Archival Guidelines for the Music Publishing Industry

Article excerpt

The history of the music publishing industry resides not just in the printed scores, which have been assiduously collected by libraries for decades, but also in the business records of the companies and in the personal recollections of the professionals who comprise those companies. Today more and more publishing houses, large and small, are changing hands or leaving the scene entirely. In such circumstances, the time, expertise, and money needed to care for a firm's archives may not be easy to marshall internally, and the potential for outside assistance or cooperation may not be explored. Whenever old company records are put aside, dispersed, or discarded, another part of history, quite possibly embodying the lifework of generations of individuals, is in danger of disappearing forever. This regrettable outcome (and it is indeed a fact that the records of numerous music publishers have been irretrievably lost) is of great concern to historians of music and culture, to librarians whose responsibility it is to preserve historical documents and make them accessible, and to a growing number of music publishers who see their own heritage threatened.

As understood in these guidelines, a music publishing archive is a systematic documentary record of a music publishing company: its activities, publications, history, and people - both its employees and the composers whose works have been published. Archives have both practical and cultural values. A well-maintained archive is, first of all, an indispensable part of an active publishing enterprise. Contracts, records of copyrights, royalties, licenses and fees, other legal and financial papers, back files of published music, and correspondence - all are essential to the conduct of daily business. In the event of mergers or acquisitions, orderly documentation is a positive element in a company's saleable value. Archives also offer source material for promotion and public relations: for example, advertising, anniversary events, journalistic profiles, etc.

There is also a wider cultural importance in archives, in that historical understanding depends fundamentally on documents that are handed down from one generation to the next. The present guidelines, therefore, are not concerned merely with the custodianship of old files but with the building of a legacy. Ideally, these guidelines will promote the formation of quality archives through the concerted effort of all interested parties - companies, donors, repositories, and scholars - and through a mutual recognition that the same documents may be valued very differently by different people at different times.(2) It is to all these constituencies that these guidelines are addressed. By acting now we can give our descendants the means fully to understand their past.

THE FUNCTIONAL APPROACH

These guidelines adopt a "functional" methodology towards understanding and organizing archives. Technological change combined with the unprecedented volume of documentation being produced by most institutions today have impelled archivists to rethink some long-established ideas and practices. Where traditionally archivists used administrative structure as the lens through which to view the entire entity, the functional viewpoint examines the different activities of an institution as a means to understand the whole. It is the evidence of those functions that consequently forms the documentary record, which ultimately comprises the archive.(3)

The framework for these guidelines, then, is a list of six generic functions, those typical of the music publishing industry as a whole. (indeed, the guidelines could theoretically be applied as well to the entire industry as to individual publishers). Even so, not every function will carry equal weight in each specific environment. In determining what is to be collected and saved by a given publisher, an archival plan should reflect the relative importance of generic functions to the specific institution, and set priorities accordingly. …