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18 July, 2006

Crediting the Tree

Anyone who's interested presumably already knows that Porcupine Tree now have a download store at Burning Shed, offering live and obscure recordings (generally EPs and whole concerts rather than individual tracks) in relatively high-res .mp3 and full-res .flac* formats.

Therefore, I won't go into detail about the initial range of recordings on offer:

  • 'Futile': a compilation of non-album tracks from 'In Absentia';
  • 'XM': a re-release of a digital radio session from 2002, remixed by SW and previously available on CD;
  • 'Rockpalast': a concert from last November previously broadcast by German TV, now remixed by SW;
  • and 'Tinto Brass', the one track omitted from 'Warszawa' due to space considerations. That one is .mp3-only, and a free download.
The purpose of this entry is to suggest how to buy the downloads.
Each release has a set price, 'per album', but it's also possible to buy credits, valid for downloads by any of the artists hosted by Burning Shed. The credits can then be redeemed against specific recordings, nominally on a 'one credit per minute of music' basis.

Why bother? Bought in bulk, credits are cheaper, which means albums bought by the less direct route are slightly cheaper. One credit costs 40p, 100 cost £15. The price of 'Rockpalast' in .flac is £11.50 'per item' or 74 credits, and hence £11.10 (if one bought 100 credits – it's £12.30 if one bought exactly 74 credits, so don't!). That's only a minor saving, and leaves one with 26 unused credits, but the cumulative savings of buying a few releases this way will be worthwhile.

A slight flaw of the store is that the price of each release in credits isn't currently shown until one has already bought credits, and it's not literally as simple as 1 credit per minute of music. I'd like to think that's a teething problem. 'Rockpalast' is 96 mins long, but costs 74 credits, not 96.

One thing that seems to have drawn criticism from N.Americans: even in credits, the prices seem high. Remember that Burning Shed is a UK-based retailer, trading at UK prices, which are drastically higher than in N.America. Consider the UK high-street price of a 2-CD set, knock off the cost of the CDs themselves, the jewel case and the printed artwork, and that's what you'll pay for the 'Rockpalast' download. Actually, it's marginally better than that; £11-12 for a double CD album is very low by UK standards. Think of it as buying albums by international mail order, rather than domestic releases from your local store, and consider yourself lucky not to be paying international postage too!

*: I was surprised to discover that FLAC is unfamiliar to a large number of people. Essentially, it's a lossless compression format for digital audio, unlike .mp3, which compresses by discarding data and hence sound quality. FLAC gives sensible file sizes for downloading (tens of megabytes rather than hundreds) but unpacks to .wav format which is, by definition, CD-quality (commercial CDs are in .wav format, masked by .cda 'header' files). The FLAC format and encoding/decoding utilities are open-source and free (the 'f' of 'FLAC' is 'free'); see the FLAC home page for further details and downloads.

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