Geek Trivia

What Was The First Song Encoded Into MP3 Format?

Video Killed the Radio Star - The Buggles
Tom's Diner - Suzanne Vega
Ninth Symphony - Beethoven
Digital - Joy Division
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Answer: Tom’s Diner – Suzanne Vega

In 1987, German electrical engineering doctoral candidate Karlheinz Brandenburg was working on his dissertation. The focus of his research was digital audio encoding and perceptual measurement techniques–research that would go on to be the basis for the digital music revolution and the ubiquitous MP3 format.

To test the quality of the compression algorithms he was crafting, he focused on human vocals. Instrumental music compresses fairly well but the human ear is highly tuned to detect irregularities in the human voice. Brandenburg was confident any compression algorithm that could successfully compress the human voice without problems would handle everything else thrown at it just fine. In order to test his algorithms he selected the a cappella version of the 1981 hit Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega as, in his words, “I knew it would be nearly impossible to compress this warm a cappella voice”.

As a result of Brandenburg’s extensive use of Tom’s Diner to test audio compression techniques, modern audio engineers informally refer to the song as “The Mother of the MP3”.