Over the years, music has been stored on media of different sizes, shapes and materials. Many of the original recordings of pop, rock, jazz and blues are collectible items that can fetch high prices at auction.
Vintage 78 rpms in shellac, vinyl LPs, cassettes and compact discs all require careful maintenance and storage.
However, extensive music collections typically take up a lot of space. They’re also easily damaged and may attract dirt and dust when stashed haphazardly at home.
If you’re serious about preserving your music collection in its original form, there are steps you can take to extend its lifespan and intrinsic value.
Shellac gramophone records
Before the 1950s, recordings were largely made on inflexible discs manufactured from shellac, an organic resin secreted by insects. Although durable, shellac records can crack and break when dropped or stored incorrectly.
You can maintain the longevity of these sought-after classics with regular cleaning and proper storage techniques.
The best way to clean a shellac record is with a soft damp cloth, moved gently in the same direction as the grooves. This will generally remove any dust or dirt build-up. If necessary, you can add diluted dishwashing liquid to the process.
The record should be either air dried or dried with a soft cloth and then deposited in a new plastic sleeve.
Shellac records are highly susceptible to damage due to damp, moisture and heat. Ideally, you should store them in a clean, dust-free and climate-controlled storage space. Avoid cellars, attics or garages, which are magnets for dust, dirt and mould.
The best way to store the records is to arrange them vertically in a sealable container. Ensure they are standing upright and against each other. Steer clear of cardboard record boxes because they attract moths, silver fish and other pests that can ruin an entire collection.
Vinyl became the material of choice for recordings after World War II. Long-playing records, or LPs, manufactured from vinyl discs improved the quality of recordings tenfold.
Although more flexible than shellac, vinyl is easily damaged by heat, dust, humidity and exposure to direct sunlight or UV rays. The best way to protect your LPs is to clean them on a regular basis, especially prior to storage.
Anti-static cleaning solutions remove dust and grime quickly and efficiently, and should be applied with a lint-free cotton or muslin cloth. For the best results, wipe the disc in a circular motion, working from the inside out or vice versa.
Be sure to select a storage space that is dry and dust free, or your mint condition music collection may well become warped and unplayable.
Store the LPs upright in new, high-density polyethylene sleeves rather than in their original sleeves or boxes, which may contain chemicals capable of eroding the discs. Also choose storage containers manufactured from acid-free cardboard, plastic or wood. It’s important to avoid metal because its static effect can destroy recordings.
If handled carefully and properly maintained and stored, gramophone records can last 100 years or more.
Never store short or long-playing records, whether shellac, vinyl or polystyrene, on top of each other. Particles of dust or sand, record sleeves and the central labels can damage the records directly above and below them by creating impressions on the playing surface.
Pre-recorded music cassettes became popular in the 1960s. Although replaced by CDs thirty years later, many music fans have retained the originals as classic collectibles filled with memories.
Music on cassette is recorded on reel to reel magnetic tape enclosed in a protective plastic casing. When storing cassettes, it’s important to remember that any live electrical appliances can destroy your music collection by wiping out the recordings.
Prior to storage, clean each cassette tape with purpose-manufactured tape-cleaning fabric, which attracts dust and dirt on the surface. Also, ensure that you fast forward and rewind each tape a couple of times so that it is wound evenly onto the reels.
Deposit each cassette in an acid-free protective case and then store all the cassettes vertically in plastic containers or cardboard boxes, ideally at a room temperature of around 21 degrees Celsius. A cool, dry, dust-free environment with zero humidity is ideal for storing music cassettes.
CDs reached their zenith in 2007 when more than 200 billion were sold worldwide. Although they’re rapidly being replaced by digital technologies, polycarbonate plastic CDs are still popular with original music collectors the world over.
The discs are constructed from plastic and metal, so they are particularly susceptible to damage. Avoid the use of solvents and handle discs carefully and only with clean hands – soiled or oily fingers can cause irreversible damage.
To clean CDs before storing them, it’s best to use a store-bought CD cleaner, applied using non-abrasive photographic lens tissues or a soft bristle brush. Unlike records, CDs should be cleaned in a radial motion from the centre outwards.
CDs can scratch easily so it’s imperative to protect each disc by inserting it in its original pocket, case or sleeve. If you’ve lost the original cases, we suggest you invest in new polypropylene or polyethylene sleeves.
CDs are best stored upright in custom-made CD or DVD boxes, in a cool, dry environment with little to no exposure to direct sunlight or fluorescent light.
Where to find optimal music self-storage facilities
XtraSpace has self-storage units in a wide range of sizes, at storage facilities around major South African cities. The units are cool, clean and dry. Rates are affordable, the units can be rented under short or long-term leases and advanced security measures are in place to protect your priceless music collection.