I have around 10,000 pieces of vinyl in my basement. As long as these records stay in a cool, dry place, the music stored within these plastic grooves will survive for centuries. My CDs, on the other hand, probably have a lifespan of around 100 years before the glue holding the layers of the disc tries out and things begin to separate. That means corrosion, mould and other nasty things.
And then there’s the 70,000 or so digital music files I have on my computers and servers. Despite all the backups (including in the cloud), how long will they last? What if, heaven forbid, the North Koreans launch an attack with an EMP device that wipes out digital information everywhere?
Okay, that’s maybe little far-fetched, so let’s reel it in a little. With tens and tens of millions of songs available digitally somewhere, who’s keeping track of what’s out there? And I’m not just talking about what you can buy on iTunes and stream on Rdio. I mean all the music that’s out there, from private archives of dance track remixes to enthnomusicologist recordings of music made by a tribe in the Amazon?
Now you begin to see the enormity of the problem. How can we make sure that all of humanity’s music will be available to future generations? Let’s go to this article at NPR:
The music sharing platform imeem thrived from 2004 until its shuttering in 2009 as a safe haven in the wilds of the semi-legal Internet. It was Napster without the piracy, a legal space for music makers and fans to share bedroom composition, videos of their latest dance moves, and the latest streamed — not downloaded — hits. Though many of its 25 million-plus users enjoyed imeem as a way to hear brand new cuts from the likes of Lil Wayne and Katy Perry, others employed it as a dynamic library: a site where historical music could be curated and discussed, and portraits of long-standing subcultures could emerge, document by primary document.
This “willy nilly archive,” as the ethnomusicologist and DJ Wayne Marshall called imeem in a widely circulated 2010 blog post, allowed for far-flung students of music culture — college professors, book authors and documentary filmmakers, and moonlighting amateurs alike — to access rich collections representing dance worlds like Chicago footwork and Memphis jookin, the sound worlds where Trinidadian soca, U.K. dubstep or Southern trap music thrived without making the U.S. airwaves and countless other “nu-whirled publics” whose products wouldn’t end up in the Smithsonian any time soon.