The Shared History of Seinfeld and the MP3

In 1982, Suzanne Vega wrote a song about a small restaurant in New York City. It was first recorded in 1984, but Tom’s Diner didn’t become an international hit and earworm until it was remixed, without permission, in 1990.

For reasons we’ll leave for audio engineers to geek out about, an a capella track with a beat – like Tom’s Diner – made for a great song to test high end (at the time) speaker systems. This led an audio compression engineer, Karlheinz Brandenburg, to use the song on a project he was working on.

The compression algorithm his team developed allowed music to fit into small files and be widely distributed on the Internet and played on multiple devices. Today, we take the MP3 for granted, but it started with Tom’s Diner.

The actual Tom’s Diner? The real name of the place that inspired Vega is Tom’s Restaurant, the familiar meeting place of Jerry Seinfeld and George – played by Jason Alexander – across many seasons of Seinfeld.

Video on Great Big Story.