Friday, 28 June 2013

Collaborations – the popular music heritage database

I’m currently working with activist archivist Jez Collins (Birmingham City University and founder of the Birmingham Music Archive) on the creation of a database that logs popular music archives and museums from around the world.

In less than two months we have already listed 200 examples and don’t doubt that in time the database will highlight the extent of popular music preservation and related heritage activities globally.

Our approach to the database is inclusive, rather than exclusive, as at this stage we don’t want to leave anything out! While we are thinking about popular music heritage practices in the broadest sense, the types of activities we are logging can be roughly understood as encompassing two distinct types of practice - physical collections housed in physical locations and digital and online collections. Jez has noted elsewhere that each of these types of practices can be further divided as follows:

Physical – “authorised”

“Some of the [physical] collections could be classed as authorised collections, housed in purpose built or adapted buildings, staffed through a paid workforce and with multiple income streams that aid revenue generation.”

Examples here might be the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, USA, or The EMI Archive Trust in Hayes, UK; two places I visited during the international fieldwork I did for the Popular Music and Cultural Memory project.

Physical – “do-it-yourself”

“Others might be classed as DIY collections, housed in physical locations that are often ‘make do and mend’ buildings which are run by volunteers. Such archives are often in a continual struggle for sustainability whether that be for financial or human resources.”

Examples of this type that I have visited include the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame in Tamworth, Australia, and SwissJazzOrama in Uster, Switzerland. It is the physical, do-it-yourself types of places that I am particularly interested in for my current research.

Online – “institutional”

“Institutional collections and archive holdings that organisations are seeking to digitise in order to make them more accessible to their users and also to attract new audiences. Issues here surround funding, copyright and the purpose of digitisation."

As Jez notes, examples of this practice include the 'British Music Collection' of Sound and Music and the English Folk Dance and Song Society‘s extensive collection.

Online – “community”

“We then have community archives, driven by activist archivists who seek to preserve popular music culture. These are often ad-hoc and either seek to digitise and make available material they collect or come across, or they deal only in digital items. ...  and they are also often characterised by issues of sustainability through lack of finance and human resources and issues of ownership and copyright.”

As examples, Jez points to his own Birmingham Music Archive and also the Tanzania Heritage Project.

It might be that we break down these categories further as the database progresses and as our own individual research projects around popular music heritage throw up varying examples. And of course, we don't mean for these initial categorisations to be thought of as in any way rigid --- there are a multitude of examples of physical archives which have an online component and vice versa.

The database is likely to be an ongoing project for us, as we discover archives in far flung places or as new heritage projects emerge. What we do with the database beyond using it as a joint resource is yet to be decided. However, we do hope to collaborate further on some form of dissemination of the information we are gathering in the database in the near future. Watch this space!