Power to the MP3s! Why online music is exploding in the dorms

'I really like this song; I guess I'll have to buy the album."

"Just download it," my dormmate said. That was two years ago - before "MP3" and "Napster" entered the standard collegiate lexicon.

Since that time, downloading tunes from the comfort of one's dorm room has become as much a part of college life as bad cafeteria food and all-nighters.

As music trading has proliferated, the recording industry has filed numerous lawsuits. But one verdict has long since been rendered: Students who brought music trading home to their dorms will never go back to getting music the old way.

MP3s, the most common Internet format for compressed digital music, have found their popularity because they're easy to obtain, they empower us as consumers, and they're free.

Because services like Napster make every user's MP3 collection available to millions of other users, the music-trading movement has snowballed, making the task of finding everything from that top-40 tune to that rare ditty you thought only you liked as easy as typing in a song title and pressing "search."

I have a group of friends who consolidated their MP3 collections; the final stats were 12 gigabytes of MP3s. For reference, that's a bit more than 205 hours, or 19 digital CDs full of music, and they shared this massive collection with people all over the world via the Internet.

Having every genre of music at our fingertips lets us draw our own conclusions about artists. This diverges from the traditional method of buying what a record company packages.

And the fact that we can do all of this for virtually free is music enough to any college student's poor ears.

Digital MP3 trading simply beats every form of commercial music distribution available today. But MP3s are far from perfect, and this is where record companies are dropping the ball.

It takes significant effort to download a complete album. While writing this, I've been trying to download the new "A Perfect Circle" album, and still haven't been able to get a quality copy.

MP3s have inferior sound compared with CDs; audiophiles can tell the difference.

In fact, record companies should be glad about the new technology. I've purchased at least 15 CDs solely because I downloaded the MP3s and found myself consistently listening to the songs.

If record companies would give us a way to "legalize" our MP3 collections, purchase only music we knew we liked, and allow us to do so at a reasonable price, I and most of my college cronies would do it in a second.

Students don't disrespect the artists or copyright law. They simply distrust record companies, which often profit more than the artists. The industry would have everyone think MP3 trading is causing an untold loss of millions in revenue. But its own figures show significant growth in the past two years, the prime period when MP3s were supposedly stealing millions.

Soon, record companies will be forced give consumers real choices at reasonable prices. The first company to learn to effectively use MP3 technology to promote and sell records is going to win big. Students, and consumers in general, will take note of companies that embrace this change, because it will signify respect for consumers and musicians.

And that will be (digital) music to everyone's ears.

*J. Paul Reed is a sophomore computer science major at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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