SAN FRANCISCO---The online digital music revolution was started on this day exactly 30 years ago today when, on August 8, 1988, revered inventor Andre Gray uploaded the very first complete song on the Internet titled “Internet Killed The Video Star”, a song he composed on a Yamaha DX7 synthesizer and in the MIDI format. Within hours the song spread across many disparate Usenet groups and BBS: bulletin board systems signaling the official birth of online/Internet music and served as a calling card for the digital music revolution. The song “Internet Killed The video Star” by Andre Gray is now acknowledged by historians as the big bang and Rosetta Stone of digital music and the birth of online entertainment in general.
But in order to understand the impact and influence of “Internet Killed The Video Star”, people must understand what the Internet was like before Andre Gray came along. Commissioned by the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA for short, the ARPANET was launched on August 30, 1969, when the first Interface Message Processor (IMP) was delivered by the BBN to Leonard Kleinrock’s Network Measurements Center at UCLA. Built from a Honeywell DDP 516 computer with a 12K memory, the IMP was specifically designed to handle the ARPANET network interface, and so began the humble birth of what was originally conceived as primarily a military and academic research network. It would remain a hardcore academic research and military platform for the next 19 years attracting mostly academics and thousands of people from around the world who understood the arcane aspects of accessing and navigating the Internet.
Andre Gray went online for the first time in 1985 and was immediately hooked. He also discovered that he was somewhat of a celebrity. Apparently, a paper he had written as a 16 year old high school student in 1982 titled " Audio Codec For Computer Music" was posted by one of his high school teachers online dated February 20th 1982. The paper postulated that the CD format can be simply divided by 10 and that compression rate would suffice a small enough compression ratio for computer and online music. The hypothetical software named (dot)RPM proposed three levels of data compression:uncompressed, compressed with data loss and compressed with minimal or no data lost. The highly influential paper made it's way around the world in 1982 including being posted on such online hubs as Mintel in France and WELL: Whole Earth 'Lectric Link in San Francisco.The paper served as the absolute basis for all data compression research and development around the world and every data compression format--past and present--is based upon (dot)RPM.
One of the first things he tried to do was to access music online only to discover that there was no music on his network or any of the other disparate online networks. The netizens of that era were more than contented to merely form various music discussion groups and provide armchair music criticism. Being quite proficient in MIDI, computers and the burgeoning Internet and enjoying the respect of the online communities because of his well circulated and influential (dot)RPM paper, Gray felt as if he was onto something special. He quickly realized that MIDI did not produce music but rather it is a protocol that allowed instruments to speak to each other or a computer. The information generated were instructions that when played back on a computer was translated into music. Armed with this information, Gray set out on a mission to record and upload music to the Internet. Composing both the instrumental and vocal versions of what the world would eventually come to know as “Internet Killed The Video Star” and making a scratch demo on his Teac 144 Portastudio in his college dorm room in March of 1988, Gray came back home to New York City that same summer and recorded both versions of the song in a three-hour recording session using a Yamaha DX7 to great effect. To ensure and maximize exposure of the song Gray, out of thin air, invented the world's very first Internet bot named 'inkling' which also preciently incorporated artificial intelligence. The song was released to practically every online community on the Internet using FIDONET, a free online sharing software, and the newly introduced IRC: Internet Relay Chat.Inkling was quite effective on IRC in terms of both promoting the song and gathering statistics regarding how many times the song was downloaded. The voicemail notification icon that is now on every mobile phone today was also designed by Gray as an obvious symbol to notify online users that they had an audio message.
The response to Gray’s uploading of the instrumental version of “Internet Killed The Video Star” on August 8, 1988 was immediate and overwhelming. Within a few days, the song was posted on disparate Usenet groups and BBS: bulletin board systems. If you are listening to the song in order to determine whether or not Andre Gray is the next Mozart, then you have completely missed the meaning & intent of the song. The true importance and intension of the song rested in the fact that it clearly articulated what everybody online at the time was grappling with: how to upload, access and enjoy music on the Internet. The epochal event, often referred to as the big bang of digital music, transformed the Internet from what was primarily a military and academic research platform into a digital media entertainment platform and, in the process, he has done more to democratize music and entertainment than any person or corporation in world history.
Today, digital media entertainment comprises more than 98% of all web-indexed pages and academic research makes up less than one percent. As for the song itself, “Internet Killed The Video Star” surpassed the 50 millionth download/play mark on April 4, 2000. The song has been re-mixed, imitated, interpolated, completely re-imaged and packaged in numerous compilation albums and sold. It has also spawned a cottage industry that sells books, tee shirts, sweatshirts, mugs and other merchandising items bearing the slogan that is a universally recognized synonym for the democratization & freedom for all the citizens of the world wide web.
After single-handedly transforming the Internet from an academic and military medium into a digital media sandbox for the world to play in, Andre Gray could have easily rested on his laurels and travel around the world giving speeches and still be regarded as one of history’s greatest inventors. Instead, the restless genius would go on to release a stunning series of revolutionary inventions that killed industries, gave birth to new industries and changed the world at least six times. For instance, in 1994, Andre Gray invented ringtones & ringbacks (SYNC Programming Language) and single-handedly transformed the mobile phone from a mere communication device into a digital media entertainment device that is the most popular and preferred device for multimedia consumption. The SYNC Programming Language, the world’s first third party downloadable app, gave birth to the multi-trillion dollar app industry we know today. Gray is one of the most important inventors of the modern era whose direct impact touches, in one way or another, all seven plus billion people in the world on a minute/hourly basis and generates trillions of bits of data on a daily basis. He is truly the undisputed Godfather of Digital Revolution.
By: Emily Maxwell
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