How long ago could the average person have started a digital music library?

I’m wondering how far back someone could have started and maintain a digital music library. When could the average person, using a typical home computer, have started a digital music library? Did the first home computers that had a CD slot have the capability to store a digital music library? Would the music in such a digital library be easily transferable to subsequently released computers such that it would still be usable on today’s home computers, assuming brand loyalty (i.e. early Microsoft to today’s Microsoft, early Apple to today’s Apple, etc.)?

No need for brand loyalty, so long as you used a format readable by multiple programs and these “diskette” things. I don’t remember the exact year (mid-1990s) but I had a computer with a hard disk (that is, one inside which you could store information and which didn’t need you to put a tape, cassette or disk inside to be able to do anything other than make brrrrp noises) before I had one with a CD reader.

This probably isn’t quite what you’re looking for, but I believe that early computer game music was compiled and listened to on its own by some people.

It looks like MIDI was standardized in 1983 and I know that they're still easily played. I'm not aware of any earlier format that was commonly accepted across platforms that was small enough in data size for collecting on a PC.

In 1982 a typical PC hard disk held maybe 10 megabytes, and you were not going to fit many CD rips into that. By 1995 a CD burner was under $1000, and you had MP3, so let’s say around then as an initial approximation. By pure coincidence, Napster soon appeared, although people were sharing files well before that.

Thank you for the replies so far. To clarify, I’m picturing this type of scenario. I go to my local CD store and buy a CD, rip it to my computer, and don’t keep the CD. I want to keep the same music on my computer through the years as I get a new computer when the old one becomes obsolete. How far back can someone have started without running into a major roadblock in doing this?

Just noticed this reply. Thank you for the info :slight_smile:

Sage Rat: Ooooh, I wouldn’t have thought of MIDI! That’s a great answer! From that perspective, an argument could be made that early player piano rolls were storing digital music that required a very heavy and complex player (the piano itself).

There was a period of time before MP3s came along where you could rip CDs into .wav files (which were huge compared to MP3s). Ripping being the transfer of the digital music on the CD to a usable file on your PC. So I’d say that when CD drives became available for computers was when you could start a digital music library. The first MP3 codec coming on the scene in 1993 was when digital music libraries became more practical. You didn’t see many digital music files until the mid to late 90s because the processing speed and storage capacity of computers had to catch up a bit to be usable by the general public.

.wav files became a thing in 1991 so that’s when the ability to store digital music started to be standardized. If you ripped CDs in 1991 to .wav files, there’s no reason why you couldn’t play those same files today.

Although MIDI is digital, it’s not the same thing as what we think of as digital music. MIDI isn’t recorded sounds, it’s a set of instructions for what notes to play when. It is analogous to piano rolls, but those aren’t recorded music either.

Not always true. Pianists would sit and play and the piano they played on was set up to also make marks on a rolling blank sheet of paper. When you listened to a piano roll, it was entirely possible that you were listening to a specific pianist’s performance.

The analogy between this style of recording and what we now consider to be proper recording technique is possibly something like the difference between vector and raster art, respectively.

Ripping music to mp3s and thence to disk was easy in concept, but to be viable disk had to be cheap enough. You might put a cross over as the price of disk storage for the ripped music costing no more than the CD. A CD holds about 650MB. 128kb/s mp3 gets you roughly 11:1 - so call it roughly 60MB to hold a CD’s worth of music at a just about acceptable quality. Call a CD $20, so $0.30 per megabyte. Disk prices used to vary dramatically per unit storage as performance mattered as dis reliability, and enterprise class disks cost a bomb. But as a rough measure, about 1994. You would want to have been a bleeding edge enthusiast to pay as much for the original CD to store and listen to it as a 128kb/s mp3, but you could have done it. Things moved rapidly after that.

The early computers with a CD drive didn’t have anything like enough disk space to usefully store music. You just put the CD in and played it. Sometimes there was a nice programme that would store metadata for your CDs and give you a track list.

But .wav files are absolutely huge (by the standards of computer storage back then), and would be totally impractical with the high cost and limited capacity of disk storage that was then available. However things might have been a lot different just one year later.

For the average person I’d say the first prerequisite would be CDs that you could rip, since few would have been able to digitize LPs on their own. They first came out in 1975 but I believe the first computer CD drives weren’t available until around 1985, perhaps later. But the most ubiquitous music compression format – and compression was absolutely essential given storage capacities of the time – was MPEG-1 Layer 3 (MP3) which was finalized in 1992. Coincidentally, the Intel 486DX2 was also introduced that same year, providing a computer that would easily be fast enough to manage all the necessary ripping, compression, and decompression. So for those willing to spend the money, I’d put about 1992 as the earliest that the software and hardware would realistically have been available, and able to rip and store an MP3 library.

Hard drive space is the limiting factor. In 1991, a good hard drive for a PC might have had 40MB to 120mb of storage or so. 40mb might be enough for maybe ten songs if they are compressed. Uncompressed, maybe one or two.

By 1996, you could get hard drives with a gigabyte of storage, which would let you store a reaonable amount of songs. There was no eady way to move them around, though. Most people still had crappy internet speeds, and a 3.5" floppy drive at the time could hold at best 1.2 MB, so you couldn’t even fit an MP3 on one of them.

I’d say that personal song collections on computers really started being a big thing about the time the first MP3 players came along around 1998. Those players could only hold a handful of songs, requiring users to build up a song library on their hard drives. By 2001 the Apple iPod was released, and that’s when home digital music libraries really started to take off.

The ironic thing is, those libraries are mostly archaic. Sort of like people keeping libraries of pirated movies. Since the late 1990s some people were doing it - there were IRC channels on the down low I remember visiting in the early 2000s for pirated anime.

These days, if you want to pirate a movie, you can just find a torrent for it and download it in a couple minutes. Why bother storing it?

And if you have a subscription to Netflix, Hulu, CBS All Access, HBO Go, Amazon Prime, and like 5 other services, you can usually just stream it legally. (this part is a huge hassle, the different content creators need to reach some kind of cross licensing deal so that one service can just stream everything, perhaps with a small extra fee when you stream something that isn’t “native” to your service. Or a “credit system”. Like you could have a “Netflix Premium” for $20 a month. Where you can watch all of Netflix’s content all you like, but you also get a certain amount of credit tokens you can use to watch something owned by any other service each month, and can buy more.

I digitized music using a “Macrecorder” input device on a Fat Mac (512ke) in 1985, so in theory, I could have started my collection back then.
To be practical, though, a real library would have to wait until Apple introduced the Mac II in 1987, and AIFF as an audio standard, which allowed direct CD->file copies with perfect fidelity (at 650MB/CD). I was only interested in uncompressed audio, so I did calculations to determine when 100GB drives would be affordable, since that seemed like a reasonable sized library. The cross-over point was in the early 2000’s, maybe 2003.

I agree that hard drive space was limited and expensive, and your figures are about right – an MP3 compressed to 128 kbps at 44 KHz averages just under 1 MB per minute. But my 1992 guesstimate was based on “earliest possible” assuming that MP3 software had already been developed and assuming that you were willing to spend silly amounts of money on disk storage, so disk storage was a cost limitation but not really an inherent technical one. And in fact, by the end of 1991 you could already get a 1 GB disk drive if you had the bucks, the IBM 0663 which was available for the PS/2. By 1992, the adventurous could get the 0664, which was essentially two 0663s glued together, with a capacity just over 2 GB.

Conversely, no matter how enthusiastic a hobbyist you were, you couldn’t rip to MP3s before the MP3 standard even existed!

Sure, but as long as cost is not an issue and funds are unlimited, why compress the files at all… (And is your not-so-average user backing up to magnetic tape, keeping the CDs, or something else?)

I did the same kind of thing with a trash 80 and the analog to digital converter (digitize, record, playback). It wasn’t stored efficiently and due to custom assembly wasn’t something an average joe could do, but from a pure technical standpoint a determined and knowledgeable person could have built a library of sorts in the early 80’s.

The funny thing is that the cheapest storage would have been right back to tape in digital form worse than the original.

That and 1999-2000 was when broadband first became available and affordable. Napster over dial-up would never have been what it was.

QUOTE=SamuelA;21303280]The ironic thing is, those libraries are mostly archaic. Sort of like people keeping libraries of pirated movies. Since the late 1990s some people were doing it - there were IRC channels on the down low I remember visiting in the early 2000s for pirated anime.

funny when dalnet banned fileservers the precursor to torrents they went from millions of users and 50 pages of rooms to like under 500k people and 2 pages in 3 days as people went to other places ………. the odd thing was until dvd drives came out it still took 2 or 3 cds for some movies …….
My cousin was into the movie sharing scene and I have the first lord of the rings movie on 6 discs he gave me for xmas even with DSL it took the better part of 2 days to download and burn …….

My first real pc ( a pac bell 486 hot mess from Walmart)could play cds but not rip them when i upgraded to an p1 120 was a 4x cd rom that I could copy to the hd but the rewritable cds didn’t become cheap enough until 2000 or later …. I bought I think the 3rd gen cd burner because 1t was 16x/8x and came with nero ….
I think the pc im using has a dvd-rw weve never used except for putting pics on disc for relatives and that was ages ago