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Early Sound Recording Research

Selected resources for commercial sound recordings & the history of the recorded sound industry through the 78rpm disc era

Getting started

This guide focuses primarily on commercial (published) sound recordings and documents that can be useful in researching the early recorded sound industry. It includes the following types of resources, which cover approximately the period between 1885 and 1960:

•    digitized versions of original recordings (for listening/analyzing content)
•    systematic catalogs of published sound recordings called discographies (useful for examining output of labels or performers, as well as finding information about personnel, recording date/location & relevant issue numbers: catalog, matrix & take)

•    new release catalogs published by record companies (useful for dating releases, discovering unknown or unissued titles, and compiling discographies)

•    early industry/trade magazines (useful for examining early technologies, repertoire and the recording & phonograph industries)

Questions? Contact Peter Laurence

Find recordings

A large number of early sound recordings have been digitized and can be accessed online; this section covers both disc and cylinder recordings. See below for a good place to start; other examples can be found on the Recordings page.

Find discographies

Discographies are systematic catalogs of published sound recordings focused on a performer, composer, record label, musical genre or country. They can include useful data on performers, titles, composers, recording date/location, matrix & take numbers, label & catalog numbers, and reissues. See below for a good place to start; other examples can be found on the Discographies page.

Find catalogs

Catalogs contain listings for new releases issued by a record company at a given point in time (monthly, annual, seasonal). These are important because business records of early companies have rarely survived. Listings can include entries for records no one has seen, or records that were never actually issued. See below for a good place to start; other examples can be found on the Catalogs page.

Find industry magazines

Early sources that provide a wealth of information on technological developments, recorded repertoire and the history of the recording & phonograph industries. See below for a good place to start; other examples can be found on the Industry magazines page.