So if you swear that you heard the illest show by your favorite band, you might wish that you were able to get a recording later to listen to the snapshot of that experience, preserving all of the improvisation and witty banter from a group of revered musicians. Well, if that band is among the 2,200+ bands that allow their fans to record their live shows, chances are that it’s ended up – noncommercially – on the internet.
That means that there is a huge archive of live music floating around on the internet, and there are several great places to find it. This is a practice that is historically known as tape trading, which referred to the days when traders would find each other at shows or via BBS and set up a manual trade from their personal recording collections.
For people just trying to get started, a lot of veteran traders would offer b&p’s, which just meant that they’d burn a show onto CDs for you if you provided blanks and postage. There also used to be several places to go and get on a tree, which started with one person with a show, and anyone who wanted it would sign up on the list. The first person would ship the CDs to the next person on the list, and the show would slowly but surely circulate through an entire lineage of people who wanted to hear the show.
Now that practically all traders have high speed internet connections, and with storage and bandwidth prices being within the manageable realm, there are huge online archives such as etree.org, which is hosted by archive.org [go here for a great live music archive] that are home to an incredible selection of live music.
It used to be a strict tradition of traders that all of the live music must be professionally sourced music that was never passed through a compressed or “lossy” format, such as mp3. Thus all music was recorded at CD quality or better. The idea was that the community shouldn’t be tainted by poor quality material passing off as source; it would be impossible to find high quality stuff that was true to the original performances.
In order to find a reasonable trade off between huge music files in CD-quality .wav or .aiff formats digitized from source recordings, two lossless compression schemes emerged, called Shorten (.shn) and Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC; .flac). Both of these formats are still widely used today, and depending on whom you ask, one is superior to the other for any number of reasons. But they are both platform independent, readily available, and most importantly, they both reduce file sizes while retaining all of the quality of the original sound data of their uncompressed counterparts.
However, this typical restriction was loosened with the advent of the now dying minidisc recording medium, which was as portable as digital audio tape (DAT) but considerably more affordable. Minidisc, a format pioneered and largely championed by Sony (think Betamax), was based on a cool optical technology (magnetooptical recording) that encoded audio onto the tiny discs in ATRAC (adaptive transform acoustic coding), a closed Sony format based on psychoacoustic principles to only cut out what most human ears couldn’t hear anyway.
Yet for several reasons minidisc has been doomed to failure in the United States, and instead, mp3 has thus far reigned supreme as the lossy format of choice for most, though the success of Apple’s iTunes Store has inadvertently given rise to AAC (Advanced audio coding) as a popular scheme.
Thus one can find several shows floating around, on archive.org as well, in a variable bit rate (VBR) mp3 format that probably has the most hard core traders up in arms. Though their concern is understandable for maintaining a standard of quality, I must admit that my entire live music collection is encoded for personal use for sheer practicality. I’d never trade or distribute any of it, however.
Rules of the game
All of the bands found on sites like archive.org have either given explicit consent to the practice of trading or have not explicitly banned it. Thus tape-friendly bands are now provided with an amazing medium of getting their music heard by more and more folks, which can only be good for their music.
None of these live recordings should ever be sold at any time for any kind of monetary gain. That’s part of the beauty of this community, and I believe it’s illegal to do so. Once in awhile you’ll find an unscrupulous seller on eBay selling some live concert bootleg, but when reported they are dealt with accordingly. Once in awhile you’ll find a hole in the wall record shop that has live recordings in its collection, but resist the temptation to buy them and get them for free via the net. Strangely, in this case the only legitimate way happens to be fairly inexpensive or even free for the end user.
There’s a community called Dime-A-Dozen that offers a .torrent trading arena with incredibly strict rules on source material quality and band approval, which enables it to exist without getting bombarded with potential lawsuits for folks who might purposefully or inadvertently seed a commercially available show. They cap membership at 100,000, so you’ll have to get on a waiting list, but it’s worthwhile for the sheer volume and consistent quality of the recordings available through Dime. And of course, it’s free, though donations are a great idea.
For the videophiles
In addition to live audio recordings, there’s a fair amount of live video, as well, in DVD format, often professionally filmed. It’s incredible to see Miles Davis or Charles Mingus in concert in an era when I wasn’t so much as alive to see them perform. (Ok, Miles performed until 1991, but I was like 9 and in love with Mariah Carey.)
Among my favorite shows from Dime or archive.org are some great Soulive shows, along with some old Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk, of course. Music is and always has been ultimately about the people who create and listen to it, and this is a great way to connect to artists, old and new, through their music.