To see how kids these days keep up with the latest bands, enter the dark but tidy bedroom of an American high-school senior named Brendan, who is expanding his already considerable music collection courtesy of MP3. "Let's see if we can find some Korn," says Brendan as he sits down at his desk on a recent Saturday morning. "Not that I really like them. I don't go for that sort of angry, show-how-loud-we-can-scream-at-you, blaring guitars kind of music. But still, they are pretty popular."
Brendan logs on to the Web, heads to a search engine called scour.net, and types in "Korn." Seconds later, his screen fills up with a list of Korn songs available for downloading. "Let's see," Brendan muses. "How about 'Lost'?" He clicks on the song and, sure enough, the sounds of angry, screaming, blaring guitars soon fill the room.
It was barely a year ago that the world first heard tales of computer-science students at the nation's elite technical colleges sharing MP3 files over their high-speed networking connections. But MP3s, one of the fastest-growing phenomena in the history of the Web, are moving rapidly down the age ladder. During the past few months, they have made the jump from the college quad to the high-school cafeteria. "At my school, almost everyone who has an Internet connection has MP3s," says Brendan, who himself has 1 1/2 gigabytes of MP3 music, the equivalent of several hundred singles.
The MP3 explosion is driving the recording industry nuts, since many of the MP3 files cluttering the Web are pirated, in violation of copyright law. Converting a track on a music CD into an MP3 file requires just a PC and some free software. Hundreds of thousands of MP3 files are posted all over the Internet, thanks to students like Brendan and just about every other music fan with a PC. Downloading takes a few minutes with a regular modem and only a few seconds with a high-speed Internet connection, like DSL or cable modems.
"Buying a CD just isn't very useful any more," says David, a sophomore at Mountain View High School in the heart of Silicon Valley. "I can get any CD I want on the Internet."
Debra Gable, the librarian at Mountain View High, says downloading Internet music is one of the most popular uses of the cluster of high-speed PCs in the school's library. "There are kids doing it all day," she says. "It's especially popular at lunchtime." Brendan says he spends several hours a week downloading songs. He plays them in lieu of a radio station. While doing his homework, Brendan has MP3 versions of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sheryl Crow, Lenny Kravitz and many others to keep him company. "If you see a video you like on MTV, and then go type in the name of the song, you'll get it," he says. A prime use of MP3s is to get the one hit song from an album without spending $15 (£9) for the entire CD. "Here's an example of a song I like from an album I would never buy," says Brendan, as he searches through his computer and plays "Kiss Me," by Sixpence None the Richer. "Talk about a one-hit wonder."
Brendan also uses his considerable knowledge of the intricacies of the MP3 world in the services of other time-honoured adolescent pursuits -- like getting dates. He has shared MP3 lore "with a couple of cheerleaders at my school," he says, smiling.
Take me to the MP3 Special