This is a time of transition, musically speaking, at the Internet Archive..
Our online digital library is best known for its immense archive of web pages and websites in the Wayback Machines. Less well known are the million-plus recordings the site has stored digitally and made available to the general public, mostly from 78s, albums and CDs.
Highlighting the growing importance of music on archive.org is the debut this month of our new music player. While you can listen to only a sample of most modern songs, the new player now embeds Spotify and YouTube versions of the full song, so listeners are now able to click right from archive.org to those services and listen to the full track. Examples: https://archive.org/details/cd_ultimate-santana_santana-alex-band-of-the-calling-baby-bash and https://archive.org/details/cd_the-big-picture_big-l-2pac-a.g.-big-daddy-kane-fat-joe-gur
We’ve digitized at high resolution the album liner notes, including full CD booklets and the paper labels on the discs themselves. And at the bottom of each page are lists of related music tracks – covers, other versions of the same song done by the same artist and compilations where that song has been used.
“It’s exploratory; it’s not exact,” said Internet Archive’s Brenton Cheng, who is at the head of the product team engineering the new music player. “The system uses each song’s acoustic ‘thumbprint’ to match it with songs in other services. The goal here is to start engaging with the music.”
“With our related music tracks listed down below, you are going to be exploring and discovering items, covers and versions that you didn’t know existed before. I think now we’re doing a better job of presenting the content that we have, and then helping people discover more.”
As streaming services gain popularity, the rich fountain of information found on album covers and CD liner notes is in danger of being lost. The Internet Archive seeks to fill that void by preserving the entire package that makes for a deeper musical experience. Now exploring those covers is right there in the music player itself.
“I think our presentation experience has until now not been as much of a focus as our gathering of materials from different sources,” Cheng said. “So now we are really trying to take time and check with our users, finding out who’s using the site and what they need. And we’re trying to present better experiences for exploring, consuming and searching for content.”