If you’ve been doing music a while, you’ll find that you have somewhere about your house, boxes of cassette tapes and quarter-inch reels full of jam sessions, recorded gigs, experiments, “demo” recordings, band practices and other bits and pieces of your music-related outpourings.

Generally speaking, most people consider these too good to throw away, and not good enough to let anyone else hear them. Either the performances were off, the sound quality was awful, the singer was dire on that session, it was a slightly different line-up of the band, you were still learning your instrument, you were just mucking around… or whatever.

Digitise it. Digitise it all.

Do whatever it takes to get that stuff into a computer and save it. Then back it up – online, offsite, separate hard drive – whatever. You don’t have to share it – but you do have to keep it. And those cassettes and old reel to reel tapes are degrading over time. That stuff’s more important than you give it credit for.

The same goes for the MD, DAT and ADAT tapes that you no longer listen to or have any use for. Those are not formats that are always going to be easily replayable. They are the 5″ floppy discs of the music world.

There are three main reasons to do all this:

1) The Long Tail / 1000 Fans
The logic of the long tail is that you need to make EVERYTHING available. The more stuff you put out there, the more stuff you’ll sell. That, at any rate, is the theory. And Kevin Kelly reckons that if you play your cards right, some folks will buy ANYTHING you put out. Perhaps.

I guess as long as you mark the rehearsals as such and maybe write some notes and include some photos that give the material context, your ‘not for human consumption’ recordings could actually pay for your next beer. It’ll make a good series of blog posts at the very least.

2) Archiving
Your music is not just a private thing, but part of your culture and heritage. Whether you should get together with other musicians from your area, collect as much music-making activity as you can muster and donate it to your local library or university – or whether you just want your grandchildren to be able to enjoy a laugh at your expense one day – this stuff is worth preserving.

A friend of mine is putting together an archive of music from Birmingham (new site launching soon, folks) and has just come into possession of a box of old demo recordings from the 80s. Absolute gold dust. Never seen him happier.

But mostly, despite the fact that you never listen to them, just think of how you’d feel if you could never listen to them ever again. Digital storage is abundant and cheap, backups are easily made and you never know – going through all that stuff again might spark some great new ideas or bring up some forgotten old ones.

3) Therapy
You’re probably way too precious about your recordings. What you release as ‘professional works’ in the form of albums or single downloads is not the sum total of the value you create for others. The age of the aloof, perfectionist, inaccessible star is, thankfully, mostly over.

If you don’t want people to hear your music until it’s as pure as it can be, then chances are you have confidence issues to work through. Nothing’s going to knock that out of you faster than letting everyone hear how crap you were when you started out. Or what your music sounds like through one microphone in a rehearsal room.

I’m not claiming this is true in every instance (Cursor Minor and Daft Punk are exempt here), but to a large extent, people connect to musicians because of their qualities as human beings almost as much as they do for their music. Be prepared to be a bit human in public.

This is not to replace your professional recordings. It’s interesting context, background, extra material. Think of it as providing the audio equivalent of a director’s commentary on a DVD. Hardly essential, but people always like to know it’s there if they want to delve deeper.

[Okay – so making it public’s not compulsory – but give it some thought. The important thing here is that you get it into some form that will last longer than the ferrous oxide particles will stay on that old plastic tape…]

Getting it done
It’s probably going to be a big job. You don’t have to do it all at once. Could you do a tape a week for the next couple of years?

It’s possible that you may get volunteers.
Do you have fans? Can they help?
Do you have teenage children? Do they need cash for PC games?
Have you tried putting students to work?
What about outsourcing using Elance or Guru?

[PS: The same goes for photos. Scan them all.]

How many old tapes do you actually have lying around? Any gems in there? What treasures lie forgotten in your attic? Have you done anything interesting with your old stuff? Let us know in the comments.