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Well, we have had an amazing amount of people ask what an MP3 is. I was not aware of the percentage of people who were not familiar with this form of music, but now that I am I have decided to make this page to help you better understand.
An MP3 is similar in many ways to a RealAudio file; both are music, can be downloaded, and can be played from your computer. The similarities stop there.
An MP3 is essentially a music file taken directly off of a CD, and compressed to make it a reasonable size to transfer electronically. When you take a song off of a music CD, and copy it to your hard drive it is copied as an AIFF file (another music format). An AIFF file is normally 30 to 60 MEGABYTES!! you can imagine no one wants to download a file that large, so someone came up with a way to make them smaller and still keep the CD quality sound.
MP3s are at, or are very near (so near I can't tell the difference) the quality of CD sound, and only take up 2 to 6 megabytes. If recorded properly RealAudio files sound pretty good, but are not NEAR as "clean" as MP3 files. I use the term clean because RealAudio files many times have scratches, bumps, and other impurities in them.
The reason RealAudio music is so small is because it actually cuts out some of the music. When you record music as a .ra file it cuts out sounds that (if you are not paying attention) are almost imperceptable to the human ear. Lets say you are listening to Mozart (I know most of you don't, but lets just pretend); If you listen carefully you will notice many layers of sound all flowing together to form music. Normally there is a group of prominent (closer, louder, nearer, or more noticeable) sounds that draw your attention away from the background music; music in MP3 format captures that essence, and delivers it to you as well as a CD does.
There are many formats for music. I will not bore you (anymore than I already have) by going into detail about each one, but suffice it to say that all other music is either much larger, or not as high quality as MP3s.
Picture this: You insert your favorite CD (probably Mozart, huh?) into your CD player, and hit play. Most of the pieces you will listen to are so complicated that you don't hear 80% of the notes! This allows music compressed into RealAudio to be much smaller because it can cut out notes, and even whole background sounds without you even noticing most of it. For most purposes this works fine, but if you really care about how your music sounds, then you would want the song in MP3 format.
Below I will try to illustrate the concept of cutting out notes to make smaller files.
The bar below shows notes per second. These notes might be so fast that you do not notice all of them. this is where an MP3 rates.
This end of the bar shows how there are less notes per second, and although it still sounds decent you will notice a decline in quality. This is where .ra rates.

More notes on MP3s

The internet is a VERY good place for a band to market their music. The record companies have a scheme to limit which bands become popular. All of the biggest bands these days are signed over to some large record company; because of this the record company gets most of the profits. If a producer doesen't find your band, then no one will hear about you. This is a very malicious plot that lets the record companies have a monopoly on the music industry. This is changing due to the internet and its new methods of music exchange. The record companies are scared. There are lawsuits against companies that produce MP3s and MP3 players because the record companies realize that bands can now market their own music without them.
Right now there are many debates raging on about whether MP3s should be legal or not. The record companies do have an advantage because they have so much money (In this instance at least, money is power). Getting the record companies to relinquish their deathgrip on the music industry is like trying to take a banana from King Kong.
Alright, I guess that's enough of my ranting and raving for now (only for NOW though). If you want to e-mail me (you can post a message on my message board too) about this, or any other subject; click the E-mail button below.