How MP3 Files Work

Distributing Original Music

If you are an artist who is recording music at home or in a small studio, you can use MP3 files and the Web to distribute your music to a larger audience. The first step is to create a song, either on a cassette tape, minidisc or CD. If it's on a CD, you can use the ripper and encoder tools described in the previous section to create an MP3 file. If it's on a cassette or other source, you can connect the output of the audio source to the line-in or microphone jack of your sound card and record the music digitally on your computer. Then you can encode that file to create the MP3.

Once you have an MP3 file in hand, you have two distribution options:

  • You can go to an MP3-distribution site and let them distribute your music. The advantage of this approach is that large MP3-distribution sites gets millions of visitors every month, so your potential audience is very large.
  • You can create your own Web site for your music or band and promote the site yourself. This gives you more control and individuality, but requires you to get the word out on your own. See How Web Pages Work for details on creating and hosting your own Web site.

Some musicians distribute their music through a blog. Jonathan Coulton, known for his comedic folk songs, uses a blog to keep his fans informed of what's going on in his life. They can also find links to purchase his music or listen to several of his songs for free. Coulton's success with this untraditional approach may inspire other musicians to follow suit.

One good option is to make your MP3 files available on a large Web site and then link to the download area from your band's Web site. This lets you get the best of both worlds, and you can take advantage of the larger site's servers for those big MP3 files.

For more information on the MP3 format, MP3 sites and related topics, check out the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Decker, Logan. "Do Higher MP3 Bit Rates Pay Off?" Maximum PC. April 19, 2007. (Aug. 15, 2008)
  • Digital Audio Systems. "MP3 Encoding." (Aug. 15, 2008)
  • Fraunhofer IIS. "MP3: MPEG Audio Layer III." (Aug. 15, 2008)
  • Levine, Robert. "The Death of High Fidelity." Rolling Stone Magazine. Dec. 27, 2007. (Aug. 14, 2008)
  • Loukides, Mike. "High Bit Rate MP3s: Are they Necessary?" O'Reilly Media. March 1, 2000. (Aug. 14, 2008)
  • "Bit Rates and Sound Quality." (Aug. 15, 2008)
  • (Aug. 15, 2008)