Spotify Will Never Replace What.cd
“A complete shame to lose such a treasure,” one former member noted.
The band Jimmy Eat World, well-liked among the What.cd community. Image: Drew de F Fawkes/Flickr
Just like that, and it was gone.
What.cd, an online music community that had operated in the shadows of the private BitTorrent underground piracy scene since October 2007, suddenly shut down on Thursday, leaving its estimated 150,000 former active members memorializing the site's place in the short history of online music consumption.
"What I will miss the most was the biggest, most complete, and most carefully curated music library that ever existed," one former member, who, like many others quoted in this story, requested anonymity in order to speak freely about his time on the website, told me. While What.cd's library numbered around one million "unique music releases," it was partially the sheer variety of available music, just a quick BitTorrent download away, that kept the faithful coming back over its nine-year existence.
Were you a member of What.cd? Would you like to share what made the site so special to you? Then feel free to email me at email@example.com or contact me via Twitter (my DMs are open).
"Say I had a hankering for some Nigerian Disco," another former member told me, "specifically recorded in the years between 1975-1979. I could go find a [collection, or "collage"] made by some user featuring Nigerian Disco releases. It was all right there, neatly categorized and sorted by release type and file format." (Music on What.cd was typically uploaded in multiple file formats and qualities, including varying levels of MP3 fidelity and lossless files encoded in formats like FLAC.)
"The niche interests of the users," this former member added, "and how they vocalized those interests with collages or just straight up recommendations in the forums, was one of the site's biggest assets."
For many of the site's former members I spoke with, having access to a vast library of music that could be downloaded instantly, and for free, was merely an added benefit of being a part of a community of diehard music fans who took pride in being part of the exclusive, invite-only clubhouse, one that in some cases required passing an interview to be allowed entry.
"The thing I'll miss most about the website was the community spirit," a third former member named Andrew told me. "That was facilitated by the unbelievably dedicated staff, many of whom invested more effort and manpower in maintaining the site than I'll ever be able to comprehend. Ultimately, they made it possible."
"Everyone was super knowledgeable, almost everyone was really nice and helpful," said a fourth former member. "Never to be replicated. It was honestly my favorite website on the internet."
"This is a huge cultural blow to our generation," added a fifth former member.
To understand the importance that What.cd holds in certain corners of the internet you need to go back in time to 2007, long before services like Spotify and Apple Music enabled the world to legally stream an unlimited amount of "Royals," "Hotline Bling," or "Black Beatles" on their smartphones or computers. Back then, we filled iPods with music downloaded from iTunes—and as far as legal sources of digital music, that was pretty much it. But websites like What.cd saved savvy internet users from having to use shady file-sharing software like LimeWire, where low-quality files and malware seemingly lurked around every corner.
"What.cd was around before Spotify, and practically WAS our Spotify—we just didn't know what to call it," a sixth former member told me, who noted that it was the effort of the site's community to contextualize the vast library, collecting artwork, finding and grouping together different releases of the same ablums, and helping fellow members identify related artists, that set What.cd apart from other services dating back to that era. "There are still some private trackers where a user can get new music releases," he said, "but can in no way compare to the metadata generated by the amazing What.cd community."
This database of musical knowledge, which a site administrator told me Thursday was now "gone," was "unparalleled," a seventh former member told me.
"The closing of What.CD is the decayed cherry on top of the shit cake that is 2016," he said. "I will miss [it] immensely."
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