The Hidden Channel on MP3s

By | September 16, 2005

Why don’t MP3 files contain ‘hidden’ channel like DVDs do? Or do they? It would be a great way to cater to the modern remix culture, the podcasting revolution, the audio commentary and soundseeing movement.

I wrote a few months back about podentaries, my ridiculous term for what I later found was already a thriving, if somewhat limited movement. The idea is basically to offer an audio accompaniment to more or less anything, not just confined to washed-up ex-directors pontificating on their old movies (parodied imperfectly by Rob Brydon), but also to music (take it to a Beethoven concert, an alternative to the stodgy guided tour, to TV series).

But surely it’s easy enough to add an extra channel to an MP3 file, that, with some software, can be released and mixed into the original music or sound? This would solve all sorts of problems of synchronization, and allow musicians, commentators or anyone who likes to include their tuppence worth to the recording. (“Now, if you listen carefully in the background a few bars ahead, you can hear me fluffing the first few notes of my ukelele solo”).

Of course, it needn’t stop there. You could capitalize on the already burgeoning Remix Culture by releasing songs that can have their drumtrack, say, removed by listeners to turn it into a bit of chilled out ambient fun, or have the voice track mutable so karaoke enthusiasts could have a go. I’m sure this kind of thing is already available in some format or other. I just haven’t seen any.

In short, when is the MP3 player, the iTunes of our age, going to become a mini mixer so we ordinary folk who might not want to remix from the bottom up can at least redesign songs to our tastes, and, perhaps more interestingly dig into some hidden channels that tell us more about what we’re listening to?

2 thoughts on “The Hidden Channel on MP3s

  1. Paul Watson

    That sounds like a really good idea. But lets take it a step further. How about having a channel that stores computer readable data.

    One of the big problems with podcasts is they have no index. A podcast might be about several topics and you want to listen to the 3rd one only. The only way to skip to it is to know the time position.

    But if that data could be encoded in a separate channel it would be very useful.

    But I must say that surely if this extra-channel idea is technically possible with the MP3 format then it would have been done already? Especially on the podcast side.

  2. Akshay

    Having different channels is … overdoing it a bit. How many artists are going to want to make comments? A rock group is comprised at the very least of the power trio (ignoring the White Stripes for the moment). Are you going to have three commentary channels & three instrument-section-only channels?

    My enhanced MP3 file format would have:

    – Album notes section shared across all tracks ripped from the CD (plus all the extra artwork inside). This is the only thing that prompts me to buy CDs these days … well, that and artist loyalty.

    – Multiple Genre tags. This has been a pet peeve for many years, as it messes up my auto-playlist generators. Take the song “Orion” by Metallica … is it “Heavy Metal”, or “Instrumental”? (Hint: the answer is “both”)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.