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Smartphone users are some of the heaviest consumers of music, with 42% claiming to have a collection of between 2000 and 5000 songs. There was a time, not so long ago, when only the most hardcore music aficionados would have such a staggering collection. But digital music has changed all that. And that’s not all it’s changed.

1. Freed music from physical objects.

In 1987, Karlheinz Brandenburg chose Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” as the first song to fine tune his MP3 compression algorithm. The human voice being the hardest sound to compress, Vega’s a capella version of the song provided the perfect challenge for Brandenburg to test bitrates and further refine his codec. Little did he know then that eleven years later, with the advent of the first portable MP3 devices, his invention would liberate us and music. No longer was it bound to records, tapes or discs. For the first time in human history, music was freed from physical objects.

2. More music for the masses

If it wasn’t for the fact that music fans learnt to rip a CD into MP3s, we could still be waiting to buy music online. Why? Because record companies had a very profitable and cozy arrangement selling music via retailers. The large scale copying of MP3s meant record companies had no choice but to share the digital music love. Now, you can listen to a breathtaking array of music on your JBL Powerup speakers  from services as diverse as Spotify, Last FM and Nokia Music.

3. Choice, choice, choice

The MP3 has made it easier than ever to be a music junkie. Long gone are the times when to know about the latest bands you had to scour the music press or go to gigs in seedy basements. Albums that might have before taken months to track down can now be found and listened to with a quick online search. What’s more, with apps like Shazam, even if you forget a band’s name, you can find out who they are in seconds. Plus record companies no longer get to dictate what we listen to.

4. Helped launch Web 2.0

Until everyone started downloading MP3s from places like Napster, people found it tough to justify spending the extra cash on broadband. Faster Internet was nice, but was it really worth the extra investment? Suddenly being able to download tons of MP3s through file sharing meant it was. And once people upgraded to broadband, web designers could create more amazing web pages. Web 2.0 would undoubtedly have happened eventually anyway, but without the incentive of MP3s it would have taken a lot longer.

5. Gave new bands a break

Which brings us to the last amazing way, and certainly for some people the most important. There are now loads of great websites for checking out new bands, places like thesixtyone, Ourstage and PureVolume, which cater specifically to upcoming bands, letting them upload their music for our listening pleasure. Before the advent of digital music, these potential superstars would never have had the chance to get their songs listened to by millions. Now we can decide if they’re any good. Not some record company executive.

Think of any other great ways MP3s have rocked our world? Drop us a note in the comments below.

Image credit: Eurok +Birgerking