The Loss of What.cd


The music torrent tracker What.cd closed today. The details are still not clear. At first it seemed French police seized the sites servers hosted with OVH and took it offline. But now it seems that the sites admins got word of a potential raid so shut down and deleted data before they were seized. Ars Technica:

“The facts are pretty skimpy right now,” What.cd’s representative says. “We have no official confirmation that servers were seized, but all available evidence does support that, so we are operating as if it is true.” That being said, what.cd’s administrators are confident that its major database of user information was not seized by French authorities: “The site was operational until we shut it down.”

That shutdown decision was made by What.cd’s operators out of heightened precaution, as opposed to being forced by an authority to do so, the representative tells Ars.

I’m sure more technical details will follow, but what I want to focus on is the loss of What.cd.

And loss is the right word. To people reading about the news, and not knowing about the site, they will probably think that it’s just another illegal torrent tracker that is deservedly shut down. And there is no getting around it, What.cd was a place to pirate. But it was also the greatest library of digital music the world has ever seen, and a tremendous community for music lovers.

It contained countless musical rarities, that hopefully thanks to the nature of file sharing, haven’t been lost. I first joined around 8 years ago for a copy of the ‘original’ mono first pressing of Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, an album with only 20 physical copies that costs around $15,000 to buy. And thanks to What.cd I am listening to that album whilst typing this.

But of course by ‘thanks to What.cd’ what I actually mean is ‘thanks to a user of What.cd’. Because you had to have an invitation to join the site and could be banned if you didn’t behave, it was made up of some very fine users. The forums were immensely active and full of civil discussion about music.

People created ‘collages’ of albums for easy reference and download, such as ‘Introduction to Ambient’, ‘The Penguin Guide to Jazz Core Collection’, and ‘Christmas Origins: Christmas in Early, Classical & Folk Music’.

You could get a notification when there was a new album uploaded of a musician you like. No subscribing to their spammy newsletter or following their Facebook. Just told when there was an actual album out.

You could request a specific rare vinyl version of an album and be shocked to see how quickly someone found and uploaded a copy. And on that albums What.cd page there could already be many different versions: 1960 vinyl first pressing, 1990 original CD, 1993 Sony Japan cassette release, 2002 Columbia definitive edition, 2005 Steven Hoffman remastered vinyl, 2011 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab original master recording hybrid SACD, 2015 HDTracks 44.1kHz/24bit web release. And then in the forums there would be discussions about which sounded the best. It was glorious.

Jökull Sólberg Auðunsson said in 2012:

Music torrent sites Oink.me, Waffles.fm and What.cd have all had deeper vaults of audible content than any legal music service. They’re like a mixture of a digital Alexandria, a 10,000 square meter bootleg store and a music reviewer early release mail room. The searching and filing is an achievement on its own, through methods of crowd-sourcing and a culture lead by perfectionists and passionate music archivers.

I’ll leave you with that. Goodbye What.cd. You’ll be missed.

Further reading

/r/trackers - It’s Official, what.cd is dead. Memorial thread.
Waxy.org - The end of What.cd, the internet’s biggest and best music collection
Torrent Freak - What.cd Shuts Down Following Reported Raids in France

When the site closed down I had some open tabs browsing it. They give an impression of what the site was like.