March 11, 2013 at 10:55 am

Download SXSW Music for Free, Then Wonder Whether It Was Worth It

sxsw_torrent 2013

The music portion of SXSW begins Tuesday in Austin, Texas.

This festival being what it is, the division is never too clear between these legs of the event. Still, one does notice a certain “changing of the guard” between the chunky glasses/fauxhawk/striped shirt/beer-swilling/iPhone set during the Interactive portion, and the pierced lip/amp-dragging/beer-swilling/iPhone set that rolls in for the Music portion.

As such, this is the perfect day to download the gargantuan bit torrent files consisting of music from every single band (or as close to that as possible) in two big, glorious, messy zip files, although granted, the ID3 tags are all correct, having been manually inputted. This thing makes the round each year — first as an official act of the festival, and now as something that happens on a volunteer basis. But it does appear to be somewhat sanctioned by the festival and, one imagines, the bands whom it promotes — especially because it includes only the songs that are already available as free preview streams on

Do you even remember how to use Bit Torrent?

First, you need a Bit Torrent client, and then you need to download the torrent. You can get the client and the torrent files here courtesy of Ben Stolt, who has been painstakingly assembling these things for four years (SXSW itself released the torrents from ’05 to ’08, and you can still get them all here). Thanks, Ben!

Assuming your ISP doesn’t freak out and send you a letter, due to thinking that you’re uploading something that you shouldn’t (Bit Torrent works by seeding the files you download, so that others can get it from you, and uploading big zip files of MP3s can freak out ISPs), the downloads should go right into your Bit Torrent client. Unzip the zip files, and you will have it all:  1,210 MP3s (7.39 GB), representing a huge chunk of the bands playing at an absolutely massive music festival.

Then what? Nowhere else in the world, that we can think of, do so many bands play in so little time as at SXSW, Unfortunately, weeding through this zip file looking for treasures feels a bit like stumbling around Austin looking for the best show for you, personally, before you run out of time and the next set of bands starts. And if you’re not careful, you can pollute your computer’s music collection with all sorts of stuff you’d never want to listen to.

Programmers, hackers, developers and so on: How about next year, somebody builds a little smart player app designed specifically for helping individual users work their way through this catalog? Smart radio and playlist features mashed with, Facebook, iTunes, and/or another listening profile, or at the very least thumbs up and down arrows, should make it possible to build a version of these otherwise dumb zip files that is custom-made for each listener.

Until then, you’ll need to work your way through the whole thing, which probably takes longer than you’ll need to download it.