I think it was some time in 2002 that a tech-forward friend dropped by to show off his newly-acquired toy, an iPod. It was a first-generation model with a capacity of 10 gigabytes. That meant, he bragged to me, that he could carry in his pocket 2000 songs and listen to them via a pair of white ear-buds anywhere he wanted to. “Just listen to the sound,” he gloated, “it’s like carrying an entire library of music with you.” I was skeptical (and, I must admit, a bit of Luddite too) when I popped the ear-buds in and heard his classic rock selections. I think it was Cream’s SWLABR (which deliciously expands into She Was Like A Bearded Rainbow, circa 1967) that got piped in first and I complained about how the bass was muted; the treble was tinny and so on. “Go away and take that stupid iPod with you,” I sneered.
Not surprising, my reaction. Back then, I was predisposed towards not liking mp3 players or mp3s. The idea of downloading stuff didn’t really appeal to me (mainly because I didn’t know how but also because I had amassed a hoard of CDs and cassettes that I was too possessive about). I had just read an article in a magazine that talked about scientists discovering how freezing a CD enhanced its sound quality and had put a bunch of my CDs, ensconced in Ziploc bags into the freezer, nestling there along with a whole hilsa and four pork chops. For the record, the theory of freezing CDs proved to be bunkum: Tom Petty sounded as nasal and imitative of Bob Dylan as he ever did; I still didn’t like Floyd’s Dark Side, frozen or unfrozen; and remained as ecstatic as I was about Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew as I had been before freezing it.
So it went. For nearly four years, I resisted the idea of venturing onto the Internet or getting hold of an mp3 player, staunchly telling the world (or at least the four and a half people that made up my audience) how mp3s were crap; how audio file compression destroyed musicians creativity and blah, blah and blah. I was happy with my stereo and my discs and tapes and a few remaining vinyls from years past.
I think the epiphany happened sometime in 2005. It was then, in my quest for live jams and gig recordings, I discovered that a lot of the tape and CD trading among fans of bands had moved online. People were trading mp3s and many more were uploading and downloading stuff (often illegally; remember the erstwhile Napster?) that you couldn’t really get anywhere else. My colleague Sri was off on a junket to the US and I sheepishly asked him to buy an iPod for me. That was the beginning. From the moment the gleaming white 60 GB (fourth-gen, I think) iPod landed up, my life changed.
Initially, I played it safe. I ripped many of my CDs (a 60 GB can hold approximately 15,000 songs) and stored them in my iPod. The gizmo had a ‘shuffle’ function that played songs in random sequence and I got many cheap thrills out of that. I could carry my music to people’s parties and annoy them by playing my playlists through their stereos. I could listen to my music without disturbing anybody else and, best of all, cut the outside world off whenever I wanted to.
Then, I discovered the joys of downloading from the internet—and, you may think I’m feigning piety here, but honestly—legally. I discovered the Live Music Archive (LMA) where I met an online community that is “committed to providing the highest quality live concerts in a lossless, downloadable format”. There are countless live concerts archived here for free downloads or just to stream and listen to and all of them are legal, duly approved by bands and their record labels. You can download mp3s or even FLAC (free lossless audio codec files that are less compressed than mp3s and, hence, as their name suggests, deliver higher fidelity) files from the LMA and let me tell you, you are sure to be floored by the sheer volume of music that is available. All free. And all legal.
Five years since I got my first iPod, I now have most of my music in digital formats on the several iPods that I have managed to acquire over the years. I have lost a few too. One 30 GB colour version I left on a flight from Phuket to Bangkok (yes, I was a bit drunk). Another got scorched by a friend’s crappy sound-dock and had to be junked. A third was appropriated by my teenage daughter sometime back and the last time I saw it, it was unrecognizable with indelible ink graffiti all over it. But I’ve usually kept replacing the lost or dead ones and have an arsenal of storage drives to keep my music collection on.
What’s more important is the kind of music my online foray has helped me discover. There are hundreds of mp3 blogs where artists make available their music for free for people to sample. There are websites that allow you to stream full albums and concerts and what have you. Truly, there has never been a better time for music lovers than now.
Best Places to Get Free music
1. Wolfgang’s Vault: Live streams of gigs by old and new bands for free and downloads for a small fee.
2. NPR: The National Public Radio’s website is probably the best place to discover music of any genre of your choice.
3. Grooveshark: Its massive library of tracks and great search functions can make you spend hours on this website.
4. Nugs.net: Into jambands? This is your first and, quite possibly, last stop. Check out their free stash.
5. Live Music Archive: Concerts by more than 4,000 bands are all here. Some of them direct from the sound mixer. All for free. Need I say any more?
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