Kelvin Smith Library
This is a guide to the use of pre-digital (analog) recordings in music research, such as cylinders, 78s, 45s, 33s. It will not cover CDs or downloads except as carriers for material originally captured in one of the formats above.
Early recordings are germane to several fields of study:
1. Performance practice. The early 20th century is the first period for which we can hear what music actually sounded like. While the technical limitations of early recordings somewhat compromises the information, still we can hear that the assumptions of musicians in 1910 were not necessarily those of modern performers.
2. Ethnomusicology. Collectors like Percy Grainger, Bela Bartok and Alan Lomax recorded folk music while it was still orally-transmitted, without the influence of recordings, radio, and print. Early recording companies knew there was money to be made in the ethnic market, but had no clear idea what they wanted, so they'd record a little of everything and see how it sold.
3. Social studies: sociology, politics, religion, etc. Recorded music, particularly popular music, gives us a window on history and attitudes.