Since the inception of the mp3 scene in 1995/96, packaging methods have changed drastically. Initially groups had their own quality standards/rip methods and it wasn't until late 1998 that 'official' scene rules were established.
This article outlines the packaging methods & standards utilised throughout the history of the scene.
1996: In The Beginning
The first organised mp3 groups - CDA, DAC & RNS - initially packaged mp3's in a similar way to the 0day/app scenes; releasing a single track at a time, split into 1.44MB RAR files which were then individually zipped along with a FILE_ID.DIZ to identify the files on Bulletin Board Systems (BBS's). Directory names were not used, rather each zip file(s) would be uploaded into a single directory on BBS's or FTP sites.
For example, the track "Buddy Holly" by Weezer, released by DAC in 1996 used the filename DAC-BUDH.ZIP and would most likely have included a FILE_ID.DIZ, an NFO file and possibly BBS/FTP site NFOs to indicate which sites the file had passed through previously. For more examples of early releases, see this list of the first CDA songs and the DAC release list which includes all tracks from 1996.
Tracks were generally ripped at 128kbit/s (although 112kbit/s wasn't uncommon) using the encoder L3enc. With 133mhz processors as the norm, ripping was a slow process; taking anywhere from 15-30 mins for a single track. A DAC "How-To" from 1996 sheds more light on ripping techniques of this era.
By 1997, storage space and processor power had increased enough to warrant a demand for entire albums. Initially groups used the same packaging methods as before, meaning an album such as Ghostface Killah's "Ironman" ripped by DAC would have 17 individual files, named DAC-GF01, DAC-GF02 and so on.
Quickly, however, the mp3 scene moved towards whole albums and packaging methods had to be adjusted to accommodate this. Groups began creating directories for each album; usually Artist_Name-Album_Name-Group, although no official standards were established until the following year. Each directory would generally contain an mp3 file for each track, an NFO file and occasionally pixel art or site NFO's.
Some examples of directory/file structures of albums released in 1997:
analogue3_01.mp3 analogue3_02.mp3 analogue3_03.mp3 analogue3_04.mp3 analogue3_05.mp3 analogue3_06.mp3 analogue3_07.mp3 analogue3_08.mp3 analogue3_09.mp3 analogue3_10.mp3 analogue3_11.mp3 analogue3_12.mp3 analogue3_13.mp3 dac-afx-analogue_bubblebath_3.nfo
01.(Eagle.Eye.Cherry)-Save.Tonight.mp3 02.(Eagle.Eye.Cherry)-Indecision.mp3 03.(Eagle.Eye.Cherry)Comatose.(in.the.arms.of.slumber).mp3 04.(Eagle.Eye.Cherry)-Worried.Eyes.mp3 05.(Eagle.Eye.Cherry)-Rainbow.Wings.mp3 06.(Eagle.Eye.Cherry)-Conversation.mp3 07.(Eagle.Eye.Cherry)-When.Mermaids.Cry.mp3 08.(Eagle.Eye.Cherry)-Shooting.Up.In.Vain.mp3 09.(Eagle.Eye.Cherry)-Permanent.Tears.mp3 10.(Eagle.Eye.Cherry)-Death.Defied.By.Will.mp3 11.(Eagle.Eye.Cherry)-Desireless.mp3 [ccmp3d].nfo
Most albums were ripped at 128kbit/s, although towards the end of the year 160kbit/s was becoming increasingly popular, and no single piece of encoding software was used by the scene.
1998 was a significant year for the mp3 scene, seeing many new groups forming, the rise of the 'pre-release' and the beginnings of a formalised ruleset. 128-160kbit were still the most commonly-used bitrates that year, though 192kbit releases would slowly emerge too. ID3 tags had been used in 1997 but by 1998 they were used in practically every scene release.
The first (successful) ruleset for the mp3 scene (the RIAA rules) surfaced in December of that year, signed by AMOK, aPC, ATM, RNS and UMA. Of particular note were the following rules:
4) Rippers/groups must produce .SFV files for crc'ing every release.
6) Files and directories must only contain a-z A-Z 0-9 _ - () and no other characters. Underscores will be used for spaces, and double dots wont be used. i.e ..
8) Directory names must at minimum include "Artist-Album-GROUPINITIALS"
9) Filenames must at minimum include "Tracknumber-Songtitle-GROUPINITIALS"
These rules resulted in mp3 releases becoming increasingly uniform and file/directory naming conventions began to resemble those currently used by the scene. For example:
00-dmx-flesh_of_my_flesh_blood_of_my_blood-cesta-apc.nfo 01-dmx-my_niggas_skit-apc-cesta.mp3 02-dmx-bring_your_whole_crew-apc-cesta.mp3 03-dmx-pacman_skit-apc-cesta.mp3 04-dmx-aint_no_way-apc-cesta.mp3 05-dmx-we_dont_give_a_fuck-apc-cesta.mp3 06-dmx-keep_your_shit_the_hardest-apc-cesta.mp3 07-dmx-coming_from_ft._mary_j._blige-apc-cesta.mp3 08-dmx-its_all_good-apc-cesta.mp3 09-dmx-the_omen_ft._marilyn_manson-apc-cesta.mp3 10-dmx-slippin-apc-cesta.mp3 11-dmx-no_love_for_me-apc-cesta.mp3 12-dmx-dogs_for_life-apc-cesta.mp3 13-dmx-blackout_ft._jay-z_and_lox_-apc-cesta.mp3 14-dmx-flesh_of_my_flesh_blood_of_my_blood-apc-cesta.mp3 15-dmx-heat-apc-cesta.mp3 16-dmx-skit-apc-cesta.mp3 17-dmx-skit-apc-cesta.mp3 18-dmx-ready_to_meet_him-apc-cesta.mp3
01-MC5-Sister_Anne.ATM.mp3 02-MC5-Baby_Won't_Ya.ATM.mp3 03-MC5-Miss_X.ATM.mp3 04-MC5-Gotta_Keep_Movin.ATM.mp3 05-MC5-Future_Now.ATM.mp3 06-MC5-Poison.ATM.mp3 07-MC5-Over_And_Over.ATM.mp3 08-MC5-Skunk.ATM.mp3 ATM-MC5-High_Times.nfo
Although both of these arrived before the introduction of the RIAA ruleset, note the use of underscores and other naming conventions commmonly associated with modern-day scene releases. Including the ripper name in the file/directory name (as in the first release above) was a practice primarily employed by aPC from 1998 to 1999, although other groups including HNA, iRS, EGO and occasionally RNS were also known to do so.
Early 1999 saw the majority of the mp3 scene begin to adopt the RIAA rules introduced the previous year. This meant that the file/directory naming of most new releases resembled modern-day conventions (group initials would be removed from most filenames in 2005). 160kbit releases still appeared, particularly in the earlier half of the year, but for the most part 192kbit was the bitrate of choice. SFV's, NFO's and M3U's were compulsory, and their absence was grounds for nuking on most topsites.
A typical release from 1999 looked like so:
00-egghead-dumb_songs_for_smart_people-ego.m3u 00-egghead-dumb_songs_for_smart_people-ego.nfo 00-egghead-dumb_songs_for_smart_people-ego.sfv 01-egghead-shes_coming_back-ego.mp3 02-egghead-not_everything_that_smells_good_tastes_good-ego.mp3 03-egghead-cosmo_and_vogue-ego.mp3 04-egghead-neighborhood_palm_reader-ego.mp3 05-egghead-rookie_year-ego.mp3 06-egghead-first_flight_to_the_moon-ego.mp3 07-egghead-jetpack-ego.mp3 08-egghead-donnas_always_mad_at_me-ego.mp3 09-egghead-data_entry-ego.mp3 10-egghead-jane_airhead-ego.mp3 11-egghead-my_apartment-ego.mp3 12-egghead-books-ego.mp3 13-egghead-breakaway_luge-ego.mp3 14-egghead-hong_kong-ego.mp3
Variations on the above were not uncommon (RNS switched the order of artist and track number for example) but for the most part this style would continue to be used for many years.