie will purchase one pound of fresh produce for the River Food Pantry on your behalf. Drop off your donations at Murfie HQ (7 N. Pinckney Street, Suite 300, Madison) or at The River Food Pantry at 2201 Darwin Rd in Madison.

Not in the Madison area? Ship your donations to Murfie, or make a direct donation on The River Food Pantry’s website!

Open since 2006, The River Food Pantry has been working to provide hot meals, clothing, groceries, and household items to low-income families in Dane County. In 2012, The River provided items to about 28,811 Dane County families, or about 81,386 individuals. That includes 30,163 children.

Help us make a difference! Drop off your donations through December 15th, and contact us if we can help you figure out the best way to contribute.

Interview with Man Mantis [Podcast]

Electronic music is an exciting genre. The addition of technology to the music-making progress created a rapid and diverse evolution of styles and sounds. Man Mantis mixes electronic, hip hop and other styles to make something pleasing to the ears. And as he creates, the music takes a life of its own. We at Murfie know Man Mantis as Mitch Pond, a former employee. With an inside scoop of what it’s like to work at a music service, and what it’s like to sell his own music online, Mitch has a lot of valuable insights on the music industry in general.

Who: Man Mantis; interviewed by Kayla Liederbach
What: Mitch shares his history, music evolution, thoughts on the changing music industry and the difference between the Madison and Denver music scenes.
Where: Murfie HQ
When: June 14th, 2014
How: Recorded by Kayla Liederbach
File: mp3 version


Albums by Man Mantis + more recommendations

Man Mantis Cities Without HousesMan Mantis Dawn of the Def

RJD2 The Third HandRJD2 Deadringer

Flying Lotus Pattern + Grid WorldDumate Rite The Known KnownsDj Shadow Preemptive StrikeDj Shadow The Outsider


 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out more at facebook.com/manmantis.

Into RSS? Follow our podcast feed via https://blog.murfie.com/category/podcasts/feed.


Kayla Liederbach
@djkaylakush

Kayla manages social media and customer support at Murfie. You can hear her on the radio hosting U DUB, the reggae show, Wednesdays on WSUM. She enjoys hosting the Murfie podcast, cooking, traveling, going to concerts, and snuggling with kittycats.


Last Call: Your Murfie Week in Review


Monday 8/28—

[Blog] Grant gave us a dose of cool: soul jazz musician Grant Green.

Tuesday 8/29—

[Blog] We previewed Sand + Silence by folk duo The Rosebuds.
[Twitter] Our developer Marc leaked info about a cool new feature on mobile.

Wednesday 8/30—

[Blog] Wishy Wednesday happened in full force.
[Twitter] A Murfie member admitted his Creed CDs were on sale for $0.

Thursday 8/31—

[Blog] We previewed Spoon’s upcoming rock album, They Want My Soul.
[Facebook] The Murfie Genie delighted a few members with album gifts.
[Blog] Two words: Music History. (Learn up, people!)
[Twitter] Pixologie had fun visiting the Murfie office!

Friday 9/1—

[Twitter] We wished blues guitarist Robert Cray a Happy Birthday.