As we are making the final preparations for Phish Thought’s “No Spoiler Hampton Downloads,” the steep evolutionary curve of audio technology and distribution has really struck me. Within ten years or so, we have moved from analog B & P trades where you waited weeks to hear a show to Hampton, where you should be downloading the show within an hour of its ending. If Phish was cool with it, some tapers even have the technology to stream the show live- gimme a break, right? If you’re on the west coast, you should be listening to the show from Phish Thoughts around 9pm- the night it happened! But it wasn’t always this easy and there was a long road traveled to arrive at this destination of Hampton 2009.
First there were tapes. Analog tapes; veritable dinosaurs of a bygone era. Ninety minutes- no longer. Any longer and the tape got too thin and possible quality and/or longevity issues could arise. Quality was everything, and certainly never a given! In this vein, if you were a heady collector, you had two single decks (preferably Nakamichis) instead of the common dual-deck setup. It was all about deck-to-deck taping. High speed dubbing? Psshaw- that was the devil’s technology!
You really needed to stay within the first three generations to have a truly listenable tape- but I sure had plenty of “unknown” generation with that snake-like hiss- that dreaded hiss! Some of the tapes we all listened to at some point were laughable by today’s standards- like having you ear pressed toa foam wall trying to hear something in the next room. But those were the first bricks in this yellow brick road. And without the ability to skip from track to track, most people listened to sets straight through, getting better acquainted with songs and growing relationships with them- one beauty of the bygone era of analog.
And then there were DATs. The hiss was gone! But DAT players were expensive. Yet anyone who invested in a DAT player had a leg up in the game. There was no more generational loss, simply digital clones- it’s amazing what a bunch of 1s and 0s could do. If you had a portable DAT, it was on- as long as you had some friends in the taper’s section. By the time late ’98 rolled around I had this dialed in. Sneak the D8 in, hand it off to my buddy (big-ups Dreyfus!), go rage wherever seemed fit, and grab it after the show. Sometimes I had to switch tapes at setbreak, which always added a twisted mission to the already *interesting* interludes. We’d hop in the car to the next show, and booyah- we rocked the set while the energy still bubbled inside.
DATs provided an exact portrait of the show in pristine form, but they were still tapes; they could break or the tape could get stuck in the machine, and thus CD-Rs were born. Christening the audio-on-computer based stage of Phish collecting, you could now burn CDs from each other and rack up Case Logic books like they were going out of style- and in fact they were- very quickly. But during the few years of the CD-R’s reign, all of a sudden we had to deal with splitting shows in three!? That was the worst part of it all- raging a set, and then having it stop only to have to physically switch CDs to continue- even analogs had auto-reverse!
Then came the 80-minute CD-R, upping the ante by a whopping six minutes! Though seemingly insignificant, this advance allowed some sets to fit on on disc, and potentially allowed a show to fit onto two if you risked overburning and juggled some tracks around. Once that started to happen, the technology outworked itself, producing disjointed discs with “Set 1 + end of set II and E.” That was crap- talk about killing the flow of things. I’d waste a disc just to keep the already broken flow instead of crashing into the encore after the first set ended- there was just no continuity. It also gave you the opportunity add some filer to the end of a disc – a popular practice of the analog age that made the jump to digital. If you had a six-disc changer in your car, you had the capability of rolling with two shows loaded- a far cry from your whole collection in the palm of your hand these days.
But before long, CDs were all but annihilated by the IPod. All of a sudden, instead of lugging two hundred-CD books around, you could fit two times that in your back pocket. This is when the future finally caught up with itself. People began to fill external hard drives with music, stocking amounts unfathomable five years before onto a device as big as a book.
Yet with this huge advancement, there was also a cultural compromise- the onset of the MP3. With a far more convenient file size than .wavs, before long, the norm became listening to “lossy” music, or compressed files, that didn’t provide you with the *true* sound of the show. Though with encoded bit rates of 320 kbps, the convenience began to outweigh the audiophile in me, and my countless CD binders became home fixtures.
Then, all the effort was taken out of things when with the onset of Phish 2.0 and the creation of LivePhish. Now, anyone could download Mp3 or SHN (and later FLAC) files within a day or two of the show. With profits eventually going all to charity, it was hard to find a flaw with their service- though many cite poor mixes and a general flat quality to these SBD releases that could be ameliorated by the use of matrix recordings (mix of SBD snd AUD recordings)- though they would obviously take more time to release. With every give there is a take, though noticeably, there have been no pre-order offers by LivePhish for Hampton, nor any mention of the shows being released at all.
For those looking to spend no money and stick with audience recordings there is BitTorrent and the world of FTP (and the largely hidden world that is DC++)- getting music directly from people’s computers all over the world. With many sources posted within a day of any current show, the availability of these dwindling audience recordings are usually quicker than the official SBDs. And now, with the ability to record directly to hard drives or solid state media, Phish Thoughts is bringing you the show almost immediately after it is over.
It is only a matter of time before Phish gets on their game and offers live streams of their shows. It would be an absurd business move not to, let alone not offer webcasts. There are plentiful options for listening to the show as it happens, and it will be interesting if the stripped down organization will offer any. Before long, you’ll see pirate streamers at the shows, posting live streams. I’d give at year at most before people start figuring out how to do it well if Phish doesn’t do it first.
It’s been a crazy trip as we’ve progressed through each stage of these rapidly developing technologies. From padded mailers with blanks and postage to the massive (yet low bit rate) Google Spreadsheet, the distribution of Phish has evolved as far as the technology side has. No longer must we seek out a human being and actually- or virtually- interact with them to score music; not necessarily a good thing, as many a friendship blossomed from tape trading. Only a search bar and a mouse is necessary- it’s completely crazy when you put it in perspective and you have lived through each technological shift over Phish’s career. As the band enters step three and technological innovation continues to peak, one would think that these two forces will come together and emerge with something we have yet to experience, it may just be a matter of what.
COMMENT PAGINATION- FINALLY!
All Phish Thoughts comments threads will now be split into 30 comment “pages.” There will be options to navigate to “older comments” or “newer comments,” 30 at a time. This will greatly decrease the amount of scrolling necessary for discussion, a feature that is long overdue. The most recent 30 comments will appear when clicking on initially clicking on “Comments.” Enjoy the lack of scrolling! I know I will.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
11.12.94 MAC Center, Kent State Univ. Kent, OH < TORRENT LINK
Here we have a classic relic from the standout month of November ’94. The first set was vintage ’94 selection of songs, while the second set boasts the show’s gem in the exploratory “Disease > Have Mercy > Disease” landing in “Lifeboy.” A wonderfully collaborative “Harry Hood” punctuated a top-notch show.
I: Runaway Jim, Foam, If I Could, Guyute, Maze, Stash, Esther, Chalk Dust Torture
II: Julius, Fluffhead, Down With Disease > Have Mercy > Down With Disease > Lifeboy, Rift, The Old Home Place*, Nellie Cane*, Foreplay* > Long Time*, Harry Hood, Golgi Apparatus
E: Sample in a Jar