The Grateful Dead and their fans have long been pioneers in technology. Among other things, the Dead helped spawn the popularity of internet communities with the WELL, was the first act to have a song embedded in a podcast, were the first to leverage mailing lists to communicate with fans, pushed concert recording technology limits and created the largest concert sound system to date with their Wall of Sound in 1974. Happily, fans continue to leverage technology to continue the quest to seamlessly catalog, collect and listen to every show from the world’s greatest band. A new site, ListenToTheDead.com, offers the easiest way yet to find and stream shows from the Dead’s massive catalog.
Dan Saewitz, the guy behind PhishVids, has put together a similarly streamlined and efficient site with ListenToTheDead.com. The brilliance of the site is two-fold. In addition to the utilitarian design allowing for blazing fast show selection and streaming, the site also allows for saving of custom playlists and sharing of links. While most of the site speaks for itself, I thought I’d ask the man behind it all a few questions. So read on as Hidden Track exclusively reveals the new site and talks with Dan about it, his motivation for creating it and future plans for what he likes to short-handedly refer to as Listen.
Parker Harrington: Wow, this is just great. I’ve had the chance to test it out over the last week or so and really love how quick I can fire it up and listen to what I am looking for. Just last week, in an e-mail thread, someone mentioned Keith’s brilliance on the Eyes of the World from July 17th, 1976. Before I had even finished reading the email, I was already streaming it on my laptop. While I know I could have ultimately searched and navigated to the show on Archive.org, I loved the utility of Listen. Being able to easily share links and create playlists will be icing on the cake for most people I suppose. Can you tell me a little bit about the site? How it “works” and what’s behind it?
PH: What was your inspiration to build this?
DS: After spending the last few years working on PhishVids, I realized it’s often inconvenient to use YouTube, especially when all you’re doing is listening. Plus, the availability of video is dwarfed by the plethora of audio sources available. On PhishVids, we’d be lucky to get videos of one or two songs from a show, now we’re fortunate to have multiple sources for nearly every show.
PH: How long did it take to build?
DS: I came up with the idea over six months ago, but I didn’t have time to start working on it until a few weeks ago. Within three days, I had a prototype of the streaming site running smoothly off of my Phish collection. I’ve spent the past couple weeks cleaning up bugs, polishing the site, and adding support for other mediums such as Subsonic and Archive.org. In the process, I released two open source npm packages for the Subsonic and Archive APIs on my Github.
PH: I assume you’ve seen Phish Tracks?
DS: Just a few days after I finally sat down and started working on this project, Jeff Lang launched Phish Tracks. At first, I was hesitant to continue, since at the time my site only supported Phish, but after showing a few of my friends what I had built, they pushed me to continue. By the end of that week, the idea to build a Grateful Dead streaming site hit me like a load of bricks. Thanks to archive.org, it was insanely easy to get the site up and running in just a few hours. Unfortunately, the Phish site will take a bit longer to launch, but I couldn’t wait to get this in the hand’s of the users. I think it’s so fucking cool that the young fans who have only been listening to these bands for a couple years are capable of giving back to the community in such a vital way. Jeff has only been listening to Phish for a year and a half and I for three and a half. I owe a lot of great memories to live music, and it feels great to be able to contribute back to the fans.
PH: I love the fact that you can handle multiple instances of the same show. Exactly how many Dead shows are streamable now on Listen?
DS: Right now, Listen is streaming 8,643 unique tapes with some shows even having more than 10 recordings.
PH: Anyone can stream from the site, but what is the purpose of registering? You’ll be able to save playlists?
DS: Registering doesn’t get you much, yet. The only feature as of now is the ability to create playlists. In the future, I hope to tie user accounts very closely to your real-life statistics. We all love listening and exploring shows that we were at. Also, I plan track all of your listening habits so you can see your coverage across the history of the band – but, I’d like to solidify the website and clean up bugs before that happens. Playlists are my little version of the Phish.net jamming charts. Essentially, each song in the playlists is capable of containing a little blurb, which will allow you to tell stories and leave notes as people peruse your songs.
PH: Does this work on mobile devices?
DS: Preliminary support for mobile devices is in place, albeit very rough. Over the next few months, this will be worked on heavily. We have some awesome ideas. The player uses HTML5 so it should work on your iPhone (hold it in landscape mode). As feedback rolls in, I’ll be able to improve the experience across Android devices.
PH: People can donate to help with server costs?
DS: I’m just a student hoping to improve the average Joe’s listening experience. Any donations will go directly to the maintenance of the site and any extra funds will be donated directly to Archive.org and The Mockingbird Foundation. You can even donate via bitcoin. Check the about page for more information.
PH: Can you download directly from the site?
DS: Unfortunately, many shows are stream only. We’d like to take it one step at a time, but this is definitely towards the top of the list of things to add.
PH: Any “hidden” features we should be aware of?
DS: Use your space bar to pause. Arrow keys to go back and forth. Add ::3m30 to a song url to link directly to the time. Try out this Stella Blue -> Not Fade Away segue for example. There are a few others, but you’ll never find them.
[Sample Listen page. Note multiple show sources, source info, and link back to Archive.org page]
PH: You said other bands would be coming as well and mentioned your work getting your Phish site up. What about JGB, Ratdog, The Dead and all the other side incarnations? And is there an API for developers to use?
DS: Phish is most definitely coming. We ran into some hiccups, but I assure you we’ll have a Phish site up ASAP. As far as JGB and other Dead projects: You better believe it! And yes, there’s an API but it’s not ready for public use. If you’re capable of finding it, then you can use it (as long as whatever you use it for adheres to the appropriate licensing). Keep in mind that it’s rough and subject to change at any time.
PH: Any shows you’ve discovered or particularly enjoyed listening to while creating Listen?
DS: It would be unfair to call myself a Deadhead – I never got a chance to see the band live, but I have been spending a ton of time exploring their archives recently. Lately, I haven’t been able to stop listening to The Beautiful Jam (2/18/71 Dark Star > Wharf Rat > Dark Star). It’s just one of those pieces of music that is timeless from the second you first hear it.
PH: What is the most exciting thing about being a live music fan right now?
DS: With the advent of fast internet, we’re listening and watching more and more live music as it’s happening. This will only become more and more ubiquitous. Entire band’s catalogs will be easily and simply streamed on demand. I can’t wait – see you on couch tour.
PH: Do you think new generations will continue to discover and listen to the Grateful Dead?
DS: Of course. It’s tougher without Jerry around, but the tapers knew how important their work would be. We’ll all reap the benefits of their hard work for years to come. I’m only 21, yet I have plenty of peers that are unearthing the Dead and diving into recordings. Hopefully Listen will aid new fans in the daunting spiral that is Live Music.
PH: Awesome, thanks for your time and letting Hidden Track help announce the new site. I’m sure lots of people will find it really useful. Good luck with development of this and your other endeavors.
DS: My pleasure. If you want to keep up with the development of the site, please follow me on twitter: @phishvids. If you really like the site, you can follow me in real life, but only between the hours of 5 PM and 4 PM. Also, no Tuesdays.
We created a playlist on Listen from Hidden Track’s B-List of the Grateful Dead’s favorite bustouts. Notice the ability to annotate the songs. We’d like to encourage our readers to create their own playlists. Perhaps Top Ten Darkstars? Pig Pen’s favorite moments? Highlights from the Capital Theater? Best New Year’s moments? Use your creativity and leave a comment here or shoot me an email with your playlist. We’ll feature a couple creative playlists later in the week on Hidden Track. I hope someone creates a playlist with a couple of the choice songs from each on the the “Top 20 Essential Dead Shows” per David Fricke.
Dan Saewitz on Twitter @phishvids
Hidden Track Technology Tuesday
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