The process of making these mixes mainly involves trawling the web, for information and for MP3s. Often it’s a frustrating business as obviously there are no sites specifically set up for someone who needs things in exactly the way I do, but the sheer amount of stuff out there is often so much as to be overwhelming.
Sites with downloadable audio files
Firstsounds.org – This is where it all starts. In-depth exploration of the earliest recorded sounds. The first couple of mixes are unavoidably mainly sourced from this site
UCSB Cylinder Audio Archive – The single best place to source mp3s of early recordings, a vast collection of well-transferred MP3s, the only problem I have here is that there is simply too much there for me to deal with after around 1905
78 RPMs and Cylinder Recordings at Archive.org – An even larger archive, with a slightly more effective search engine. Slightly worse than UCSB as open source means contributions vary a great deal in quality. Also home to the dreaded Grim Ripper and his horrifically restored, completely useless digitisations.
The Cylinder Archive Collection Site at Archive.org – Much better quality control and quality ripping, but a much smaller selection of tracks available, now seems to have been included in the main collection, so no need to search twice.
Russian Records – Starting from 1900 a vast depository of unheard Russian discs – such a treasure trove of things not covered elsewhere, 90% is unremarkable recordings of opera, but when you find a gem there it’s like nothing else. The search is effective if you can get the hang of its bizarre quirks, especially in regard to the tagging of files.
Free Music Archive – Old Time / Historical – Well-curated site with submissions from the Antique Phonograph Music Program at WFMU. A shame that the search function is awful.
Century-Old Sounds – A suspiciously similar name, but I only discovered this site last year, honest! A great selection of rippings from an immense personal archive, I would have used it more if it were more easily searchable by year.
Emile Berliner and the Birth of the Recording Industry – A nice little collection of Berliner discs
Cylinders On The Web – Apparently a site from the 90s with lossy realplayer downloads, nonetheless the most comprehensive list of pre-1890 recordings I can find anywhere
Tinfoil.com – A very nice, if ancient-looking site about the production of cylinder music with a “cylinder of the month” posted since 1996! Naturally these are in a lossy realplayer format, but they are at least easy to sample before buying.
Cyberbee – Edison Cylinder Recordings – An educational site, this has an apparently random collection of ripped cylinders.
First World War Audio – A smaller collection, but a well-curated one.
Sites useful for research
Rateyourmusic – The project started with the making of a gigantic spreadsheet of the best tracks for each year, genre and country – something I couldn’t get anywhere else. The taste of the userbase is what it is – better the earlier you get. A tip for using the site is that you can get charts for before 1900 by doing another search and changing the URL manually. Also features an insanely comprehensive list of the first sound recordings.
Acclaimed Music – Another source for the spreadsheet, “The Most Recommended Recordings Based on Thousands of Critics’ Lists” – so a look into the canon, as it stands
Tsort – The third source for the spreadsheet, a collation of yearly charts based upon a wide variety of sources, both commercial and critical. Very glad that this is in existence.
Peelenium – I’m a huge fan of JP, and am sure the Peelenium – a selection of tracks for every year from 1900 to 1999 – had some sort of subconscious influence on the creation of this site. But I’m sad to report that not only are the dates for the early years massively off (six-minute clearly electronic recordings with a live audience for 1901 for example!) but the misinformation has so polluted the waters that finding the true dates is usually impossible
Discography of American Historical Recordings – the best place to get ridiculously in-depth recording discographies, often this is the only place I can find out when something was recorded or released
Discogs / Musicbrainz – As I get further into the the 20th century these will become very important for checking dates
US Library of Congress National Jukebox – A really frustrating site as I can listen to a massive collection of early recordings, but search is awful and you can only stream and not download.
British Library Audio Archive – I love you British Library, but your website is sadly useless for my purposes, not searchable by year and can’t find any downloads.
The Public Domain Review – a very nicely presented, easily searchable site with links to relevant public domain media. I always check this site, but rarely use anything from it.
Silent Era – Early Sound Films – a comprehensive list of pre-1927 sound films. There are a lot of them.
50 Records That Matter, 1900-1919 – This is the most accessible introduction to the pre-jazz era that I can find anywhere, and I’d advise anyone vaguely interested to give it a look.