What.cd is no more. This article says much of what I could say about it:
I feel like a limb has just been chopped off. It’s been less than a day since I found out, and already I’ve had at least half a dozen instances of wanting to know something, thinking “well, I’ll just check what.cd”, and realizing I can’t do that.
Every time, over most of the last decade, that anyone has ever asked me a music question that’s so random and obscure that I don’t already know the answer, I’ve always simply said “I dunno, but give me 2 minutes”, and I’ve found a solid, reliable answer on what.cd
It cannot be overstated. The rest of the internet, the rest of humanity’s collected knowledge about recorded music anywhere else outside of what.cd is inferior by orders of magnitude. Wikipedia is laughably incomplete, and full of wild inaccuracies. Discogs.com is typically a little over half-complete for any given artist, and lacking in the kind of background information that provides any useful context to what you find. Everything else is horrendous, especially when it comes to music that pre-dates the 1960s, music outside the western world, and anything extremely obscure, underground, or ridiculously rare.
It was to the point where, if something wasn’t already on what.cd, or at least being discussed there, it was probably fake.
So, for me, it wasn’t about piracy. Sure, I downloaded a ton of stuff from there. At last check, about 700 FLAC torrents. A tiny drop in the bucket of records, tapes, CDs, SACDs, DVD-As, and digital downloads I’ve purchased. Most of it is things that simply cannot be bought, or so obscure and so long out-of-print that you can only find a used copy somewhere for several hundred dollars.
It was about knowledge. It was things like:
I want to re-buy an old favourite album that I only have on cassette. Which CD or vinyl pressing, over the years has the best sound quality? What.cd would always have a discussion with people comparing (with spectrum graphs, and DR analysis results) different remasters, and declaring a winner…usually indicating that a recent remaster had succumbed to the “loudness war”, and had all the life sucked out of it.
I once borrowed a version of a CD that had bonus tracks on it that the item on amazon.com is missing, but I want to buy it for myself. Where did that CD come from?
Every CD I ever ripped, for my own use, to put on my player, I always ran through what.cd/logchecker.php, even if I had no intention of torrenting it. It was the only real way to ensure that the rip was “100% perfect”. If it met what.cd’s unique set of arduously determined, and strongly justified conditions, it was even above and beyond my own requirements. I hope somebody has that source code, and it resurfaces.
Guides. Vinyl ripping guides, file conversion guides, audio engineering and analysis guides. “How to get into [obscure band]” discussions. The “name that tune” sub-forum. The “is this fake?” sub-forum. If it wasn’t on the Steve Hoffman Music Forums, it was at what.cd.
Then, of course, there were the “strings to pull”. An off-hand comment in the discussions under any given release, saying “this album isn’t as good as…”, or “these guys remind me of a watered-down [better band]”.
This was coming from people who were members there. Being a member there meant something different. You couldn’t last there (or even become a member there) unless you were a certain type of person. Sure, it was elitist, but it needed to be, in order to maintain a level of integrity unsurpassed anywhere else regarding music. You had to pass a live test to get in there, and it was HARD. Study guides were available, and although I did need to brush up for a few hours first, I know many people needed to do some serious learning for days or weeks before they were ready. Accounts were dropped for any kind of bad behaviour there, warnings were issued for breaking rules, torrents were (usually within minutes) reported for not meeting a standard. I had two of my early torrents dropped for missing something, and I was warned a couple times (eg. for providing a fact without citing appropriate sources), and I wouldn’t dream of complaining, because it was fully justified.
I just don’t know that something like what.cd will ever exist again. The millions upon millions of hours, from extremely dedicated people, required to make what.cd what it was…I don’t even know if the members there will be willing to go through another decade of that kind of thing again somewhere else. I know I’m simply too demoralized right now to even contemplate it.
But maybe, my wild hope is that all those terabytes of site data (none of the actual torrents, because that’s only a tiny part of what made that place valuable) survived somewhere, and will be made available somehow. Kinda like:
You’re in Russia and more than a million works of art
Are whisked out to the woods
When the Nazis find the whole place dark
They’ll think God’s left the museum for good
Right now though, the song in my head is not that one, but Don McLean’s American Pie.
If you read all this, thanks. I just needed to get all this off my chest. I’ll end with a composite screenshot of just one tiny piece of the site. The top half (not including the exhaustive user discussion section) of one of millions of pages just like it…