Music

Grand pianoI have been thinking for a long time about writing something about music. Other than my wife and family I can’t think of anything I love more than music. I like all kinds but Classical music is my favorite. If I have my choice I listen to it from my first waking moment of the day to my last. Whenever I am at my computer at home there is classical music in the background. Most times this would be KDFC (San Francisco on Sunday mornings I especially love to listen to Baroque music from WSHU (Fairfield, Connecticut). I also listen to a lot of classical music with Pandora on an iPod nano, through my home system, and through the Sonos at other places I spend a lot of time.

Music has been part of my life for more than 50 years. Where do I start? How can I best share a perspective that may be relevant to others? Perhaps an historic approach may be best. I hope you find this interesting…..

Unlike Mozart, I can’t say that music was part of my very early life. My first memories are actually from when I started clarinet lessons in fifth grade. That would have been around 1955. Taking music lessons was the thing to do in my neighborhood in Salem, New Jersey. All of my closest friends started lessons about the same time. Lessons led to junior high school band and then on to senior high school band. I was fortunate to be selected to first chair clarinet for my junior and senior years. My older brother was a trombone player and my younger brother was a trumpet player (as was my father). That made for a nice combo and we performed a Dixieland piece at a public concert. I also performed in a regional state band and various local groups.

Hi-fidelity (Hi Fi) systems were beginning to get pretty good around the early 1960′s and my family had a nice record collection. They were mostly Broadway, Dixieland, and big band albums. I liked all of them. A friend of mine, Bruce Smith, also had a “Hi Fi” and his family had a lot of classical music albums. I liked them a lot and this was the beginning of a great love of classical music which has grown over the years.

Off to college and the Lehigh University marching band and concert band. These were great experiences but the truth is that when I got involved in the fraternity (Kappa Sigma) I lost interest in the clarinet. The Beach Boys and the Beatles became the important music in my life. It wasn’t until quite a few years later that classical music reemerged as an important thing to me.

I’m not sure exactly when it was in my adult life that I began to have a deeper appreciation of classical music but it led to building a collection of CDs. It is modest in size compared to what many people have but the Mozart collection is more than 100 CD’s. They have all long ago been converted to mp3 tracks which are in the iTunes library. For years I had been planning for years to build a database of my CDs including the composer, orchestra, track titles, etc. and in fact I made several attempts at it but never got too far. Much too tedious. Looking back, I am glad I did not invest the time because there is no reason to have a private database today with all the web resources available.

Some people still ask me, what is digital music, really? It starts with analog music. When you go to Lincoln Center to hear a string quartet you are listening to analog music. If you want to listen to it later at home you need to have a way to capture it, store it, and replay it. In the “old” days this was done with vinyl records and later with acetate tape. Today it is mostly done via the Internet although many still listen to CDs (compact discs). The analog music is captured with recording equipment and then placed on the CD in CD-DA or digital audio format. This is done by sampling the sound 44.1 thousand times per second and capturing 16 bits (two bytes) of information about the characteristics of that second. That results in 88.2K bytes of data for a second of music. Multiply x 2 for stereo and you have 176.4K bytes of data per second. Multiply X60 and you get 10.584 megabytes per minute of music. A CD holds about 660 megabytes of data so that gives you approximately 62 minutes of music on a CD. Sound about right so far?

OK, so what is MP3? There is a group of experts (including prominent involvement of IBM) called the “moving pictures experts group” which created a standard called MPEG. MPEG has various “layers” which specify how audio or video can be compressed. Compression removes bits from the sampling process that are not essential or even recognized by the human ear. The result is a much smaller amount of data. MPEG layer 3 describes a particular standard for achieving high quality sound. It results in roughly eleven times for music per megabyte of storage. In other words with MP3 you can store roughly 11 hours of music on a CD. A good rule of thumb for thinking about MP3 is 1 megabyte of storage per minute of music.

MP3 has changed how people think about digital music whether they are consumers, artists, producers, broadcasters, or netcasters. Meanwhile there is still a physical/analog aspect to music I don’t see going away. Did you know there is a site on the Web where you can commission the creation of your own violin or cello?

Footnote 1: I first learned about mp3 in the 1990′s from teenagers. Surprised? Me either. Teenagers have a way of learning about new things and spreading the word like wild fire. MP3 has great potential for new business models. Imagine being able to click here to download and play a single time, multiple times, just your favorite track, a copy you could distribute to friends so they in turn get lots of choices for how to purchase, etc. Note to footnote: this comment was written in 1995.

Footnote 2: Back in the 1990s I liked to experiment with midi music. Sometimes I listened to midi music on my ThinkPad while on an airplane or in a car. I licensed two modest collections of midi music. One is the Peter Vantine collection (36 titles) and the other is by PG Music (20 titles). Here is a link to 180 Mozart midi selections. You can also find some very nice midi music at The Midi Music Source.

Additional References: David Strom talks about MP3 in your home here. John Hedtke has an excellent book called “MP3 and the Digital Music Revolution“.