Fill your iPod, iPhone with free, fresh music from the world of Ancient Audio

If you are in the mood to fill your iPod/iPhone, or just want to wrap your ears around some unusual music, don’t want to spend any cash as you wait for payday at the end of the month, or are feverishly saving a few cents for an Apple tablet, then here’s a suggestion – take a trip inside the world of ancient audio…

Music has its own history. if you are interested in that history, then you may want to explore some of the sites now appearing on the ‘net which make digitised versions of 78rpm and cylinder recordings available to download.

They are able to do this because copyright law only protects recorded music for 50 years after it’s put down. This means that tracks from as recently as 1956 could in theory be made available, as after the 50-year cut-off point there’s no protection for the music. This area of music discovery is only recently starting to emerge.

Many of us might be familiar with 78rpm discs, but cylinder recordings predate these, being the first commercially produced sound recordings. They are a fab snapshot of musical and popular culture in the decades around the turn of the 20th century. They have long held the fascination of collectors and have presented challenges for playback and preservation by archives and collectors alike.

If you’re in the mood for a – completely legitimate – free music mystery tour, scout yourself around the following sites

The Open Music Archive
A collaborative project to source, digitise, and distribute out of copyright music recordings. There’s a host of gems tucked-away inside this collection – fascinating stuff.

This site preserve and makes available early recorded sounds. it continuously digitises wax cylinder recordings. Among other highlights this month it is offering a homemade recording made on December 31, 1905 by revelers bringing in the New Year of 1906.

Stanford University
Old Archive
New Archive
Stanford University hosts a growing collection of digitised music and radio sounds, offering a fascinating glimpse into the last century.

University of California
With funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the UCSB Libraries have created a digital collection of nearly 8,000 cylinder recordings held by the Department of Special Collections. In an effort to bring these recordings to a wider audience, they can be freely downloaded or streamed online.

The Internet Audio Archive
Founded in 1996, the Internet Archive is a non-profit organisation that collects and maintains a huge historical archive of digital creative product. It’s well-known for maintaining a huge collection of website images – you can see Apple’s home page in different years, for example. It also maintains a huge audio collection, in which netlabels are well represented. The collection includes alternative news shows, Grateful Dead concerts, old radio shows, book and poetry recordings, and a huge assemblage of original music contributed by users. It’s a tremendous historical collection of sounds.

For video, UK users could take a look at the BBC’s Creative Archives (, a collection of video footage that’s free for UK residents to download to use in their own projects, or to rip into a format that’s suitable for iPods and iTunes. The library of available material is frequently updated, and now features clips from the BBC, Channel 4, Open University, British Film Institute and Teachers TV. Once you have downloaded a clip, you can convert it into an iTunes/iPod-friendly format using iSquint or directly within iTunes.

Finally, don’t ignore the rich collector’s treasures held inside the esoteric and amazing collection at Wolfgang’s Vault (affiliates link). You’ll be surprised just how much material you can access at no charge – and a whole lot more surprised if you sign up!

Happy listening, everyone 🙂

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