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Massive archives tapped for a 'Soundtrack for the Century'

WorldBeat takes a walk through music history
Windows Media 28K 80K

September 24, 1999
Web posted at: 5:39 p.m. EDT (2139 GMT)

From Brooke Alexander
CNN WorldBeat Correspondent

NEW YORK (CNN) -- At the end of the last century, Columbia became the world's first recording company, almost by accident, when a group of Supreme Court reporters in Washington failed to market an early type of dictaphone. Instead, some bars customized the machines as an early type of jukebox -- and a business was born.

Today, the Columbia/Sony archive houses more than a quarter of a million titles released since 1950 alone, many of them irreplaceable artifacts of music history. Some 500 key musical moments were pulled from the vaults for a definitive look at this century in music: The 26-CD "Soundtrack for a Century," which is slated for release in October.

It's difficult to overstate how great a resource is contained within the archive. "This company is the only one, really, that goes all the way back to the beginning, that has been in continuous operation," says Steve Berkowitz, who's the co-executive producer of "Soundtrack."

Among the labels that have been marketed through Sony Music or CBS Radio over the years are Epic, OKeh, the American Recording Company and Brunswick.

And some of the century's most important artists are also in the Sony vaults -- Bob Dylan's 1962 audition tape is there, as is an original performance of Leonard Bernstein's "Rodeo," and Tony Bennett singing "That Old Black Magic."

There have been some challenges along the way -- the masters, some of them more than a century old, are in bad shape; the equipment to play them is fragile, if it exists at all; and the equipment to copy them is also difficult to find.

Yet as the company wraps up production on its massive -- and costly -- box set (the set is expected to retail for more than $300) -- its producers agree on one thing. "If a year from now," Berkowitz says, "or 10 years or 50 years or 200, 300 years from now, if someone wanted to know what music was like and what records were being made in the 20th century, this is the best document you can have."

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Sony Music 100 years: Soundtrack for the Century
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