Audio Preservation Standards and Best Practices
It's a good idea to keep up with the standards and best practices for audio preservation. Although recorded sound has been around for a long time, the changes in standards and best practices are becoming more frequent. Audio preservation is hardly a static - or stagnant - area of development.
The importance of standards is that they establish uniformity among practitioners within a field. For audio preservation, this specifically means that preservation work will meet an acceptable minimum standard for quality, associated information (metadata), and compatibility for future digital migration.
In addition to standards, best practices have been developed by audio preservation experts so that everyone involved in preserving sound recordings can benefit from their knowledge and experience by applying the processes and procedures that best protect the original analog media and also produce the best possible digital proxy for preservation.
Both standards and best practices are constantly evolving. This is especially true as digital technology and standards rapidly change. In addition, new technology, techniques and tools for handling and processing the original analog media are being developed, providing improved playback or longer life to the analog originals.
If you are writing a preservation grant or RFP (Request for Proposal) for music, oral histories or other sound recordings, it is especially important to understand the standards and best practices. Granting organizationsn will want to know that you are using the latest standards and best methods for preservation. And if you are vetting preservation vendors for your RFP, you will want to know that they are, too.
The documents to reference for guidance on standards and best practices in audio preservation are:
IASA-TC 04 (web, PDF, print)
The current gold standard for audio preservation standards and best practices as published by IASA (International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives). IASA-TC 04 is a great overview and introductory document to sound preservation and should be required reading for everyone involved in preserving audio. There is not a lot of technical jargon in IASA-TC 04, which makes it appropriate reading for collection managers and non-technical staff.
GRAMMY Foundation Methodology (pdf)
Although best known for their new music awards (the GRAMMY Awards), The Recording Academy via The GRAMMY Foundation is very active in preserving recorded music. The GRAMMY Foundation produces this succinct 4-page document that outlines the essentials and highlights critical elements of an effective preservation program. The Recording Academy Producers and Engineers Wing (P&E Wing) are responsible for assembling this document, and they deserve special recognition for their frequent updates to this document (last revision is May 2008). Together with the above IASA documents, this GRAMMY Foundation document rounds out what we consider minimum reading for audio preservation.
Recording Academy - Producers and Engineers Wing (P&E Wing)
You will find a variety of technical documents describing best practices for sound recordings in general. The focus is not so much on archiving sound recordings, but rather music production (after all, this is what the members of the Recording Academy do, they produce music). Nonetheless, there are valuable lessons to be learned in these documents. In particular, we recommend reading:
Recommendation for Delivery of Recorded Music Projects 2008
which covers archiving and storage of digital audio files. If anything, the 6-page Glossary of Terms at the end (pages 13-19) is quite useful.
Sound Directions - Best Practices for Audio Preservation
This 168-page document is highly technical and documents the results of an NEH-funded research and development project that was a collaboration between Indiana University and Harvard University. The Audio Archive is proud to have participated in Sound Directions in the area of analog playback (section 188.8.131.52.2 Field Discs, page 25).
Although the document is called "Best Practices", it also includes descriptions of workflows that are specific to the operations of either Indiana University or Harvard University.
Unless you are highly technical, be very careful how you use this document in grant applications or RFPs for preservation.
EBU Broadcast Wave Format (BWF) user guide
A good overview of the Broadcast Wave Format in mostly plain English, and is presented in a FAQ (Format Asked Questions) format. Most importantly, it includes a description of the <bext> chunk fields for metadata. If you don't know what a <bext> chunk is, you should read this document so that you, too, can speak BWF.
EBU Broadcast Wave Format (BWF) <coding history> field
Includes examples of how the <coding history> field in the BWF should be written.
EBU Broadcast Wave Format (BWF) <OriginatorReference> USID field
Includes examples of how the <OriginatorReference> field in the BWF should be written. The USID (Unique Source Identfier) is often used in conjunction with a database, and provides a unique handle to the audio file, and is an alternative to the actual filename. The USID can be machine generated, but this document provides a recommended scheme for generating the USID that is human readable.
EBU Broadcast Wave Format (BWF) definition
If you think in terms of bytes and field lengths, this is the document for you. It also includes a very good appendix describing the underlying WAVE-RIFF format. Highly technical. We love it.
Manual of Analogue Audio Restoration Techniques by Peter Copeland (2.56 MB, September 2008)
Quoting Will Prentice of the British Library:
"...this is not a straightforward guide to best practice, but a rich collection of history, detailed research, opinion, speculation, etc. put together by its author over a period of years. There's plenty to think about, and plenty to discuss."
Be sure to read the brief introduction to the document found on the British Library website.