If you have a computer and an internet connection, and if you're a music lover, then by now you're probably familiar with the .wav and .mp3 formats of sound files (and some lesser used formats like .au and .aiff). These formats are straight audio, meaning they are recorded from a pre-existing audio source, and should sound the same no matter what software you're using (although quality might vary, depending on your speakers and sound card). On the other side of the coin is the MIDI format (.mid files). A midi file is no audio and all data. How a midi file will sound varies greatly from one computer to the next, but almost always sounds like a very cheap keyboard. Because it is data, it is a very limited format. For example, if you listen to a few dozen midi songs, each by different composers and sequencers, each instrument will sound exactly the same. Only one snare drum sound, only one saxophone sound (and not a very good one)... just like a crappy keyboard.
So what's the point of all this? Well, it seems that a surprising number of people who are familiar with the formats mentioned above, simply accept that it's one or the other; either large files of high-quality audio, or small files of data, producing low quality sound. Well, allow me to introduce a wonderful middle ground that's been around for a long time, but still doesn't seem to get the exposure it deserves: mod music. "mod" is short for "module", and it is basically a cross between midis and audio. A single mod file actually has a pack of samples (a single note for each instrument as well as the drums and whatever other samples are needed, including vocals), and a set of instructions for when to play each sample, and the sequence of notes for each instrument. File size varies, depending mostly on the quality and amount of samples. As well as .mod, file extensions also seen often are .xm, .s3m, and .it. The difference mostly lies in the method the programmer used to sequence the song, but theimportant thing is to get a player that will play them all (I recommend ModPlug).
By its very nature, mod music is, in my opinion, the very definition of electronica. Many popular electronica artists started out with mods, and some are still using them.
One of the reasons I love mod music is that it is an example of the wonderful aspects of the internet. Artists will create their own music and put it up on their web site, for everyone to enjoy, expecting no money. Without benefit of contracts, agents or big companies, these people are getting their music out there.
Another cool thing about mods is how easy it is to make remixes of your favorite songs (if you're a mod artist yourself, that is). The mod comes with all the samples and instruments used to make it, so they can be remolded, and new samples and instruments can be introduced. Most artists consider it a great compliment when another of their kind enjoys a track so much that they want to give it a new spin.
By the way, mods aren't limited to dance music. Their nature makes them best suited for dance, but virtually all styles are available.
Now comes the bad news. You can't download a program and magically start making your own quality mods. Even if you get a good, easy-to-use "tracker" (the software used to make mods), it's still a skill that takes time to learn, and it's best learned from someone who's been doing it for awhile, rather than just reading "help files" and "readme.txt".
So, you wanna get started? Good. First, get a player. As I said, ModPlug is my favorite, because it's basic, and it works. But there are other players available. Yahoo's directory should help you find one best suited for you. Now you need something to listen to. There are many websites that have large collections of mods, and most of these sites have link lists of many other good mod pages. Check the links below to get started.
Remember, getting into mods doesn't mean losing a lot of disk space, but it does mean getting some great music, made for the sake of music. Enjoy!
ModPlug - My favorite mod player, best one for starting out, in my opinion
Alpha64 Mod Archiving - Excellent, well-organized archive and information source. Reviews and "mod of the month" make it easy to get some good music instead of having to download a lot of stuff, only to find that half of it is crap.
XM Heaven - The music of Anders Akerheden, with help from the lovely Lisa Lindstrom. Anders is my favorite mod artist of them all, and Lisa's vocals are fantastic.
modmecca - sometimes, instead of making up their own music, artist want to make mod versions of existing tunes. modmecca collects some of the best mod covers.
The Mod Archive - not as good as Alpha64, but a pretty good archive.
Yahoo’s MOD directory