January 1st, 2022 sees an estimated 400,000 sound recordings enter the public domain from before 1923.
At the start of every year we’re treated to a large selection of content entering the public domain as it reaches 100 years since release. Books, film recordings, and our favourite of all: music. This means that the ownership of this content is now in the public’s hands to do with as they wish.
If you’re wondering: Does this mean that I can legally sample any music now in the public domain? Yes you can, providing an amazing opportunity to take antique gold and transform it into something new within your music.
With over 400,000 sound recordings estimated to enter the public domain on January 1st, 2022 we can’t list them all here (sorry!) but we will break down a useful list of some of the notable entries.
Sound recordings entering the public domain in 2022
As mentioned, there are a huge swathe of recordings coming to the public domain on the 1st January, 2022. We explain why so many recordings are entering public domain at once this year further down below.
The ARSC (Association for Recorded Sound Collections) have surveyed their members to find their ten most notable recordings entering public domain in 2022. Seven experts whittled the selection down to 60 finalists which were refined to 10 pieces by ARSC members.
All genres and sound recording types were eligible. This means that classical pieces, blues and jazz, spoken word comedy or drama, and any other type of recording could have been shortlisted. Here are the ten most notable recordings according to the ARSC.
Mamie Smith and Her Jazz Hounds – Crazy Blues
Mamie Smith and her band – the Jazz Hounds – helped to shake up the record industry in the early days when race division was still prominent in the US and they helped to prove that consuming music was something for everyone. They weren’t the first successful Black artists in the US but at the time no matter who the music was created by, it was intended for White audiences.
Songwriter and pianist Perry Bradford wanted to prove that there was a Black audience for recorded music. Convincing Okeh Records of the idea in 1920, he fulfilled that dream with Mamie Smith – a star he felt had the goods to appeal to Black music consumers.
Crazy Blues went on to sell over a million records, using heavy promotion of the singer and her band’s race to emphasise that they were a Black artist. This bucked the trend and proved to record companies that Black music had huge potential and that Black America was an audience in itself. This helped lead the way to music being for everyone, whether it’s in who is buying the records or who is topping the charts with their tracks.
Original Dixieland Jass Band – Dixieland Jass Band One-Step
No, that’s not a typo (though they did change their name to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1917). With a debatable claim that they were the creators of Jazz, the Original Dixieland Jass Band undoubtedly played a large part in influencing its popularity.
They are certainly responsible for the first issued jazz record, released in May 1917. The single featured the immensely popular Livery Stable Blues on the A-Side and the aforementioned track Dixieland Jass Band One-Step as the B-Side.
The ARSC write of choosing the B-Side to feature as their chosen recording: “While Livery Stable Blues gets all the attention, the borrowed themes and manic fervour of the B-Side are what truly signify the beginning of the Jazz Age.”
Vess L. Ossman – Maple Leaf Rag
So-called ‘The Banjo King’, Ossman was highly influential in the early days of recorded music. He began recording in 1893 and became one of the most frequently recorded musicians of the time.
He made his final recordings in 1917 for Columbia Records, following which Ossman continued to tour and play without putting it to tape. He then died whilst on tour with B. F. Keith’s Vaudeville houses.
Maple Leaf Rag has to be his most notable recording and is likely still a recognisable tune to most ears to this day.
Fanny Brice – Second-Hand Rose
Now for something a little bit different. Fanny was a popular comedian of the time who combined her funnies with a talent for singing and acting. She was highly renowned and starred in many radio pieces, films, and stage performances.
This piece combines Brice’s musicality with her knack for comedy. The song details the life of a young woman whose life as the daughter of a second-hand salesman causes her great distress in her public affairs. Stick to near the end for a classic and charmingly hilarious pronunciation of “girlies”.
Sophie Tucker – Some of These Days
This Russian-born American woman had a similar talent for everything entertaining. A singer, comedian, actress, and radio personality, Tucker had a similar knack for musical comedy that was beloved at the time.
Tucker earned the nickname ‘The Last of the Red-Hot Mamas’ and became one of the most popular entertainers in the US. Whilst some of her comedy may not have aged well for modern audiences – though she would sabotage her own blackface shows, citing dislike for the work – there are timeless pieces within her work.
Pablo Casals – Bourée from Suite No. 3 in C composed by J. S. Bach
Regarded as one of the greatest cellist of all time, Pablo Casals (born Pau Casals i Defilló) is best renowned for his many beloved recordings of Bach’s suites. Coming long before his most famous recordings of the Bach Cello Suites between 1936 and 1939, this piece comes from his first recording sessions in 1915.
After this 1915 series of recordings for Columbia, Casals would not record again until 1926. This means whilst this and the others recorded during this session will become available in 2022 whilst his many other beloved recordings will still be under copyright lock and legal key for another few years.
This particular recording isn’t yet available on YouTube (it won’t be long) however you can find it here. Here is a later recording of Casals playing Bourrée I+II.
Enrico Caruso – Vesti La Giubba from Pagliacci
An esteemed operatic singer, Caruso’s legacy became international thanks to 247 recordings he made between 1902 to 1920. Caruso’s recordings of the aria (a composition created for one voice) Vesti la giubba made up some of the top-selling records of the early 78-rpm era with more than a million sales.
Whilst Caruso recorded this opera a number of times in his career, as the ARSC article mentions this earliest recording from 1902 is perhaps the most powerful version put to tape. Here it is with the later versions – so you can decide for yourself which is the most significant.
George W. Johnson – The Laughing Song
A former slave, Johnson holds claim to one of the earliest Black recordings surviving. He broke the accepted norms of the time from a young age, learning to read and write when it was still illegal for a Black child in Virginia to do so.
He rose to fame whistling popular melodies in New York and was picked up by two different phonograph companies for recording. One of these was the New York Phonograph Company which recorded his most famous recording in 1898: The Laughing Song.
His incredible ability to laugh in a musical pitch brought Johnson to lasting fame.
Bert Williams – Nobody
Bert Williams had a storied career that – among his long-standing entertainment career as a comedian and singer – also saw him take credit as the first Black man to have a leading role in a film: the 1914 Darktown Jubilee.
Williams also holds the accolade of the best-selling Black recording artist before 1920. Nobody was to become his signature track, recording it at least twice and performing it numerous times.
Nora Bayes – Over There
This classic song has been recorded numerous times and gained particular notoriety through the United States military. The patriotism of the song nurtured its growth in popularity to continue long after its inception in 1917 as the world wars incited a national spirit, the song offering public patriotism.
Over There has another notable recording from the aforementioned Enrico Caruso entering the public domain. This one features Nora Bayes, one of the earliest ‘media celebrities’ with a notorious private life and strong, independent views which saw her placed in the public eye a lot.
Bayes made over 160 recordings in her lifetime, this being one of the most notable.
Why are so many sound recordings entering the public domain in 2022?
Up until now, sound recordings themselves have not been made public domain when they reach their 100th year since creation. Sound recordings were only added to the US copyright law in 1972, leaving a question of whether sound recordings could be included 100 years from their inception or whether it applied from the date the law changed.
US copyright law has covered compositions since 1831, which includes the lyrics, chords, and melodies to a song. This means that any composition from over 100 years ago is free to be covered and re-recorded without legal questions by anyone.
When the sound recording law was changed in 1972, state laws suggested that no sound recording would become public domain until 2067. In 2018 the ‘Music Modernization Act’ brought all pre-1972 recordings under federal law with a plan for older recordings to be established by their date of release. This meant that these recordings would no longer be held by the date the law changed.
The date that will see these changes begin to take effect is 1st January, 2022. This means that the 1st January will see a huge collection (an estimated 400,000) of sound recordings from 1922 and earlier enter public domain.
The collection will include some of the earliest sound recordings and encompass content from opera, classical music, early blues, jazz, vaudeville, ragtime, popular songs, and spoken recordings such as comedy.
Can I use and sample public domain sound recordings in my music?
Yes, you can sample any sound recording that is in the public domain to your heart’s content. If you can ensure that a recording is in the public domain that means its ownership is as much yours as the original creators and owner.
This makes public domain recordings an incredible resource for artists looking for interesting pieces to chop and use in their music with full certainty of their legal rights.
The Library of Congress offers up all of the sound recordings which are available to the public free of charge at their National Jukebox. Before the 400,000 recordings being added in 2022, there are 10,000 recordings already available from the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1901 and 1925.
You can upload any music you’ve created using public domain sound recordings to Spotify, Apple Music, TIDAL, Amazon Music, YouTube Music, and many other music streaming services and download stores like iTunes and Qobuz with RouteNote.
Sign up for a free account with RouteNote and you can distribute as many tracks as you like whilst keeping 85% of your revenues. You can also upgrade to Premium at any time to keep 100% of your earnings for just a small upfront charge.
Find out more at www.routenote.com.