Release Groups distribute music as well, usually in the form of complete albums, special compilations, sound tracks, etc. whereby the source was, is, or will be, found retail. There’s no sense in a release group downloading a bunch of songs from Limewire and packaging it up as a ‘release’. This just does not occur. So you can expect a “complete” CD from RGs. Sometimes proper releases will have ‘album art’ included, which includes digital pictures of the cover, CD or even inner jackets. Others may include a small playlist file (*.M3U) just for that album. But there will undoubtedly be ‘tags’ in the name of the folder in which the music is contained, and sometimes they will be in the filename of the file (song) also.
Proper pirated music conforms to certain ’scene’ standards as represented by the ‘tags’ placed on the music releases.
When you are downloading full albums (i.e. BitTorrent, IRC) then there is usually an *.NFO file that comes with the songs. You can open this file with Notepad or Wordpad; it will contain the track list, the codec used to rip the songs, bitrates and other useful information regarding the rip of that album. Also, if you are searching for albums on BitTorrent etc., you will often notice three letters after the year of the song, like this: “Spin Doctors - Collections - 2007 - XXL” - XXL is the name of the release group, and it is always at the end of the release.
If there is no tag on the song, how are you to know the difference? It’s not so important to make sure that your music comes from release groups. It’s even fair to say that most of the music in P2P (Limewire) doesn’t come from RGs - and if it did, it was renamed so you wouldn’t know anyways. Furthering complication, anyone can just arbitrarily add/edit a tag by changing the filename of the song. The fundamental idea is to be able to understand what the tags mean when you see them, no matter who put them there. Tags found in music have less to do with release groups, and more to do with what information they can give you about the ripped music itself (i.e. bitrate/quality/file type).
The ‘Advance’ and ‘Promo’ tags
There are two key music tags of importance. One is the “Advance” tag in which the RG has obtained a retail copy of a CD far before its scheduled official retail release date, usually through a manufacturing connection. These are particularly enjoyable to have (and brag about!) - do a search for “Advance” in the MUSIC section of a BitTorrent website to see what we mean. Also related to this is the “Promo” tag, which indicates a promotional release. Most “promos” are sent to radio stations for publicity reasons which eventually lead to a leak on the Internet; however some promos are from an online source. Also note that retail CD versions often differ from both of these types of releases - later down the road it is common to see tracks added or removed, album art changed etc. And some companies will purposely change the final retail version because of a known leak on the Internet, in hopes of boosting sales.
Lossless Audio (.FLAC and .APE files)
Audiophiles, if you are serious about your music and you have some good speakers hooked up to your computer, you’ll want to learn more about lossless audio. Once you hear the difference, you’ll be searching P2P programs for *.FLAC and *.APE files, and there’s a lot out there. Both formats require the proper codecs to be installed on your computer, see additional information below.
You can even use these two programs to rip your own lossless CDs as well:
Check out FLAC here:
Bitrates found in compressed (Lossy) music:
|96 kbit/s||FM radio quality|
|128-160 kbit/s||Near CD quality; difference can sometimes be obvious - very common among P2P file sharing programs such as Limewire.|
|192 kbit/s||Good quality; difference can only heard by a few - the most commonly found MP3 bitrate - also a common bitrate.|
|224-320 kbit/s (VBR)||High, near transparent quality (the best for .MP3). Used by most release groups.|
|500-1000 kbit/s||Lossless audio used in such formats as FLAC, Monkey’s Audio. Astoundinly good quality - somewhat rare at the P2P level, but available on BitTorrent (especially private sites).|
|1400 kbit/s||Original bitrate of a recorded retail CD.|
Common ‘Tags’ found to describe music:
224, 256 or 320
(kilobits/second) | These are the most commonly found bitrate numbers from which an audio *.mp3 file is created. The higher the number, the better sound quality. Most songs found on P2P (Limewire) are 128. APE and FLAC can be as high as 1000. | | APE | *.APE files are perfect bit-for-bit lossless audio files created by the free “Monkey’s Audio” program. | | Clean | The music has been stripped of profanities (radio version). | | EAC
(Exact Audio Copy) | EAC is ripping software used to create lossless audio. EAC is widely considered to be the best all around ripping tool available today. Used in conjunction with the LAME codec to create MP2 and FLAC digital audio files. | | Explicit | Song/music contains the original lyrics. | | FLAC | “Free Lossless Audio Codec”. *.FLAC files are lossless audio files - soon to become the new standard in ripped music, and many portable devices now support it. | | LAME | LAME is an open-source MP3 encoder which is acknowledged in being able to produce the highest quality .mp3 files. | | NFO | The .NFO file shows information about the music. Open with Notepad or Wordpad. | | OGG | .OGG files are based on the open-source Ogg Vorbis compression system, and require the DirectShow codec for playback. Better than *.MP3, but similar size. | | OST | Means “Original Sound Track” of a movie. | | RETAIL | The music came from the original store-purchased CD. Very popular. | | SCAN/SCANS | Artwork scans from the CD, covers etc. can be included with the songs. | | VA | This tag means “Various Artists”, in relation to compilation or mixed CDs. | | VBR
(Variable Bitrate) | The bitrate of the song varies. Uses high bitrates during complex portions of a song, and lower ones during less complex ones. VBR offers great sound quality without the need to encode the whole file at a high bitrate (this saves space). These are hard to find on P2P (Limewire) since they require sophisticated software to ‘rip’ to .MP3. | | WEB/WEBRIP | The music was ripped from an online audio store. |
Commonly Found Audio File Types (extensions):
|.aac||A newer MPEG audio sound format.|
|.ac3||A Dolby-Digital encoded audio file. Used primarily as the audio track in DVDs and downloaded movies. Needs proprietary codec for playback.|
|.aif/.aiff||Audio Interchange File. This is the MAC equivalent of .WAV, but it is cross-platform as well.|
|.ape||Monkey’s Audio Lossless Audio File - compressed audio with no loss of quality (similar to .FLAC)|
|.asf||Advanced Streaming Format (not used anymore). They are now split up into .WMA (audio) and .WMV (video) files.|
|.flac||Free Lossless Audio Codec - compressed audio with no loss of quality.|
|.m2p||MPEG-2 program stream. Can also be NERO Showtime files.|
|.m3u||Short for “.mp3 URL” - it is a ‘playlist’ file that will point to .MP3s. Often found in an ‘album’ release with the .MP3 files.|
|.m4a||Audio-only MPEG-4 files will generally have an .M4A extension. See .m4b|
|.m4b||These are Audiobook and podcast files, which also contains metadata including chapter markers, images and hyperlinks. .M4A files will not ‘bookmark’ on an iPOD, whereas .M4B files do. Users can rename their .M4A to .M4B to activate these features.|
|.m4p||MPEG-4 audio files that include copyright protection, such as those sold from the iTunes Music store. Very difficult to find on a ‘pirated’ level.|
|.mka||Matroska Audio File - supported by PDA handhelds, etc.|
|.mp2||MPEG Layer II Compressed Audio File. Obsolete now, but still common.|
|.mp3||“MPEG audio, layer 3″. The most common type of audio file. Uses “Layer 3″ audio compression, whereby when compressed, will be about 1/10th the size of traditional .WAV files but with the same sound quality. Supported by everything from phones to iPODs to standalone CD/DVD players.|
|.mpa||An elementary MPEG-2 audio stream. This can include MPEG Layer 1,2 or 3.|
|.mpu||Same as an .MP3 file. Change the extension from .MPU to .MP3 if your audio program doesn’t recognize the file.|
|.ogg||Files that use the OGG Vorbis compression system, comparable to .MP3 but with better sound. Very common. For audio playback, users require the proper codecs or plugin packs with DirectShow filter.|
|.ra/.ram||Real Audio File (Real Player Media).|
|.wav||Similar to .AIF files, but use a more complex format. Supported by just about everything. Normally when an .MP3 file is burned to a CD for use in a car or home CD player, the program ‘converts’ them to .WAV files first.|
|.wma||Windows Media audio file (for use in Windows Media Player).|