The highlight of my whirlwind trip to Seattle for the Experience Music Project Pop Conference was not an early morning run around Lake Union, past dewy purple wildflowers and toddling goslings in perfect 55 degree weather. But that was pretty freakin nice. The EMP crowd is smart, thoughtful, passionate and a whole lot of fun. Since I spend most of my work days in the trenches, that is, in my windowless mastering studio with the door shut, the lights low, and the music loud, the opportunity to talk to people about music, and especially about music archiving, was invigorating and inspiring. My panel on The Geography of Music Archiving looked at how place and space inform the process of archiving and presenting historic musical materials. For me, that means what I look for when I'm in a basement filled with boxes of tapes and memorabilia, what I listen for when I'm transferring decades worth of recordings by the same artist, what I hope to make you feel when I master and restore a collection recordings by a single artist or from a single venue, as I did for the Caffe Lena Box Set. (The highest praise I received in reviews of that box set was that listeners felt transported to that tiny room in upstate New York).
My fellow panelists had terrific stories about their experiences in archiving. Biographer and journalist Charles Cross told us about reading Kurt Cobain's diaries and trying to understand the man. Holly George-Warren showed us the earliest television footage of Alex Chilton performing The Letter with the Box Tops, and, man, could that teenager sing. Kevin Strait told us about pushing Chuck Berry's Cadillac across the lawn and into a moving truck to have it delivered to the the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture (slated to open in 2015). And moderator Timothy Anne Burnside held it all together for us.
What I most wanted to convey to the (admittedly modest-in-size) audience is simply that there are lots of ways to deal with audio archives, and there are people and organizations who can help. It's not just a matter of donating to the Library of Congress and locking everything in a climate control room, or selling piecemeal on eBay, or ignoring the boxes of audio and visual recordings gathering dust in basements and closets. There are ways to find funding when no money for preservation exists. There can be multiple streams of presentations, both non-commercial and (revenue generating) commercial. Just ask my Magic Shop colleague Jocelyn Arem how she did it with the Caffe Lena archives. All it took was twelve years of sending emails, making phone calls, weathering rejection, and then, eventually, winning a lot of grants and finding the right partners to make it happen. Piece of cake.
I hope the audience got that. And I also hope they got a chance to pose in the Iron Throne, which was in the Experience Music Project Museum as part of an exhibition on fantasy.