Wondering what to do with old gramophone records?

Metrolife brings you advice from archivists and music collectors in Bengaluru
Last Updated 17 August 2021, 08:16 IST

If you are trying to find a way to give away old music records, you have two choices: sell them to a shop or donate them to an archive.

Vikram Sampath, historian and author, launched Archive of Indian Music (AIM) in 2011, a private non-profit trust, to digitise and preserve old and rare Indian gramophone records.

The digitised collection is available online on Soundcloud, for free. The channel has 4.5 lakh followers.

“In 2010, when I was working on the biography of Gauhar Jaan, one of India’s first record artists, I wanted to listen to her voice and analyse it. But it was just impossible to find records from 1902 in good condition. And even if we did find the records, finding the right equipment to play them was the problem,” he says.

Vikram realised that while other countries such as Germany, Austria and the United Kingdom had a centralised sound archive, India lacked one.

He then took it upon himself to establish an archive for Indian historical music, to make it available for free. He raised seed capital with help from well-wishers.

“Over the last 10 years, we have collected almost 15,000 gramophone records. While we got several donations from people who no longer wanted to keep their records, we also sourced a huge chunk from chor bazaars and junk and scrap collectors across the country,” he says. So far, AIM has digitised 7,000 records. “The process requires quite a bit of time and effort. Currently, it’s just me and a technician working on digitisation. Also, the pandemic has slowed down the process,” he adds. AIM has also begun archiving living music traditions on the verge of extinction.

Time-consuming work

Sahana Mohan, head of collections, Indian Music Experience (IME), says converting a record from analog to digital is time-consuming. The organisation took up the project of digitising the work of violinist and composer Mysore T Chowdiah and launched an online archive last year.

“We have over 10,000 hours of music and would love to digitise it. But the process requires resources we do not have right now,” she says.

IME, with an office in JP Nagar, has stopped taking records from the public due to a lack of resources.

Govt intervention

Sahana believes the government should take up the responsibility of creating a centralised repository of music.

“Like many countries, India should have its own national archive of music. Most archivists who work independently do not make their collections available to the public. If the government took up the initiative, it would make the music available for all,” she says.

Gajendra Khanna, archivist and collector, agrees that efforts need to be made at an institutional level.

“Working independently, there is little that an individual can do due to copyright claims. We need a larger organisation to speed up archiving and digitisation before we lose more of our cultural heritage and history,” he says.

A few days ago, he received a message from a man looking to sell his father’s huge record collection. “This is a common sight. If people don’t find good buyers, the records eventually end up at a junkyard,” he says.

As a member of the Society of Indian Record Collectors, he holds listening sessions once a month. The idea is to build a community of like-minded people.

“The sessions have shifted online due to the pandemic. But sessions like these are important as they help us connect with the history of music and music that might otherwise be dying out,” he says.

Maintenance tips

Musician and collector Jonathan Freer recommends cleaning vinyl records with distilled water and isopropyl alcohol. “Once you clean them, you might have to let the records play twice or thrice before you can get clearer audio out of them. There are some facilities that offer vinyl cleaning and preserving services, but not in Bengaluru,” he says. Vinyls can be cleaned with isopropyl alcohol, but not shellac records. “Clean shellacs only with water and very mild detergents. These records are way more fragile than vinyl records. One wrong move and they break into pieces,” says Gajendra. The records must be kept in proper sleeves to avoid any damage. Jonathan believes the true essence of a recording is lost when it is converted from analog to digital. “As a collector, it is best to preserve and maintain the records in their original form. It takes time and effort, but it can be done,” he says.

Who takes records?

Blossoms Book House, Church Street, Seethaphone Company, Avenue Road, and Rams Musique, MG Road, buy old records. If the condition is good, you get Rs 150 to Rs 200 a record. To donate records to The Archive of Indian Music, contact vikram.sampath@gmail.com

(Published 13 July 2021, 18:35 IST)

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