Schwartz calls the donation a great start that he hopes will prompt others to join the effort. “It takes money to both preserve [films and recordings] and make them available to the public — to transfer items onto digital format and pay for Web site traffic,” Schwartz said. “The longer this stuff doesn’t happen, the more recordings get lost to history.”
In the late 1940s and early ’50s, the recording standard was magnetic tape, which is vulnerable to humidity. Most sound archives are on analog tape, which doesn’t fare well in the kind of flooding that devastated New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said foundation board member George Massenburg, who is a record producer, engineer and educator.
Massenburg cites efforts to recover archival tapes — including historic jazz recordings — that were damaged in New Orleans, as well as recovery efforts that he has participated in at libraries and radio stations. “We don’t know what we don’t know,” he said. “We don’t know what objects are important until we see inside collections, look and listen to them and identify what they are.”
Massenburg said that White’s donation is critical not just to the preservation of popular music, but also to the full spectrum of our national sound archives, including old radio shows.
“It’s a modern assumption that everything is digital,” he said. “Everything is something that can be stored in the cloud. But it’s not.”
His personal passion has been to preserve recordings made on the bulky and deteriorating four-track and eight-track masters, which are expensive to store and which record companies have been trying to convert to digital.
Massenburg noted that White is a fan of analog recording and methodology. “He doesn’t take advantage of the speed and utility of digital methodology, and loves the warmth and immersive character of analog,” Massenburg said. “He is a traditionalist in that sense.”
The engineer said that the United States has a “throwaway culture,” but he feels motivated every day “to just find a solution” as more cultural artifacts disappear.
“I hope the [donation] touches people and that they’ll respond,” he said.