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Looking Back - 1997


13 Apr 2012



Article that originally appeared on dmusic.com, written by Chad Hart on Sep 27, 2000. Part in a series that covers 96-99.

1997 was a year shaped by the accomplishments and efforts of the energetic early adopters, who forged a path for those that would soon follow.

MP3 was an IRC-only phenomenon for much of 1996 and 1997 until people started to construct websites dedicated to the format. These early websites described the format, and made the tools needed to create and play the files available to all those that were interested. Many of them also operated a sister FTP site, which housed copyrighted recordings. Many of these early sites, including David Weekly’s, were shut down by an early anti-online piracy campaign by Geffen records (David would later attempt to develop a artist/label backed MP3 site).

Although many of these early sites were stopped, infinitely more seemed to be created in their wake. As David writes in his online book, “There was a real sense of community between those who were using MP3s and maintaining MP3 websites.” Sites such as the Outer Limits, Dimension Music, The Unexpected, Monster Mo's MP3 Site, and “Blex's Page of Good MP3” each provided visitors a unique experience. The “personalities” of these and other websites were truly distinct, and visitors seemed to connect with webmasters in a very special way.

Due to the growing popularity of MP3 sites, many webmasters at this time started to use banner-advertising programs to recoup hosting costs (although many seemed to do it for greed). Unfortunately, many decided to use pornographic advertisements since they usually generated more money for the individual. In response, several MP3 webmasters combined in an effort to discourage the use of pornographic banner advertisements, the result was PureMP3, an effort that is still being undertaken today.

While many websites were created, FTP was still the preferred method of downloading MP3s. Often, websites (like Blex’s) would list connection information to dozens of FTP sites. Many others looked to IRC, where people post their site’s address publicly to a chat room. The interaction that was essential to acquiring a MP3 contributed greatly to the community environment.

Many important strides were made in developing and improving MP3-based audio software in 1997. When one looks at the software available to an MP3er during 1996 and early 1997, it becomes obvious that people needed easier to use and better featured software programs. MP3 and challenge loving amateur coders certainly did not about to pass this opportunity to develop excitingly fresh and very needed software.

Winamp, the Windows based MP3 player created by Justin Frankel, was released during the summer of 1997. Winamp combined useful features with an equally useful and alterative interface, and seemed to strike a chord with users both new to MP3 and those who had been forced to use the crude programs the preceded it. Winamp seemed to make listening to music on a computer an easy and rewarding experience, instead of an awkward and shallow one.

Other programmers focused on improving and developing programs used in the MP3 creation processes. Since both the first digital audio extraction and MP3 encoding programs were command-line driven, several people released “Front Ends”. A front end was a graphical user interface that was tied onto a command-line program, making it easier to use. Fraunhofer’s pricey MP3 encoder was sometimes distributed with these front ends, despite the illegality of such an action.

While many great things within the community were done during 1997, 1998 would be a year of great change for webmasters, artists, and music listeners alike.

(To Be Continued) The opinions, statements, and comments expressed in this article are the sole opinions of the author and not of DMusic.

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