Suzanne Vega: “The Mother of the MP3”?

Suzanne has been referred to as the “Mother of the MP3” as it was her voice that was used as the model for Karlheinz Brandenburg’s [pictured at right] compression algorithm. From Business 2.0 Magazine:

“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.”

Pat DiNizio: “You’re Fired!”

Suzanne hired Pat DiNizio, the frontman from The Smithereens, as an assistant when they both worked in an office, before both their careers took off. Dennis Diken’s liner notes from the CD version of “Especially for You”: ” Suzanne Vega had been Pat’s boss at an office job in NYC and once had the honor of *firing* his butt.” No hard feelings, as Suzanne appeared on Pat’s song “In A Lonely Place” on The Smithereen’s 1986 record “Especially For You.”

Hanging with Ani

When Suzanne was in her early twenties before she had a record deal, she used to go to Buffalo and play at a bar called Nietzches. She didn’t have enough money for a hotel so the promoter arranged for her to stay with a family whenever she played there, which was quite a bit between 1982 and 1984, or thereabouts.

This family included a young girl of about 12 or 13 who was studying dance at that time. Her name? Ani DiFranco.

Plumb Names Herself After Suzanne’s “My Favorite Plum”

Singer songwriter Plumb, whose first two albums each sold over 100,000 copies, took her name from Suzanne’s song, “My Favorite Plum”

Plumb writes, “It’s an honor to have named myself artistically Plumb after one of Suzanne Vega’s greatest works, “My Favorite Plum” off of her 1996 Nine Objects of Desire album. Suzanne has been and continues to be highly influential to my songwriting. She possesses the ability to be vulnerable, honest and poetic while still being metaphorical enough so that her songs can take on their own meaning to the listener. That’s the kind of songwriter I aspire to be, and Suzanne Vega has paved that path for me to follow.”

Sounds like Tom’s Diner?

There have been quite a few recordings which have interpolated “Tom’s Diner.” From Will Smith to REM to Easy-E, Tupac, Jars of Clay and Destiny’s Child:

  • Eazy-E – “Switchez” 3/26/02
  • Ludacris – “Playpen To the State Pen” 8/2/02
  • J Davis Trio – “Squinted-Eyed Justice” 8/2/02
  • Jene – “If He Knew” 5/30/02
  • Sarah Connor – “French Kissing” 11/5/01
  • Sev7en – “Friday NIght” 7/13/00
  • Lil’ Kim – “Brreak for Love” 5/22/00
  • T. One – “Tom’s Diner (Rap Verstion)” 2/11/00
  • Terror Squad – “Droaq” 6/3/99
  • Disco Elements – “Disco Lessons Part 1” 6/1/98
  • Destiny’s Child – “Know That” 1/26/98
  • Dave Hollister – “Come In The Door Pimpin” 8/21/98
  • Jars of Clay – “Good Coffee, Strong Coffee” 7/28/97
  • Chazz – “If You” 9/22/97
  • D-Devils – “Paranoid In Hell” 1/12/01
  • Will Smith – “Lean” 10/1/97
  • 2Pac – “Dopefiend’s Diner” 10/13/97
  • Bingo Hand Job (REM) – “Tom’s ?” 1991
  • After One – “Tom’s Diner Rap” 1991
  • Marilyn Whitelaw & Mark Davies – “Jeannie’s Diner” 1991
  • n.d.a. Project – “Tom’s Diner” 1991
  • MIchigan & Smiley – “Tom’s Diner” 1991
  • Beth Watson – “Waiting At The Border” 1991
  • Nikki D. – “Daddy’s Little Girl” 1991
  • Peter Behrens – “Dep De Do Dep” 1991

More Music-related Fun Facts:

  • Suzanne was the first artist on stage at the very first Lilith Fair
  • Suzanne’s first gig was at Carnegie Hall with Pete Seeger at age 12
  • Performed with Grateful Dead in ’88
  • Christine Lavin’s song, “Mysterious Woman” was written as a tribute and a good-natured parody of Suzanne.
  • Performed at Glastonbury in 1989 in a bulletproof vest.
  • The band “Bingo Hand Job” which recorded a track on “Toms Album” is actually REM.
  • The second woman to win the MTV prize for “Best Female” for”Luka” beating Cher.
  • Soul Coughing’s record, “Ruby Vroom” named after Suzanne’s daughter, Ruby.
  • Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls was quoted in a July 2000 AP interview as saying that the group’s initial goal was “to get big enough to open for Suzanne Vega.”
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