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Review

Beatles’ iTunes arrival transforms music downloads

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December 9, 2010

Just about a month ago, Apple finished a deal that would bring the biggest band of all time to iTunes.

The Beatles discography is finally available in the iTunes catalogue. This is huge news. Massive news. Why? Because it’s the freakin’ Beatles, that’s why!

It’s an argument we’ve heard before: they are the best band of all time, no one will ever be as influential to rock music, or maybe to music in general.

I don’t want to spend the next few paragraphs telling you why The Beatles were the best thing since sliced bread.

What I do want to explain is what an impact this will have on MP3s, because with the release of The Beatles on iTunes, CD producers should pretty much throw in the towel.

Digital music has humble beginnings. Back in the late 1970s, a German company began looking into the idea of creating digital music.

That company, Fraunhofer-Gesellshaft, now holds the patent to the MP3 or its full name, the MPEG 3—the most famous of digital recordings.

In 1987, Fraunhofer-Gesellshaft began what is now called “The Eureka Project,” a project that, in 1996, would result in the first ever MP3 recording.

So what’s so special about an MP3?

Fraunhofer-Gesellshaft explain it this way: “Without data reduction, digital audio signals typically consist of 16 bit samples recorded at a sampling rate more than twice the actual audio bandwidth (e.g. 44.1 kHz for compact discs). So you end up with more than 1.400 Mbit to represent just one second of stereo music in CD quality. By using MPEG audio coding, you may shrink down the original sound data from a CD by a factor of 1, without losing sound quality.”

In laymen’s terms, MP3 files are smaller, digitized versions of pieces of music, only they have not lost sound quality.

In addition, one of the biggest drawbacks of converting music from format to format has essentially disappeared by converting to MP3.

When you wanted to transfer a song from record to record or tape to tape, you would lose some of the sound quality each time you removed it.

Transferring an MP3 from computer to computer generally does not impact the quality of the file.

The first MP3 player was also built by Fraunhofer-Gesellshaft around 1997.

These first MP3 players were not very successful and could only hold a handful of songs.

The first hard-drive based MP3 player was sold by Compaq in 1998.

Today, almost all MP3 players are hard-drive based,which means that they are built to function as a portable hard drive.

Compaq’s Personal Jukebox boasted a 4.5 GB hard drive and could hold up to 1200 songs.

Several other companies began to produce their own MP3 portable music players, but then, the big man on campus showed up.

In 2001, Apple released the iPod. For the almost unthinkable price of $400, and the measly size of 5 GB, the iPod had a rough start.

But by 2003, with the release of iTunes, the iPod started to take control of the MP3 market.

iTunes really started a revolution. Sure, Napster, Rhapsody, and some other music downloading sites showed up, but none of them had the support, or, ahem, the legality that iTunes had.

The first decade of the 21st century has been littered with debates about the legality of MP3 downloads and a crackdown on illegal downloading of media.

Torrent sites and illegal downloading sites still exist, but the music community and the government are finding ways to protect and enforce copyright infringement: and the prices on many online downloading sites are becoming far cheaper than buying CD copies of albums in store.

Digital media is so close to rising to the top, and now, iTunes may have found a way to drive a nail into the CD coffin: getting The Beatles into a digital format.

Now that The Beatles have made it onto iTunes,  the next logical step is for other online music providers to gain the rights to their music as well.

Soon enough, The Beatles will be available everywhere online, and let’s face it, if we can get The Beatles, we should be able to get every band online.

There is no doubt that The Beatles are the most influential band of all time.

Millions love them, and billions have listened to them. They changed the way we look at rock ‘n’ roll, and soon, I think they will help fully usher in a new way of listening to rock ‘n’ roll.

Jon Lyksett is a student at UW-River Falls.