Back in the early 90s, a British entrepreneur named Ricky Adar came up with the idea of selling music over this new thing called the “internet,” an idea that was way ahead of its time. He couldn’t find anyone interested in funding his vision. And besides, the market didn’t seem ready for something as radical as selling music in a completely non-physical form.
I mean, seriously. Who would ever want to have a music format you couldn’t touch? It was just too much of a technological and philosophical leap.
But then in 1994, Adar had a conversation Karlheinz Brandenburg who worked at a German research firm called The Fraunhoffer Institute. After years of work, their software algorithm had been chosen as the international standard for compressed audio on CD-ROMs. It was called “ISO-MPEG1-Audio Layer 3” or “MP3” for short.
Adar was very impressed by what Brandenburg and his team had accomplished. They had solved a lot of the technical problems that had stopped Adar from moving forward with his idea a few years earlier. He immediately recognized what Brandenburg’s people had done. He exclaimed, “You will destroy the music industry with this.”
Brandenburg replayed “That’s not our intent and frankly, I don’t think we’ll do it.” Famous last words, right?
A few months later, the people at the Fraunhoffer Institute began to notice something strange. Newsgroups started by the super-early adopters of the Internet started discussions about the potential of Layer 3 encoding when it came to music. Shortly after that, song files started appearing online.
Fast-forward to the first months of 1999. He didn’t know it at the time, but Shawn Fanning was on the way to becoming the most infamous college student in the world thanks to a nimble little program he would call Napster.
I didn’t really think much of this at the time but finding this article reminded me of what we stumbled across.
My band was playing The World’s End, a Pub in Finsbury Park London when we were approached by Ricky Adar (not his real name actually). He said he liked our music and was launching a music service unlike anything the world had seen.
We got to know each other and after a while he came round my house after I had sent him some tracks. He selected two he liked both of which he said his girlfriend couldn’t stop singing .
He said he needed a band photo, so Kal, (then Bassist) contacted a photographer he knew worked for the Daily Mail and we had the shoot in my back garden.
We were given a contract and we got our MCPS (union) lawyer on it but it baffled them.T his was the first contract of it’s type. MCPS had to re-write their archaic rules as it did not cater for MP3s ..It was all rather new and exciting.
We finally got the contract, recorded our first song called Maybe and Ricky uploaded it to the world in seconds. I remember saying “Is that it ,we now Worldwide?” He shook his head. I couldn’t quite get my head round it. Then he bought the page up and played it back to me and that was it. He said “Congratulations you are the first band on the internet with an MP3” The band got back to playing live and we never heard from Ricky again. Last I heard he was giving lectures about the revolution. Well I forgot all about it till today in fact. In some small way I guess we were part of history. Before Spotify was Napster and before Napster was Ricky.