Music has always told the story of the people who created it. It doesn’t matter if it is a song that accompanies funeral rites or a dance tune, music puts a culture into context. When the songs of a people are lost, so are the values of that group. Things vanish into the long march of time, never to be heard again.
Nowadays, this does not need to be the case. In this day and age where everyone has a microphone in their computer, tablet, or phone, it is easier than ever to record the music of today. Our only limitation is hoping that the technology of tomorrow is capable of playing the songs of today – think about it: how many record and 8 track players do you think are still in existence? Would you even know what to do with a cassette tape?
I really think it is our obligation to take things that are on those sorts of outdated technology and continue to archive them, to bring them into the digital age and preserve them for whatever medium comes next. And I’m not just talking about old studio recordings, either. Bootleg and professionally recorded concerts allow fans to hear live performances that took place across the world and in the past whenever we want, allowing us to feel like we are there ourselves. Those are also worth preserving.
It’s also a great way to explore the evolution of music. Art constantly inspires itself, and music is no exception. Sounds grow and change through interpretation, time, and talents, creating something new along the way. In order to study music, it is beneficial to be able to see the way it traveled across the globe and time, how changes both great and subtle created offshoots, how artists bring their own style and experience to the table and make it their own.
There were so many talented musicians that died before I was born – some long before – and without others taking the time to preserve the sounds of people like W.C. Handy, Robert Johnson, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, the Beatles, and Elvis Presley, I would never have been able to hear them. These are some of the most influential names in music, and I shudder to think what would have happened if later generations of musicians wouldn’t have had access to hear some of these innovative titans.
There are sites like FreeMusicArchive, the National Jukebox at the Library of Congress, and archive.org are worth checking out if you’re interested in exploring the past through music. YouTube is actually another great resource, as people make videos of their collections – some of which are rare finds! There are also archive museums like at the Fisk, and at the Center for Popular Music Studies at Middle Tennessee State University dedicated to the history of music. The more value we place on preserving music, the more motivated people will be to do so.