Monday, June 2, 2008

KCRW's Record Library Digitization Project

It's pretty astonishing to me that Los Angeles-area college/public radio station KCRW (Santa Monica College) has made so much progress in digitizing its music library. So far they've digitized 50,000 CDs, 15,000 vinyl albums (including material from as far back as the 1940s), and 1200 live KCRW performances. Not only is KCRW lucky to have funding and sponsors for its digitization project, but they also employ a music librarian to oversee the collection. Starting this month they will be highlighting special selections from the music library over the air and on their website. You can also see a short documentary about their record library (used to help them pitch for funds to preserve it) on their website.

Like many stations, KCRW has rare recordings that they would like to preserve for the future. No doubt some of these are on dying formats like reel-to-reel tape, cassettes, DAT and carts (not all that long ago my current station still played the 8-trackesque cart), which may not even have playback equipment in studios anymore.

Additionally, KCRW encounters the same space issues that most college stations have to deal with: too many records, not enough storage. I've worked at places with an appreciation for vinyl and CDs, which means that with each passing week more and more material has to somehow get squeezed into shelves that are already jam-packed with material. Other stations probably address the space issue by just not adding CDs or vinyl, instead acquiring music primarily in digital formats. At some stations there may even be DJs who do entire shows without touching CDs or vinyl records.

How does your station archive its music? Do you purge things from your record library to make room for new items? Do you digitize music? Do you regularly acquire mp3s for DJs to play or do you primarily play vinyl and CD recordings? How would you feel about switching to an all-digital format?


Jon Schleuss said...

You know, it's kinda nice to have a wacky assortment of equipment for DJs to use. We recently upgraded our sound board to something with more I/Oputs.

We still have one turntable, an audio in plug, a computer, and two CD players. It's pretty minimal, but it gets the job done.

From what I can tell a lot of stations are low on funding and making the switch to digital is tuff. With shipping costs climbing higher and higher, more promotions companies are servicing us "digitally" through email. This sucks for us, because we don't have a great way of getting it in front of DJs. They really just prefer the good old CD.

One day we will all have to go digital, but I'm happy delaying it to the last moment.

Anonymous said...

The problem for me is how to make digital archiving for massive collections usable. Do you have a library browser for it? I know what working with traditional automation is like, but when you're dealing with thousands of songs from multiple genres - how do you make that both easily browsed and able to change the playlist on the fly. At least with CDs, I can preview one cut while playing the other off the computer. Seems a bit harder to do on a traditional digital system.

Dan Steele
Northland Friends of Music

Jon Schleuss said...


Right now KSCL uses WireReady for automation purposes. It's a great system with good customer service. However, for doing live shows, we've got to find something else.

I have envisioned just using basic software like iTunes, which theoretically would allow you to sort by genre, create specific playlists (new music, etc.), and edit those playlists on the fly. The good thing with iTunes is, so many people are already familiar with the system. Maybe one day, maybe.

When I visited KLPI in March Blake Hosli, their manager, gave me a couple companies: Next Gen (for automation) and Music Gen (aggregates playlists for 2 weeks). I haven't checked out these services, so I don't know what protocol one would have to follow.

One day it'll all get done.

Ryan said...

There are quite a few industries getting interested in large scale digitization projects. I helped KCRW with the vinyl side of the "Save the Music" effort and there are some great articles about what else is going on in the field at