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All audio recorded before 1923 — like possibly the 1st soda ad — enters public domain


On January 1, some 400,000 songs, speeches and sound effects entered the public domain. The sounds were all recorded before 1923 and include oddities like this.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: At the count of two, push arms straight above the head. At the count of three, lower arms sideward even with the shoulders.

SAM HARNETT: So what we're listening to is an exercise tape, a home exercise tape. What you're hearing is a guy who's actually standing in front of an orchestra. And first, he gives you the descriptions of what to do, and then suddenly you hear the music come in.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: One, up, up, two, one, up, up, down.


That's radio producer Sam Harnett, co-creator of the live audio show and podcast called "The World According To Sound." On January 6, the show is putting a spotlight on some of these recordings.


UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing) Moxie, oh, Moxie, me for you. I don't know what I could do without you.

HARNETT: So we have a recording of what's believed to be the first ever audio commercial for a soda.


UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing) For you sail the depths, for you are the best.

HARNETT: Not only are you hearing some recordings of life at that time, but you're hearing, like, what the sort of soundscape was, the commercial soundscape.

KELLY: These recordings are entering the public domain now because of the Music Modernization Act, signed into law in 2018. The law is a relief for people like David Seubert, an archivist at UC Santa Barbara.

DAVID SEUBERT: I've got tens of thousands of recordings in the archive that haven't been digitized and aren't necessarily accessible because they are protected by copyright.

CORNISH: That's changing now. Independent filmmakers, musicians, artists, anybody will be able to use these pre-1923 recordings in their own projects free of charge.


ENRICO CARUSO: (Singing in Italian).

SEUBERT: There's plenty of, you know, Enrico Caruso. For example, somebody could make a mash-up of his recordings, and nobody could say anything about it. It's the quirky stuff of creative people that come in and use the collection that always gives me the most pleasure, I guess.

KELLY: And beyond operatic masterpieces, Sam Harnett says even the most commonplace sounds can inspire creativity.


HARNETT: There was this guy who was a vaudeville performer, and, you know, again, this is like beginning of recorded sound. He does this great thing where he makes an entire album of snores and an entire album of sneezes. So what we did in our live shows - we isolated all those snores and sneezes, and we made like this, little, composition out of them.

CORNISH: The art is taking even recordings that are quite literally a snooze and remixing them into something beautiful and new.

(SOUNDBITE OF SNORING) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.