We tend to think of the MP3 files that zing around the Internet and into our computers and portable music devices as uber-modern technology. And why not? The fact that we can cram thousands of songs into a thing the size of a deck of cards approaches the realm of magic.

MP3s have managed to outlast all competitors, chiefly because it could not support any digital locks. The MP3 codec was born before Digital Rights Management (DRM) and could not be locked down, much to the consternation of the music industry. MP3s worked on virtually any device (including the iPod, a big part of why it became so entrenched with consumers) and when the record labels started swinging their big DRM stick around, consumers eschewed any file format that might have interfered with their ability to move their music around. Only Apple’s AAC format — the default format used by iTunes — could say it had any traction and trust. The same can’t be said for WMA, ATRAC3, Real G2 or Liquid Audio.

But MP3 technology is has already passed its 20th birthday. It’s a product of the 1980s and is starting to show its age. It’s only about audio; it’s can’t store extra information other than what is “tagged” to the file (like artwork); and it’s certainly not very interactive. This is where a French company comes in with a format they call MXP4. Simply put, this new technology extends the capabilities of a basic music file into areas like video and the ability to contain multiple tracks.

Several artists like Lily Allen, Dave Stewart (Eurythmics) and Basement Jaxx have begun experimenting with MXP4s. Because the format allows for different tracks to be pulled from a single file, you can do things like take a guitar track out or add in a new beat. In other words, fans could remix their favourite songs. DJs would have an easier time of creating mash-ups, too. And MXP4 files can contain video, too.

Sounds cool, huh? But consumers have been burned before (Sony rootkit, anyone?) so the first and biggest hurdle will be to gain consumer trust. If people believe that someone is trying to screw them with technology again, then yet another promising advance might die before it gets a chance to prove itself.

– The Ongoing History Of New Music can be heard on stations across Canada. Read more at www.ongoinghistory.com and www.exploremusic.com

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