Suzanne Vega has been referred to as the “Mother of the MP3” as it was a recording of her voice that was used to test Karlheinz Brandenburg’s compression algorithm.

What’s lesser known however is that Steve made the recording…

Note from Steve Addabbo:

I recorded the acapella version of Tom’s Diner up at Bearsville Studios, January 1987. It was in the huge room, we had to gobo her off so I didn’t get too much of the big room sound. Since this was a capella, I recorded directly to my digital Nakamichi DMP 100 (basically a SONY F-1 in black) onto a Betamax tape. Just a mono recording. This was the master. I recall she did about 7 takes and we picked either the second or third. We mixed it with Shelly Yakus out at A&M studios in LA. It took about 4 hours to mix it since we were mixing to half inch non-dolby analog tape(Studer 807), we had to be careful of tape hiss and print through.

Excerpted From ECompany Magazine:

Ich Bin Ein Paradigm Shifter
Hilmar Schmundt
June 2000

To create MP3, Brandenburg had to appreciate how the human ear perceives sound. A key assist in this effort came from folk singer Suzanne Vega. “I was ready to fine-tune my compression algorithm”, Brandenburg recalls.”Somewhere down the corridor a radio was playing [Vega’s song] Tom’s Diner. I was electrified. I knew it would be nearly impossible to compress this warm a capella voice.”

Because the song depends on very subtle nuances of Vega’s inflection, the algorithm would have to be very, very good to select the most important parts of the sound file and discard the rest. So Brandenburg tested each refinement of his system with Tom’s Diner. He wound up listening to the song thousands of times, and the result was a code that was heard around the world. When an MP3 player compresses music by anyone from Courtney Love to Kenny G, it is replicating the way that Brandenburg heard Suzanne Vega.