Recorded Sound At Risk : A Blog Supreme The Library of Congress has released a study which examines the state of American recorded sound preservation. It's not optimistic, noting that many old recordings are lost, while many new digital recordings are in more danger than we might think.

Recorded Sound At Risk

In the long haul, is the shellac single possibly more durable than its MP3 equivalent? iStockPhoto hide caption

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The Library of Congress released a study today which examines the state of American recorded sound preservation at large. It isn't optimistic; not only does it identify that a great bulk of old recordings is lost/out-of-print/unplayable/unaccounted for, but also notes that "Today's digital formats are not inherently safe harbors of preservation." Only an estimated 14 percent of pre-1965 commercial recordings are currently available, and only about 10 percent of music recorded in the 1930s is readily accessible to the public. Meanwhile, the study finds -- somewhat counterintuitively -- that older analog recordings are, on the whole, likely to survive more than 100 years more than today's born-digital recordings. (Hard drives crash, technologies become obsolete, etc.)

For a music like jazz, whose history tends to deeply inform the present day, this is rather unnerving. Miles Davis records will stay in print for a pretty long time, but what about all the other trumpeters between, say, 1945-1975? How are future generations to wrap their minds around pre-war jazz if we can only hear 10 percent of the records from the 1930s? It's a problem which the study's authors know intimately; Sam Brylawski edited the discography of Victor Records, and Rob Bamberger is host of the excellent Hot Jazz Saturday Night radio program. (Is this just a Washington, D.C. thing? I hope not.) Anyway, the study is worth a look, even if it will depress you. [Library Of Congress: The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States]