You have probably read about youngsters downloading "songs" from the internet; you may not think that it has any relevance for your tastes.
You would almost certainly be wrong.
There are essentially three ways of obtaining music via the internet:
This article is going to concentrate on the last of those three, perhaps the least well-known but, potentially, the most rewarding.
In a word: yes!
Although it might seem, to the casual observer, that just about every worthwhile recording ever made has, at some point, been reissued on CD, "it ain't necessarily so."
Which has left a niche for a group of dedicated music-lovers to digitise their old LPs and 78s and make the results generally available.
Now, I am not a lawyer and the situation may be different in certain parts of the world, however, the current situation, as I understand it, is that the copyright on recordings lasts for fifty years from the date of the recording. (This, by the way, is going to increase soon; strangely enough, 2012 is the year that the first recordings by the Beatles will fall out of copyright - coincidence?)
So any recording made more than fifty years ago (and this now includes the first years of stereo recordings) is "fair game".
Most of what you will find on the sites referenced below will be recordings from that era; some bloggers, though, believe that anything which is long out of print is also fair game. The legality of this is less certain and I leave it to you to decide whether you wish to avail yourself of such downloads.
But there is another important source of recordings: broadcast performances. As these have never been copyrighted, they are also considered fair game. You will find some great live performances by musicians who never got the chance to record the repertoire in the studio.
Just to give you some example of what may be found on these sites, within the last few months I have acquired:
And much, much more.
If I have whet your appetite at all - and the list above barely scratches the surface as well as, necessarily, being heavily skewed towards my personal tastes - then read on.
Of course, as you've doubtless realised, you are not going to find state-of-the-art recordings this way. And many or most of them are not even in stereo. So if this is a deal breaker for you, don't bother reading on.
The sites we're about to discuss generally use one of the free "blogging" services and frequently have links to their favourite similarly-themed sites.
You should be aware, though, that the owners of some of those sites are far less concerned with legal minutiae and that some of them will actually offer currently available commercial CDs for download (I recently came across the complete BBC Legends series, all 241 CDs, for free download - and no, I am not telling where, nor did I take advantage).
Only your own conscience will guide you here.
The sites I am going to discuss, though, are all "safe", in that everything they offer is either out of copyright, long out of print or never in copyright.
But you must use your own judgement.
Digital music on the internet is almost always offered as compressed files.
There are many compressed music file formats, but there are two main types: lossless and lossy.
Both types involve compression of the original digital file; with lossless encoding, the original can be reconstructed exactly, with lossy encoding, some information is lost and can never be recovered. If the lossy compression is applied too rigorously the ear can detect it.
Although there are numerous forms of lossless compression, the one which is emerging as a clear favourite on the internet is FLAC, the Free Lossless Audio Codec, which is available for all major platforms - i.e. windows, linux and the mac. (You can get FLAC decoders/encoders and plugins for various music players here.)
Among lossy formats the best-known is MP3 (actually short for MPEG-1 Layer 3, and MPEG is the Motion Picture Experts Group). The problem with MP3 is that it is a proprietary format.
On the free side there is Ogg Vorbis (no, no idea), which is the open-source "equivalent", although it is generally accepted that for the same sound quality, Ogg files are smaller than MP3s; conversely, for the same size, Ogg gives a better sound quality.
Typically, lossless formats reduce file sizes by 50-55%, lossy (depending on the amount of compression) anything up to 80-85%, although there is noticeable deterioration of the sound by this point.
Personally, I use FLAC for home applications and Ogg for my "MP3 player" (which will also play MP3s).
Many, if not most, of the sites I shall recommend offer FLACs. Some also offer MP3s, one or two, alas, only MP3S. (Incidentally, the standard measurement for MP3s is` the "bit rate" and higher means better sound. I never - unless there is absolutely no alternative - listen to anything below 192Kbps; 256Kbps is better and 320Kbps - sometimes, erroneously, called "CD quality" - as good as MP3s get).
Digital recording, by and large (something called DSD, which I don't claim to understand, is an exception - it's used for SACDs) can be judged by two numbers: the sample size and the sampling frequency.
As you may be aware, digital recording works (trust me this is greatly simplified) by "sampling" (i.e. measuring the amplitude - volume - of) the sound so many times per second and representing each sample as a number in the computer; this is done by an ADC - analogue-to-digital converter. The reconstructing of the original sound uses a DAC (digital-to-analogue converter).
The higher the sampling rate and the larger the sample size, the better the recorded sound (and, although this might all seem academic for transferring a 78, believe me, it's not).
The CD standard (which was state-of-the-art back in 1982 when the CD was launched) is for a 16-bit sample size and a sampling frequency of 44.1KHz (i.e. the samples are taken 44,100 times per second) and is known as 16/44.1.
This is generally considered, in the industry (that part of it that is not totally in the sway of the iPod and the MP3) pretty low resolution.
The highest resolution I'm aware of (and you can actually buy transfers of classic recordings - taken from the master tapes - at this rate at HDTracks) is 24/192, i.e. 24-bit samples, 192,000 samples per second.
Now, although most of the FLAC files on the sites I'm about to mention (really, we'll be there soon) are 16/44.1, some of them are not - you'll find 24/88.2 (a strange number, but makes "downsampling" to CD rate less complex), 24/96 and even 16/96.
If you want to burn these files to CD, rather than listening via computer or a digital streaming device (perhaps yet another article), then you will need to "downsample" the files to 16/44.1 first. (The cross-platform program audacity will do this and much more.)
Some of the filesharing sites (soon) have a maximum file size - e.g. 100MB. This is often insufficient. Moreover, many works are divided into one track (file) per movement and downloading several files is more work than downloading just one.
Enter archive files, a way of bundling several files into one; even, in the case of Rar, splitting the archive automatically into several smaller files.
The most popular archive formats in the non-unix world are Zip and Rar. You unpack the files from these in the windows world using winzip (Zip only), jZip (Zip and Rar files) or 7-Zip (which handles both formats and a whole lot more); on the mac, maczip and unrarx; on linux, unzip and unrar (both of which are probably already on your system). All these tools are free.
Zip files cannot be split automatically, whereas rar files can. So, if your download is two or more zip files, you need to unzip each one separately. If, on the other hand, you find you have something.part1.rar and something.part2.rar, you just point unrar (or whatever) at the first file and it will automatically find and unpack the second (and third and...). (Neat, eh?)
The blogging sites below do not actually host the files themselves, these are on public filesharing services like RapidShare, MediaFire, MediaShare and others (see section at end for using these sites).
Nor, on some of the sites, will you find clickable links to the files on the sites: instead you will find the URL of the file(s) as text - frequently in the first comment - and you will need to copy it and paste it into the URL window of your browser (I do this into a new tab, so in firefox it's: Select the text, Control-C, Control-T, Control-V, Enter).
These are some of the sites I've been visiting recently...
Finally, for those who have an interest in contemporary music, here are a few sites which either have transfers of long out-of-print LPs or live broadcast recordings. There are also - for those whose ears are adjusted - some real treasures to be found here.
There, that lot should keep you busy for a while - and don't forget to check out the "blogs I'm following" links, but do check that what you are about to download is within the limits of your conscience.
Although these are free to use, they make their money in tow way: via ads (sometimes in popup windows, which will, however, go away when closed, unlike some sites I have known) and membership fees. (Typically, members don't have to wait and can download more than one file at a time).
There will be lots of places to click for "faster download" or similar - they will all expect you to pay, so the simple rule is" only click on buttons (which are usually green) which say "slow download" or "free download".
I have also found that the interfaces to these sites can and do change. I have verified the methods described below, which are current as of January 7 2012. Good luck!
Rapidshare was one of the first of the fileserving sites and its interface has gone through numerous changes: at one point their "captchas" (those distorted words and letters that you have to enter to prove that you are a person, not another computer) were so hard to read that I avoided the site altogether; and their waiting times could get very long.
No more! (Well, not as of this date - January 7, 2012.) Today when you go to a Rapidshare link you'll find the screen almost filled with three large buttons - and you want the middle, green one. And there is no waiting.
This is one of the simpler sites; not only that, but it allows you to download more than one file simultaneously, which most of these servers don't, unless you are a paid-up subscriber. Although the page may take a while to load, because of all the ads, as soon as the green button changes from "Preparing download" to "Download", click on it and away you go. There may be a "popup" window with yet another ad appearing - just close it.
Firstly you will need to scroll down to the green "slower download" button. Click on that and a captcha will appear.
The captchas on Fileserve usually come in two parts: one is frequentoy an actual word (sometimes number), the other - and leave a space between them - is a fairly random selection of letters, so don't try making it into a word.
If you get it wrong, you will be told and can try again with another captcha (it has, very occasionally, taken me up to three attempts).
The window will scroll up (automatically) and a countdown timer appears (usually about 20-25 seconds to wait) in a box marked "Megacloud" - do not click on the "Download MegaCloud" (blue) button, but wait for the timer to expire, at which point it will be replaced by a green "Slower Download" button, which you should click.
There are other filesharing sites, but these seem to be the most common. If you encounter another one, let me know and I'll add it to this page.
I hope that this has not been too wordy a document. I imagined it as much shorter, bascially just a set of links with brief comments. But then I realised that many people would probably want rather more in the way of explanation: I just hope it's not overdone.
And I hope that at least some of you will take advantage and find yourselves in possession of recordings that you may not even have known existed, but which you're very glad to have,
So much music, so little time....
Deryk, January 7, 2012.Last modified: Sat Jan 7 12:18:07 PDT 2012