Umphrey’s McGee is a band that embraces technology. This is one of the things that really impresses me about the band. You can download every show within days of the performance at umlive.com in mp3 and FLAC formats with cover art, you can purchase a CD of the show at the show if you prefer. They have done subscription simulcast video over the internet, they twitter, they Facebook, they MySpace, they blog. They support taping and they have a very extensive archive of live shows on archive.org. Not to mention the bonus material afforded to the purchasers of Mantis via Push!
As a result there is a lot of content readily available from the band. Even before a potential new fan would need to purchase anything they can get a pretty good sampling.
In April Umphrey’s McGee partnered with Thomson and Fraunhofer– the owners and developers (and licensors) of the CODEC used for creating mp3 files– to provide part of their 3/13/09 performance at the Murat Egyptian Theatre in Indianapolis in the new MP3HD format.
MP3HD is an attempt to provide a compressed, yet lossless file format (think a .WAV file) while maintaining the ubiquitous compatibility with mp3-capable software and mp3 players. This is achieved by providing mp3 compressed data along with the lossless data inside the file. This makes the mp3 player think it is playing a regular mp3 file, but devices and software that is mp3HD-compatible will be able to play the higher-fidelity lossless content. Even with the stacking of the file content they are able to achieve on average 4X compression over the uncompressed .WAV version. This is primarily because the mp3 portion tends to be very compressed. The Umphrey’s show has 128Kbps mp3’s, which by most people’s standards is pretty lossy bitrate. Amazon.com provides mostly 256Kbps or in some cases 192Kbps mp3 from their store for example.
Certainly one might question the need for MP3HD. Anyone who has been dealing with lossless music files over the years have been using FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Compression) to do their bidding, and FLAC is free– that is no one is paying to provide that support– all software and hardware that is able to play mp3’s today should be paying licenses to Thomson. Both Microsoft and Apple provide their own version of lossless compressed files, too– Apple’s ALAC, and Microsoft’s WMA Lossless. But, as you might imagine, neither of those formats are supported directly on the other’s media players, and neither player supports FLAC.
As a result, if I want to have the lossless versions of Umphrey’s McGee shows, for example, I would download the FLAC files, and either burn them to a CD if that was my medium of choice (my CD burning software support FLAC) or I would have to convert them to mp3 using a utility or extract to WAV and convert with iTunes or Windows Media Player. (Note: There are other ways to achieve this but I’m not interested in providing a primer on making mp3 files here) I can then put these on my media player of choice. This is a lot of messing around to get to the final result and most people aren’t interested in doing all of that work so they will just stick to mp3’s. The other issue here is that I end up having to manage two or more copies of the music. The lossless version in addition to the one that is the copy of the mp3’s for my media player.
I don’t mind juggling the files around as I’m pretty used to it by now, but the ability to only have one file that has both compressed and lossless is very appealing to me. I don’t like 128Kbps mp3’s, however, and I don’t have any devices that can play mp3HD so I have to convert them anyway to get a higher bitrate. I looked at the tools provided by all4mp3 and it appears that one can choose a higher bitrate for the mp3 data– of course this would be at a sacrifice of the 4X compression.
So, we’ll see if this takes off I guess. I think ultimately this is the right idea, but there is a lot of consternation surrounding the licensing. I would rather that Apple just added FLAC support to the iPod/iPhone/iTunes, really. (Another solution would be the open source project Rockbox can be installed on an iPod providing FLAC support which isn’t a solution for most iPod owners).
Getting back to the Umphrey’s show, it is a pretty good performance. The Murat is a very friendly location for the band to play– and they say so during this show. It also explains why they chose The Murat for their live album. The songs shared make up most of the second set and the encore from the 3/13 show. Looking at the setlist database at umphreys.com it looks like they edited out the “Another Brick in the Wall”/”Thriller” mashup second set closer, which is probably due to licensing the song. The Jimmy Stewart from this set is a vocal Jimmy that is pretty good, too. (A “Jimmy Stewart” in the band parlance is an improvisational performance).
Click Here to download the Umphrey’s McGee 3/13/09 Murat Show in mp3HD at all4mp3.com
Click Here for Umphrey’s McGee’s website