MusicDish e-Journal - December 12, 2018
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Who is More 'Culturally Significant': REM or Eminem?
The National Recording Preservation Act of 2000
By Margee Fagelson
(more articles from this author)
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On November 1, 2000 legislation was passed on in Congress establishing the first nationwide effort to preserve American sound recordings. Known colloquially as "The Grammy Bill," The National Recording Preservation Act of 2000 (H.R. 4846) will now go before President Clinton to be signed into law. The law was created as a way to ensure the safekeeping and preservation of "cultural, historical, or aesthetic significance" as stated in Section 103: SEAL OF THE NATIONAL RECORDING REGISTRY.

This bill was presented by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) but the recordings to be preserved will be selected by the Librarian of Congress and an appointed committee, of members from NARAS-suggested associations: (From Section 122: APPOINTMENT OF MEMBERS)

(A) National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS).
(B) Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
(C) Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC).
(D) American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).
(E) Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI).
(F) Songwriters Association (SESAC).
(G) American Federation of Musicians (AF of M).
(H) Music Library Association.
(I) American Musicological Society.
(J) National Archives and Record Administration.
(K) National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM).
(L) Society for Ethnomusicology.
(M) American Folklore Society.
(N) Country Music Foundation.
(O) Audio Engineering Society (AES).
(P) National Academy of Popular Music.
(Q) Digital Media Association (DiMA).
(b) OTHER MEMBERS- In addition to the members appointed under subsection (a), the Librarian may appoint not more than five members-at-large. The Librarian shall select an alternate for each member-at-large, who may attend at Board expense those meetings that the member-at-large cannot attend.

"For many years the Academy and the GRAMMY® Foundation have been working to educate the recording community and the public at large about the time sensitive issue of recorded media and technology at risk," said Michael Greene, President/CEO of the Recording Academy. "We applaud the efforts of Congressional members Thomas, Hoyer and Karen McCarthy, along with Senators Breaux and Thomas Daschle, who have joined together to pass the National Recording Preservation Act. The passage of this legislation is an important next step in saving our nation's sound legacy."

As I posed this question to my colleagues, several concerns arose. What happens to the sound recordings that the aforementioned committee members do not find culturally, historically or aesthetically significant? What happens if there are no death-metal fans on the board? Does all recorded content that is not deemed important enough, fall by the wayside forever forgotten? And what about those members of the industry who are not affiliated with these pre-selected associations? And then again, who's to say what is worth saving and what is not?

A contact at NARAS who could not go on record did tell me that their perception of this bill is that it is just the beginning and that it was based on the tenets maintained by the National Film Preservation Foundation. But when it's a law, how far will we have to go to amend it? How long will it take? Why is it better than the Museum of Television and Radio in New York City?

Of course, the RIAA had their two cents. "This legislation guarantees the preservation of American music for generations to come," said Hilary Rosen, president and CEO of the RIAA. "I'm happy that we could work with Congress to devise a way to promote the preservation of culturally significant sound recordings while protecting the rights of copyright owners."

I first looked at these press releases as a good thing...oh, yes recording protection and preservation...great! Naively, I thought they were going to protect this day and age, we have the technology. But then I got an email from a colleague, which made me realize what sort of danger we might be letting ourselves in for.

Jeremy Silver who created the role of Vice President, New Media for EMI Recorded Music; North America and later went on to found, had this to say: "It raises some fundamental questions about what is a culturally significant recording. The reality is that culture' and 'commerce' are very hard to disentangle in our society. The National Sound Archive in Britain used to keep a copy of every recording released commercially in the UK with no attempt to distinguish some from the others and say 'this REM recording is culturally significant but this Eminem recording isn't.' That sounds like a perilous exercise to me. Britain was ravaged by a high culture/low culture debate for many years - it's one of the things that is refreshing for a Brit like me living in the US, is that absence of that! Uplister is a far better recording registry than the NRR will ever be and we're global. Why would you ever trust a board 'of preservation experts, artists, various representatives of the music community and recording industry' when every music fan in the world can express themselves on Uplister..."

But where is the comment from Future of Music Coalition? And why aren't THEY being asked for a representative to join the board? And Artists Against Piracy and The Artists' Coalition, The Rap Coalition, Artists Without A Label...just to name a few?

Into whose hands are we leaving these decisions, otherwise? It's not just about the difference in opinion between Eminem and REM, but the difference between high and low culture, commercial and independent, mainstream and alternative, old and new, pop / rock / country / bluegrass / urban / latin / hiphop / salsa / big-band / classical / metal / rap / crossover / spoken word...

Are you listening, NARAS, Library/Libarian of Congress?? Yes, this is a start, but let's start off on something closer to a universal foot.


AF of M -
American Folklore Society -
American Musicological Society -
Artists Against Piracy -
Artists Without A Label -
Country Music Foundation -
DiMA -
Future of Music Coalition -
Music Library Association -
National Academy of Popular Music -
National Archives and Record Administration -
National Film Preservation Foundation -
Rap Coalition -
Society for Ethnomusicology - -

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