What is mp3? 

"mp3" is an audio file compression format that maintains a high-quality sound while greatly reducing the file size.   "mpeg1 layer 3" (mp3) was developed by the moving pictures expert group (mpeg) in an attempt to deliver high-quality audio files over the narrow bandwidth of the Internet.  You can downsize audio data significantly  and still maintain a near-CD quality.  

A very large sound file can be compressed to less than a tenth the original file size with no perceptual loss of quality.  For example, a 3-minute stereo audio file with the format of .aif, .wav, .au, or .snd  is 26 MB and takes a 56k modem over an hour to download.  The same file, compressed and saved as a typical ".mp3" would be 2MB and take only 5 minutes to download.

Perceptual Coding

When human ears detect sounds and music, the multiple pitches and volumes combine into one complex wave.  Much of this complexity is masked; subtle background sounds are "buried" by louder overtones.  By imitating the human "selective listening" model, huge chunks of the actual audio can be eliminated, while retaining an audio "shell".  This "perceptual coding" enables the mp3 to discard 90% or more of the file and sound like the original.  So, what we hear from a CD or high-quality .aif file is not the same thing that we hear from the mp3 that has been created from that same file.  The original sound data that has been cut will not be returned if the MP3 is decoded back to the ".aif" or ".wav" format.  
mp3 is good 

The mp3 file format is ideal for people who want to quickly swap high-quality audio files on the Internet.

After enough of the mp3 file is downloaded (say, 30%) the player may be started and the song may be listened to ("streamed") without waiting for the last part to arrive.  

Because of its popularity and widespread usage, mp3 is becoming a standard file type; you don't need to hunt for a special program to translate it (e.g. Quicktime and Windows Media Player play mp3s). 

Even a partially downloaded mp3 can be played, so broken downloads aren't always a tragedy...

Many logical humans would agree that intensifying the general population's love of music is a very good thing.  However, in spite of the greatly increased resultant CD sales, the RIAA does not appear to agree.

mp3 is bad 

If you convert a CD audio file into an mp3, and then try to convert it back to a CD-quality file, you're liable to be disappointed.  Close, but not quite as good a sound, usually.

One minor downside, you might make Lars Ullrich mad if you copy a Metallica song off the Internet...although these days you'd think he'd be flattered that anyone still cares about their music!

What else can I do with mp3? 

Many new mp3 players have come out, offering an alternative to the walkman cassette or CD players;  they have no mechanical parts and will not skip when bounced around while jogging (for example).  There are many web sites on the internet that have popular music available in mp3 form, and the mp3 players can link to your computer and download your custom song list. 

Also, many newer CD Audio and DVD players will play a CD-R "burned" with mp3 files.  An mp3 disk will hold 10 times or more songs than an audio CD;  the quality is close, but not as good as audio CD.

Flash, one of the most widespread multimedia tools for the web, uses mp3 compression to deliver high-quality audio with its interactive animations.

A number of freeware and shareware mp3 editors are available on the Internet.  

Appendix: Where to Find mp3 Stuff 

Here is a list of mp3-related links:

"Shareware Music Machine" site:     www.hitsquad.com/smm/ .  

"Beethoven & Elvis mp3s":   beetelvis_mp3s.htm

"Hotep California mp3s":    hotep california

"Paul Alan Smith and Friends - free mp3 live tracks":   Paul Alan Smith & Friends

"Link Master - free web promotion":   Link Master

2000 - 2009 by Paul Alan Smith

Music & Light Unlimited     midi mp3 music links!