The ARChive of Contemporary Music (ARC) is a not-for-profit archive, music library and research center located in New York City since 1985.
ARC contains more than three million sound recordings. That’s 90 + million songs. We preserve copies of each version of every recording, in all known formats, and have electronically catalogued more than 400,000 sound recordings and digitized 200,000 with out partners the Internet Arcive – more than any other public, university or private library in America. ARC also houses more than three million pieces of attendant support material including photographs, videos, DVDs, books, magazines, press kits, sheet music, ephemera and memorabilia.
The value of ARC’s collection is not only in the rareness of many of our recordings, but in the breadth, size and organization of the collection. For every signed and unique copy of an early Rolling Stones LP, there are hundreds of relevant, formative, relatively unknown recordings that contributed to its creation, and thousands that benefit from its existence.
What we do
The ARChive collects, preserves and provides information on the popular music of all cultures and races throughout the world from 1950 to the present.
The ARC grows daily as hundreds of record companies, publishers, distributors, collectors, artists and music fans from around the world donate new materials to the ARC. In addition to sound recordings the ARChive actively collects all books, magazines, videos, films, photographs, press kits, newspapers clippings, memorabilia and ephemera relating to the history of popular music. We also maintain a variety of informational databases other than those on recordings and books, notably our Music Index of 52,000+ people working in the music industry.
Our databases and collection are source material for a great many research services and projects, from small, like finding a song for the Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball, to massive, using our collection to scan cover art for inducted recordings at the new Grammy Hall of Fame and Museum in LA. The Music Industry database was used to help launch Entertainment Weekly Magazine.
We are not open to the general public. The permanent, non-circulating collection is currently available through telephone searches, to research members comprised of the press and entertainment industry, and to individuals for special projects. A goal of the ARC is to one day allow students, educators, historians, musicians, authors, journalists, and the general public access to the rich musical heritage of the past.
From 2009 – 2013 ARC partnered with Columbia University to create a Music hub, the project abandoned with the economic slowdown. Luckily we then began our current partnership with the Internet Archive allowing us to help create massive digitizing projects, first with books and then the Great78project. It remains a goal to create a Center for Popular Music in New York to help with the study, understanding and enjoyment of popular music from all over the world.
Our interest in music from other cultures has led us to create a series of day-long, and then week-long online and live events. These public events began with an exploration of the music of the greater Muslim world, then Brazil, India, Cuba and in 2019, Scandinavia. Look for more events in the future as we present gallery exhibitions, talks and performances at our Tribeca space.
Why the ARChive?
The ARChive was established because for decades the recording industry had neglected the preservation of it’s own heritage, and over the years many irreplaceable recordings and artifacts have been misplaced or destroyed. Even as the new medium of CDs placed many out of print recordings back in circulation, many re-issues have different or truncated material, and many CDs themselves are already out of print. When we began the recording industry was doing little to preserve its own heritage, as the film industry recently did after realizing that nearly half of all films produced before 1950 have been lost. The 21st century heralds the demise of the object in any form; even more reason for the scrupulous preservation of original releases of musical works.
In general libraries and sound archives have also been slow or resistant to preserving emerging popular music. Most considered popular music “commercial” and therefore less worthy of saving–or more able to survive on its own. The ARChive is America’s first non-affiliated popular music archive. We believe that all forms of popular music — jazz, be-bop, bluegrass, country, rock, rap, blues, enka, reggae, calypso, zydeco, zouk and countless others — are important culturally. Not only do they entertain, they reveal to the world a great deal about a people and their values.
Who we are
The ARChive of Contemporary Music was founded by B. George, the current director, and David Wheeler (1957-1997).
The collection is maintained by Senior Archivist Fred Patterson. Archivist in charge of our book scanning, interns and Tech projects is Bill Levay. Those pesky day to day things are done by volunteers from the community and interns from many different schools and universities.
We are managed, supported and counseled by a variety of Boards. Members are listed on your right, and here are links to our working Board of Trustees and honorary Board of Advisors. ARC’s Board in development is the Players Association, our entry level Board of movers and shakers.
Our Who we are page offers bios on principals and everyone involved in building the ARC.
Legal : To collect, preserve and provide information on the popular music of all cultures and races throughout the world, produced from 1945 to the present.
Theoretical : There is a wonderful short story by Emmanuel Boundzeki Dongala called “Jazz and Palm Wine.” In it, the earth is invaded from Outer Space and the advanced ships land in Zaire. Aliens conquer the world. Spacemen explore the various cultures and societies on this planet and decide, quite rightly, that the only things of value are palm wine, a West African intoxicant, and Jazz… read more >>
Passionate : by David Byrne. “I PICTURE A LIBRARY LIKE SITUATION, WHERE THE STAFF, INSTEAD OF BEING QUIET, THEY MAKE A LOT OF NOISE–DANCING IN THE AISLES”… read more >>