The short: Quasi-netlabel Ambient-Nights.org serves up some good downtempo semi-ambient music for free, but you’ll only get them through BitTorrent, and each album is one long mp3 file– no individual tracks.
Long a fan of freely available music, I’d heard about Ambient-Nights a few years ago, but wasn’t all that thrilled with a few things:
- No direct downloads are freely available from the site. You have to use a BitTorrent client to obtain the mixes, which entails waiting and perhaps attracting unwanted attention from your ISP or other hideous parties.
- Once finally downloaded, the entire mix albums are only available in single, continuous, ~80 minute mp3 files. No individual tracks are available for free.
- Even if you are able to chop up the mp3’s into individual tracks, the music is seamlessly mixed, DJ-style: the tracks cross-fade into each other, which may cause some jarring track changes if you play them with the rest of your music collection. (This is somewhat alleviated if you activate cross-fading with your music player, and the intros and outros of the cut tracks are attenuated.)
- Much of the music seems to be from professional artists, and though the site operates totally in the open, it isn’t clear whether the site can legally distribute their music. There’s no legal or copyright information readily obvious on the site. Glomming all the tracks on a CD into a single mp3 may evade some industry ire, or perhaps all the artists in question have granted permission to have their work distributed– it’s hard to tell.
- Individual tracks of higher quality are available– if you cough up a ten-spot. Not really an issue if you enjoy the music, and ten bucks is reasonable for over 30 albums of music. Again, however, it isn’t clear whether the artists are cool with this.
- Totally invalid musical taste opinion: The music selections, good as they are, aren’t really ambient, they’re downtempo. Think closer to SomaFM‘s Groove Salad or Space Station Soma than to Drone Zone or that magnificent musical gateway drug, SleepBot.
Admittedly, ambient is a pretty broad genre these days, and, grouch that I am, I stick more to Brian Eno’s definition of ambient music than some might today, since a good 30 years have gone by since Eno created the genre. I also say this after listening only so far to the first four CD’s, each labeled Ambient Nights 1 through 4. Hell, my gripe is actually a plus if you have an active dislike for old-school ambient drone.
However, not to appear totally ungrateful for what is in the end a window to good free music, there are substantial upsides:
- Free music! After some dancing with torrents.
- Alex, the site’s progenitor, has a good ear for tracks that go well together.
- The free mixes are of a very listenable quality. No 64kbps RealAudio stream quality here, though higher-quality versions are available only after parting with two Lincolns. Whether you pay or not, though, you get good quality music.
- The individual mix CD’s are thoughtfully put together, full-length ~80 minute mixes, with CUE sheets for CD burning and cover art available.
- The CUE sheets available allow you to dice up the tracks using Mp3DirectCut with relative ease, allowing you to integrate them with other tracks in your music library with some small effort.
(However, you will need to edit said CUE sheets to meet Mp3DirectCut’s standard, or it won’t understand them, a minor pain.)
There’s a level of loving care in Ambient-Nights.org that extends also to the quality of the mixes: this person wants to share music that he loves, and that deserves admiration. To that end, the website and torrent trackers are bankrolled by Alex himself and the ‘VIP’ members who have paid for the higher-quality individual tracks. They’re doing it for the love, and I commend them for that.
I’ll cover how to divide an Ambient-Nights mix into individual tracks in a future post. Until then, overall verdict is Highly Recommended.