First annual MP3 summit highlights

The First MP3 Summit was held at the Price Centre in the University of California at San Diego Campus. Here are the highlights of the summit from my perspective:

Demonstration of really cool hardware (MPMAN, MPLAYER3), software (WINAMP, FREEAMP, SONIQUE), and online services (MUSICMATCH, GOODNOISE, MUSICMUSICMUSIC). The product demos were by far the best part of the summit and showed how much momentum the MP3 movement has. If there were any doubts about the legitimacy of the MP3 movement, this aspect of the Summit completely shattered them. As a technophile and a musician, I pride myself on keep up-to-date with the latest in music technology, but even I was unprepared for what transpired during the product demo sessions. More than all the talk and prophecies about the future, more than the discussion about legal issues, the hardware and software products are the backbone. They are to the MP3 community what Linux is to the ideal of freely re-distributable software.

Congressman Brian Bilbray's self-effacing comments. To quote but one of them: "We think a megabyte is something Bill Clinton does to a Big Mac." The context for this was the fact that we (the consumers) should be wary of Congress passing laws about stuff they don't fully comprehend. It was refreshing to see a politician be so honest about these issues (hopefully it was genuine). It also illustrated to those of us in the crowd that the laws will be in favour of those with the most powerful lobbies.

One personal highlight for me, as author of The Free Music Philosophy was the number of people who share the free music ideal. I expected a fairly strong reaction from a number of people against the idea, but even people from the industry felt greater distribution of MP3s (even unauthorized ones) would do more good than harm. In fact, the creators of MP3 software are already pushing the rest of us toward models that would subsidise musicians via enhanced distribution of the music (such as players which enable you to instantly buy hard copies of artists whose MP3s you've just downloaded). By the end of the summit, I thought a general consenus was reached in this regard: the best way to abridge unauthorised use would be to create models of authorised use in such a manner that it would actually require more effort to engage in unauthorised activities.

In some ways, the general mood of the conference was against the recent draconian measures undertaken by the music industry, particularly the RIAA. But I must say that the RIAA representatives, even though they came under some flak, dealt with the situation admirably. Overall, there was indeed a great exchange of ideas. Corny as it sounds, I do believe all sides on the MP3 proliferation issue were able to appreciate all the viewpoints involved (though I doubt any views were changed).

Finally, the conference was put together impeccably. I met a great number of very cool people which hopefully will lead to some interesting collaborations, musically and otherwise. I don't have enough compliments to pay to Michael Robertson and the folks at who pulled off one of the best conferences I've ever been to (scientific and otherwise).

Free Music || Ram Samudrala || || June 15-16, 1998