Sunday, July 19, 2009


CDead was the first digital sharing community of which I was an active member. CDead was dedicated to sharing high quality recordings of Grateful Dead shows in audio CD format. In retrospect, there were some interesting similarities between CDead and an open source distro community.

The Dead themselves, created and allowed sharing of their music. Somewhat analogous to upstream developers. These shows were taped by tapers, and then mixers would tweak the recording quality and create "seeds" in the form of shn files. I suppose these folks were similar to packagers, in that they took the raw material, and made it available in a format that was usable by folks who were not hard core audio files. These seeds were then shared by us, the run of the mill CDeaders through trading, blanks and postage, and freebies.

CDead was a very generous and positive community. Standing in the community was determined by how much you shared, and how nice you were about it. It was common to receive a surprise show in the mail from someone who you had traded with, just as a gift. Or to receive stickers or art work along with the CDs in a trade. The servers were run on donations. And the leaders of the community invested copious time into mixing and creating great quality seeds.

As a member of the community, I had the privilege of being among the first to receive new seeds. In return, I had a small group of "users" who relied on me to burn shows for them, as they didn't have the capability to burn shows, at the time, CD burners were far from the ubiquity they have reached today.

CDead was an online community that was very much of it's time. It was formed when:
  1. The Grateful Dead had a very liberal policy wrt sharing recordings of their shows.
  2. CD burning had just gotten within reach of the mainstream.
  3. Broadband was not yet widespread.

After acquiring hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of Dead shows, and other music I retired from CDead. Some other things had changed as well. For example, I got a broadband connection, and could then download shows from sites like (which is now gone).

This was all about 8 years ago, maybe.

So the other day, by wife posted some Youtube clips of the Dead from what she knows to be my favorite year, 1977. Watching those clips made me interested in hearing some of those great old shows. I went to grab my all time favorite show (05-05-1977), only to find that I had given it away, assuming it would be easy to get another copy online.

Well, it's not easy.

Apparently in 2005, 10 years after Jerry Garcia died, the Dead put the genie back in the bottle. While it's easy to find streaming audio of the show, all the places where I used to download shows no longer offer it. I have a torrent for shn's for the show, but the single seeder has not transfered any bytes to me yet.

However, it is available for streaming, and I can even embed the show:

Show on the one had, the music is easier to listen to, but it seems harder to *own* it, as in to have a lossless copy on my own media. Fortunately, I have archived all the email from the CDead list, so I'm betting that I can connect with some of the traders. I'm sure the Dead's sharing policy has not changed, I just suspect they wanted to channel Internet traffic to sales of their Dick's Picks.

I can't feeling that something has been lost here. I feel that at the root of it is the remaining band members' desire to harvest income off of the copious archive of recordings, especially as following Jerry Garcia's death, the band's income for touring dropped off precipitously.

Perhaps I just need to learn how to use etree, and all will be well.