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Published: 2004/04/28
by Dan Greenhaus

A Bit on Bit Torrent

Bit Torrent.

Say those two words to just about anyone in our scene these days, and they bring smiles to the faces of the countless individuals who use BT on a daily, or multi-daily basis. Once it is installed and its features fully understood, this aggressive downloader can easily double, triple or even quadruple the size of one’s music collection in a matter of days and weeks. However, there is still a large group of individuals who are late to the ballgame, and haven’t yet picked up on the power of Bit Torrent, or, to some degree, are unable to understand how to put it in motion. So, in an effort to help that second group get started, what follows is a list of programs and a brief explanation of what each does.

Firstly though, we must talk about what Bit Torrent is itself. And for this, I refer to the brilliantly-worded explanation, courtesy of Etree:

"Bit Torrent is a peer-to-peer protocol for distributing files. It makes use of the upstream bandwidth of every downloader to increase the effectiveness of the distribution as a whole, and to gain advantage on the part of the downloader. On average, the faster you upload to your peers, the faster you will be able to download"

Now, some of you may be asking, "What exactly does that mean?" The answer is really quite simple. When you begin to download a particular show, you become what is called a "leech". That means that you are, essentially, leeching off the people who have the complete file (show), or a part of the show. BUT, at the same time you are also uploading to someone else, sharing whatever files you have already downloaded. So even as you are taking somebody’s files, you are sharing them with someone else. It’s a beautifully symbiotic relationship. What this does is allow people to be sharing a show with each other, even if no one person has a completed version. Once a show has been downloaded onto your computer and you have a completed file (show), you become what is referred to as a "seed", and you can provide the files to anyone who connects to you looking for them.

Now, where does one go about getting this program? It’s very easy. Download the "shadow client" at www.bittornado.com. That is the main bit torrent program; the first and most important step is joining the community.

The inevitable next question many people ask themselves is, "What exactly am I downloading and can I just play the music when I am done?" The answer is "No" you cannot, since the files you have downloaded first have to be converted in order to be played. But before you can do that, you must know which type of file you are downloading.

In order to download files, you have to click the link to the "torrent", which will then open up a box on your computer verifying where you want to save the data. Once you’ve picked its location, the download begins. However, as I said, what you are downloading is unplayable in its current format, thus the need for a conversion once the download is complete. The particular link you click to download, the "torrent", will look something like one of these two links:

tortoise1996-08-xx.sbeok.flac16.torrent
gd73-07-31.aud.weiner.gdADT12.12883.sbeok.shnf.torrent

The first torrent is a Tortoise show from August 1996, but the exact day is not known, hence the "xx". What is important about that torrent link is the part that says "flac", which states what type of file it is. This is in contrast to the 7.31.73 Grateful Dead torrent. In that link, you’ll notice the "shnf" part. This indicates that it is a "shn" file. The difference between "flac" and "shn" is irrelevant for right now, but what IS significant is the fact that two different programs are needed to "decode" each type of file.

In order to decode flac files, I recommend "Flac Frontend", which can be found, among other places, at this site. Once flac frontend is downloaded and installed, open the program which is simply a box on your screen. Then drag and drop the completed flac files into the program and click "decode". The program does everything else, and you will notice as it progresses that new icons in the downloaded show’s folder will appear. Those new files are wavs, which can be played on your computer.

As for shn files, they can be converted using a program entitled "mkw", named for its creator Michael K. Weiss. Download it here, but take heed of the instructions, as this program is a little trickier than flac frontend. It is certainly not difficult but you have to follow the instructions perfectly, as there are several steps that are required to properly download it. Once that is done, you will notice that in the folder of a completely downloaded show, the shn file icons are now the mkw icon (a music note in an envelope). Now, just simply right click as many as four or five of the files, and choose "decode to wav". The mkw program will automatically open up and convert the files. However, unlike flac, mkw is not creating new files in addition to the old ones, but, so I’m told, will actually "replace" the shn files with the new files, which can then be played on your computer.

The last, but certainly not least, point I would make concerns firewalls which can impact on the download time of a torrent. While torrents are never going to be the fastest thing, you can greatly speed up the time of a download by disabling your firewall. Now, I in no way endorse nor discourage this action, as it is up to each individual user to decide for themselves whether to do this or not. But if you are running Windows XP, this site will explain how to circumvent your firewall to speed up download times. The instructions are easy to follow and take no more than ten minutes.

With that, you are essentially done. Torrent sites are popping up all over the internet today, but if you are reading this on Jambands.com, chances are you want to visit one of three places; http://bt.etree.org, which is predominantly Phish and Grateful Dead torrents, www.sharingthegroove.org, which has a wide array of bands and rare material, or www.archive.org, which also has a large variety of bands, the complete listing of which can be found here.

I hope this explains everything to you. If you are just getting started with Bit Torrent, good luck. It is truly revolutionary. As most of the programs I’ve listed are shareware, meaning they are free, be sure to note if donations are accepted. Every little bit helps these guys out. Good luck, enjoy and tip your waitresses and bartenders!!

Dan Greenhaus now has more music than he knows what to do with. Well, actually, he knows EXACTLY what to do with it.

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