June 10, 2007

Grateful Dead MP3s – Free & Legal!

I am not a big fan of the MP3 format. I just don’t think it sounds very good. I am definitely not willing to pay cash money for an MP3 file. However, I have long believed that the music industry could embrace the MP3 as a marketing tool, rather than a revenue stream.

Over the past eight months, - and with little fanfare - David Lemieux , archivist for the Grateful Dead, has been literally giving away MP3s from “The Vault” every Monday at The Taper’s Section. No complete shows or sets, but, week after week, Mr. Lemieux presents a generous sampling from 30 years (1965-1995) of recorded music, much of it previously unreleased. The overall conceit is to take a look at each particular week in Grateful Dead history with Mr. Lemieux making brief, cogent commentaries on each offering. Sometimes he digresses from that mission to honor requests or otherwise mix it up a little bit, which means you never know what to expect.

Speaking as someone who has (almost) every available recording plus literally thousands of “bootleg*” recordings, there are some spectacularly rare performances available here (see esp. 4/25/77). The Taper’s Section has served to make Monday mornings something to look forward to, and that’s saying something.

* A misnomer/signifier which is subject to further clarification.

By freely offering these treasures, Mr. Lemieux has forced me to actively listen to MP3s on my home stereo and I’ll admit that they sound about as good as MP3 is gonna get: No worse than – maybe even a little better than - a crummy analog cassette. But, for free? What the heck. If I had an iPod, I’d be all over this stuff, believe you me. Good on the Grateful Dead for pricing MP3s according to their inherent sonic value: $0.00.


Tao said...

Hi, I’m starting a new Nashville website and was wondering if you would swap links with me. My address is http://www.NashvilleNoise.com

The website is aimed at being a local, community forum. I’d really appreciate it if you would link to me and help get my site off the ground. I’ll return the favor, of course.


Sam said...

Good grief! I had no idea this was out there. This is a goldmine, especially for those of us (i.e., me) who are really strapped for cash. I have found that I have a high tolerance for mp3s when the price is right :) Actually, to my ears, mp3s produced at a bitrate of 192 or higher sound pretty good even on my home stereo---but then I'm no audiophile. Do you have any idea what bitrate the Dead mp3s were produced at?

Rodger Coleman said...

Sam -

I'm not sure, but I imagine these mp3s are encoded at 192khz since they sound about as good as any mp3 I've ever heard. Even so, mp3 doesn't get the extreme frequencies right and always sound a little bit "phasey" to me. But, for free? Who's complaining?

Tao --

I'll check it out.


Katherine said...

Hey RGC. Many years, and lo and behold I find you still an audiophile and Dead expert! Good to know.
And, just this past weekend I was reminiscing about Dead shows of the early 80's and how that's nearly 25 years ago. Time. It's a trip. Anyway, hope all is well. Greetings from a friend from long ago.

Zooomabooma said...

There are gobs, literally gobs, of mp3 GD shows that have no hiss to them whatsoever. Not everyone got their analogs spun straight from DAT so most everyone with analog Dead shows endured some level of hiss, oftentimes much hiss for rarer recordings.

With mp3 -- almost none.

Simple fact o' the matter is -- most Deadheads can't tell the difference between high quality mp3 and lossless files.

It's only a small percentage, or music snobs, who snub their noses at high quality mp3.

I mean no disrespect my Deadhead brother, it's not place in the world to go around putting people down, especially when I don't even know them... and by using the word "snob" I do not mean that in a terrible way, it's just a sorta common term to describe the select few who might have more sensitive ears... but, listen, the mp3 is embraced much more than you make it sound. How many people frequent archive.org and other GD mp3 sites and think to themselves, "Boy, I should wish I had this in a lossless instead of this crappy 320 kbps mp3 file."

Zooomabooma said...

P.S. most mp3 files for the GD are done at 256 and 320, usually not lower than that.