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Audio formats – flac and shn

Posted in Personal by Will on Wednesday, March 1st, 2006 ~ 8pm

Many assume that I’d always used a high speed internet connection. In fact I hadn’t, until now. So I am only now discovering the world of high quality audio formats such as “flac” and “shn” (but not “Ogg Vorbis” because Ogg Vorbis killed my brother!) (not in truth), which until now were far too large for me to download.

Unlike low-quality formats such as “mp3” and “WMA”, “flac” files retain every nuance of a recording, and therefore tend to be rather immense – immense, but still about a third smaller than a CD. Still, until now they were too large for me. Now that I can download an entire concert in less than an hour on a high speed connection, I’ve been flitting around at the web to see what music is available legally in high quality “flac” format.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that a few artists allow their live recordings to be shared online for free. This site, www.archive.org, has an artist-approved archive of live concert recordings. Only musicians who have control of their own careers can grant such approvals, so the selection is narrow – mostly small label pop/folk artists or artists who have matured beyond their “major record label” days and are independent once again. I found a few shows there by Deb Talan, aka The Weepies, and the late Elliott Smith – from the folk/pop side of the stage – and a few older artists who I am perhaps a bit weary of (but will still check their work out to see if there are any new flavors stewing) such as Robyn Hitchcock, aka The Soft Boys (their reunion concerts), and the somewhat annoying Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven. There’s a big list of the artists who are on board here: www.archive.org, so perhaps you’ll recognize some you know.

Update: So it has been a couple days since I learned about flac, and am I still pleasantly surprised? By the format – yes. It could eliminate the need for phsyical CDs. By the selection – no. Although the format itself is excellent, the selection of authorized music out there on the net in high quality flac format is extremely limited. The archive.org site mentioned above, which only presents music authorized by the artists, is clearly the best source for these files – but there’s only maybe 5 or 6 artists there whom I like. So I started to look beyond archive.org.

One of the artists I like very much, Erin McKeown, puts most of her shows on a couple of sites other than archive.org. Her official website points her fans to the sites on which her live concerts can be found. But these other sites use a “torrent” procedure where the files are hosted on many people’s machines – the result being that instead of taking an hour to download a show it may take a day (or longer!). An additional problem with the “torrent” concept is that it is unclear what music is authorized by the artists, and what music is unauthorized. A third problem is that the selection of artists that one can find on “torrent” sites is still pretty abysmal. More artists need to start putting their concerts onto authorized sites like archive.org, both to make the files more readily available, and to increase the selection, and to drive out the illegal files.

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