6. Foreign recordings

The first task of every country is to preserve its domestic record production, but this alone is not enough. There should also be examples of important foreign recordings, for students of history, music and languages, for historians of sound recording and for the general public. During the history of commercial recording, a few million different recordings have been issued all over the world. What should be chosen for archival preservation?

In a country with a large market for imported records, one answer is obvious. Obtain representative examples of recordings sold in your country. They have obviously influenced cultural life there and there has clearly been some demand for them. In fact, some countries have extended legal deposit to include imported recordings.

This still is hardly sufficient. Only a fraction of all recordings issued are distributed outside their country of origin. The sound archives that want to build up systematically a collection of international recordings must also keep an eye on what is published in other countries.

Of course it is impossible to give universally acceptable guidelines for the planning of such a collection. Who is going to use the collection and for what purpose? Is it for students of music, folklorists, ethnomusicologists, historians or political scientists? Is the intention to build up a collection covering the history of Western art music, the main musical traditions of the world, the history of recorded sound or examples of the voices of famous historical and political figures? There are numerous possibilities. The choice should also take into account what other archives in the country, and perhaps also in neighbouring countries, are doing. Archives in Central Europe will probably have different goals from those, say, in South East Asia or in the Caribbean.
In any case, a sound archivist will probably soon find that he cannot rely too much on retail stores and importers in his own country, because they are not likely to be interested in obtaining one or two copies of some obscure recording. He-may, therefore, have to find suppliers abroad. If there are currency restrictions the best solution would probably be to establish exchange programmes with suitable foreign archives. This procedure is quite common among libraries. Even if there are no problems in obtaining foreign currency, finding the right suppliers may be quite complicated.

In some cases, the archivist should probably write direct to the record company. My experience is that many small record companies are quite happy to handle small postal orders. Large companies often sell wholesale only, however, or may be contractually prevented from selling direct to buyers in other countries (even if the appointed agent in their area does not stock the items required or refuses to accept small orders!).

Often the best solution is to find a reliable retailer who is willing to handle postal orders and go to some trouble to find unusual records. The prospects of finding a good supplier depend on the country, the types of recordings concerned and, obviously, also on the amount of money you are going to spend. A good way to get started is usually to look for advertisements in music or record trade periodicals and then place a small sample order.

Even then the archivist must know exactly what he is looking for. This involves finding out from periodicals, catalogues, and discographies (see section 7) what records are available and what their catalogue numbers are. It should be remembered that the same recording is often issued under different catalogue numbers in America and in Europe (often, even in different European countries, the numbers vary). Do not try to order out-of-print recordings from dealers who only sell current recordings. The previous section on historical recordings gives some hints on sources for out-of-print recordings.