Red Hot Chilli Peppers FLAC

The Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP) have launched an online archive of live shows, offering mastered soundboard recordings of each of their UK tour stops since November 17th, 2011, with future shows available for pre-order as well. Unlike Fugazi, who archived 800 shows for public download under a pay-what-you-want scheme, RHCP’s shows cost a flat rate of $9.95 (or more) to download – and $11.95 if you want a lossless FLAC version, valuing these downloads closer to the price of a traditional live album.

The Good

RHCP’s foray into the legal download world gets some things right, including unlimited DRM-free access to your content across multiple devices. And they run on the honor system, with some sage advice: “If you would like to see this type of delivery flourish, please don’t abuse the system.”

That plea sums up the standoffish tension between artists and the illegal downloading culture. Some pirates insist they download music solely for accessibility, and would gladly pony up cash for instant, DRM-free downloads through legal means. On the flipside, some artists dismiss pirates as freeloaders-at-all-costs who use these blanket excuses to weasel their way out of paying for music, period.

Give credit to RHCP for acknowledging that the truth lies somewhere in the middle: not everyone downloads music under honest pretenses, but for superfans – those who go on to purchase concert tickets and merch, evangelize to their friends and follow a band’s career over the course of their career – piracy is often the road to discovery.

By offering a direct-to-fan, DRM free option at a reasonable deal (longer-than-average live recordings at a cheaper price than what you’d pay for a physical concert album), they essentially court the superfan while challenging downloaders to meet them in the middle by opening up their wallets for cheap, unrestricted content.

RHCP have upheld their end by adapting to the digital download landscape – we only hope their “honor system” goes both ways.

The Bad

But they got one thing wrong here, and that’s the difference in price between MP3 and FLAC (lossless, CD-quality) files. From the FAQ:

FLAC downloads are more expensive because they cost more to deliver to you. A show compressed in FLAC is typically five or more times the size of a show in MP3, and therefore costs substantially more to deliver over the Internet.

A little disingenuous – data transfer costs pennies per GB, which means about 1000% markup on the basis of delivery costs.

This is more an effort to create 2 pricing tiers that really have no business being separated. FLAC files are lossless representations of the mastered recordings (which is what’s being pitched here, after all – the soundboard masters). Compression of these lossless files gets you the smaller mp3s you normally toss on your iPod, but with compression comes a gradual degradation of quality.

320Kbps is the standard  for “high quality” (nearly lossless) mp3s, with 192Kbps what you typically find on mp3 blogs. RHCP’s mp3 downloads clock in at an underwhelming 128Kbps, with nothing between that and the FLAC option, creating an artificial divide of quality in your purchasing options. Which means, if you don’t want the hiss of compression artifacts to come with your download, you’re stuck paying more just to hear the music as it was recorded. Anyone who cries “but I just want a good mp3!” is a lost sale, especially because many people don’t have software to convert from FLAC to mp3 (and your portable device doesn’t play FLAC files).

Far better to offer a variety of qualities (128, 192, 320, FLAC) and court technophobes and audiophiles alike with a flat-rate download price, which ensures everyone who wants to consume your product can actually, you know, consume your product.

The Tour

No matter your stance, they’ll be filling out that archive with a 2012 United States tour, with ten dates added to the list we previously announced:

Jan. 20 – Sunrise, FL – Bank Atlantic Center
Jan. 21 – Orlando, FL – Amway Arena
Jan. 23 – St. Petersburg, FL – St. Pete Times Forum
Jan. 25 – Charlotte, NC – Time Warner Cable Arena
Jan. 27 – Raleigh, NC – RBC Center
Jan. 28 – Columbia, SC – ColonialLife Arena
Jan. 30 – Duluth, GA – Gwinnett Arena
Jan. 31 – Greensboro, NC – Greensboro Coliseum
Feb. 03 – Memphis, TN – FedEx Forum
Mar. 04 – New Orleans, LA – New Orleans Arena
Mar. 06 – San Antonio, TX – AT&T Center
Mar. 08 – Houston, TX – Toyota Center
Mar. 09 – Dallas, TX – American Airlines Arena
Mar. 13 – Tulsa, OK – BOK Arena
Mar. 15 – Oklahoma City, OK – Chesapeake Energy Arena
Mar. 16 – Little Rock, AR – Verizon Arena

Weigh In

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Are pricing tiers across different download qualities disingenuous, or are we blowing hot air? Tell us in the comments.