• Ayana Colley

Did the MP3 file save music?

Updated: Jun 6, 2020

Music is a strange phenomenon that spreads its wings across every corner of the world. Vocal and instrumental sounds interweave to dance in harmony, expressing emotion and beauty. When we take our young steps, Music ignites emotion, language, and intellectual skill, closely trailing behind as we become academic. We learn coordination through rhythm and grasp music for our entire life; people are able to sing and stroke the keys of a piano for many years until old age.

In a hectic modern life, it has become rather hard to listen to this symphony of music, but we continue to hold on to this principle part of human nature. Your phone, YouTube, Media Players, CDs, and many more have caused the reinvigoration of the music industry. In regards to music, all of these things are useless and not worth more than a pebble found in your backyard. In order to unlock their musical potential, a key is required. The key is named the MP3 file.

MP3 is a format for compressing a sound sequence into a very small file while maintaining the original sound quality when played. Every brainchild needs a parent: the “father of MP3” is a specialist in mathematics and electronics named Karlheinz Brandenburg.

Karlheinz Brandenburg received an engineer's degree from Erlangen University in Electrical Engineering and a degree in Mathematics in the early 80s. Only a few years later, he obtained his Ph.D. from the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg in Electric Engineering. Karlheinz’s Ph.D. advisor was Professor Dieter Seitzer, whose goal in the early 80s was to create a “digital jukebox.” Seitzer intended to create a system where people could listen to music on demand over phone lines though there wasn’t enough bandwidth to transfer a strong music file over a phone line and his patent application was rejected. Seitzer assigned Brandeburg to investigate whether or not an audio file could be compressed enough to make the “digital jukebox” work.

After a research alliance was formed between Erlangen-Nuremberg University and the Fraunhofer Institute, the team created a functional real-time algorithm as a basis for its research. The international group MPEG validated and promoted MP3 as an international standard. In 1994 the first prototype of an mp3 player was created by the Fraunhofer lIS, saving about a minute of mp3 track and proving it was suitable for daily use. Two years later, the Fraunhofer lIS started selling the mp3 software over the internet, however, an Australian student bought the software and made it publicly available, spreading worldwide quickly and remaining until today.

Karlheinz became the head of the Audio/Multimedia department at the Fraunhofer Institute in 1993 and has been a professor at the Technical University of Ilmenau since 2000 as well as the director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology in Ilmenau. In addition, Karlheinz is a member of the Audio Engineering Society and the head of the Audio Engineering Society Standards Committee.

Perhaps Karlheinz Brandenburg is not only the “father of MP3” but also the father of the reinvigoration of music.