May 30th 2017

So, the MP3 is dead?

That’s what patent administrators for MP3 announced on the 15th May. The last remaining patent that the Fraunhofer Institute had for the MP3 has now expired and as a result the format will become obsolete. MP3 has finally gone the way of the cassette, the mini-disk and even the CD – it will no longer be the standard for those in the music industry. So, what does this mean for everyday music consumption?

In reality, the death of the MP3 just means a new stock format is being adopted. Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) files are the way forward apparently, with experts claiming they provide more efficiency and functionality than their predecessor.

However, downloaded content from online music stores like iTunes or Amazon is in decline. The sale of MP3s, and now AACs, via these kinds of platforms is down by nearly a quarter. Yet, having both been named in the top ten most valuable companies in the world, this is unlikely to cause either Apple or Amazon too much concern.

The news of the download’s slow demise doesn’t surprise me. After all, if I’m going to pay a good chunk of hard-earned cash for an album (which I rarely do anymore), I’d probably buy vinyl; at least I’d be getting something tangible for my money. Especially seeing as my iPod Classic is long dead and the model itself has been discontinued. In fact, Apple no longer even sells an iPod that is a dedicated MP3 player, so the death of the format has been on the horizon for a while.

Whilst the MP3’s patent expiration doesn’t necessarily mean the end of digital music files altogether, it does speak more broadly of the constant progression of music formats. As I said earlier, they come and go – making way for new and improved models. Downloadable music files are being superseded by streaming services. Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music are among the platforms that celebrated 45 billion streams between them last year, eclipsing the 400 million download sales. As technology develops, so too do people’s attitudes towards music consumption.

If you’re anything like me, you might spend too much time on music magazine websites, reading through the comments sections and feeling inadequate about how you like to enjoy music. In these circles, vinyl is heralded as the gold standard format by the musical elite. Personally, I consider vinyl to be a far too expensive and impractical way of consuming music. Streaming, on the other hand, is quick, simple and costs next to nothing. For someone who listens to as much music as I do, these factors are a big deal.

Yes, there are questions about how much of that money actually goes to the artist that produced the music you’re streaming. I would argue that without my Spotify account, I wouldn’t listen to half of the new music that I do, I wouldn’t go to half of the shows that I do, nor would I buy half of the merchandise that I do. Streaming is what is keeping music alive in 2017.

It’s all a question of progression and, as a result, it seems that the MP3 is just next on the scrap heap. In this fast paced world, people desire a format that’s instant, easy and won’t cost them the earth. In an age where instant gratification is king, streaming services will always reign supreme (until some better technology comes along!).