Music documentation and why it’s so important

When you’re a new musician, all you want to do is make and play music. However, it may be important to look into how to document and preserve your journey as a musician. In today’s Internet age, it is more important than ever to be aware of how documentation will help you in the future.

Why should you preserve and document your musical process?
According to Paul Augustin, founder of the Penang House of Music – an institution dedicated to preserving the music of our nation’s past – documenting your music and creative process can have benefits for the future. Let’s look at some of the benefits:
  • Perhaps the most obvious benefit is that in the future, it will be easy for you to refer to the music you created in the past. This way, you’ll be able to see your growth and how far you’ve come, which can be a source of encouragement to you. You’ll also be able to see which aspects you have improved in, and which aspects still require more work.
  • When you preserve something, you learn more about it, leading to a deeper understanding of your art. Also, other people will be able to learn from it in the future. They’ll know what to do and won’t make the same mistakes you made. Who knows, you might help a new generation of musicians achieve their dreams.
  • You might become a famous celebrity in the future! If that happens, the material you preserve will become highly valuable. Imagine how much people would pay for the notes of John Lennon for example, before he became famous. Documenting your musical process could lead to monetizable content, such as biographies or guides to success in the industry.
  • Documenting music creation is not just about preserving cold facts, it is also about preserving the human stories and important memories behind the music.

Paul Augustin photo credit Marilyn Kang

How should you preserve and document your musical process?
In days past, paper was the only way to document your career. Nowadays, digitization has changed the way we do things. Music documentation has never been so easy. Many up-and-coming musicians already upload their music on social media platforms. However, it is important to be aware of these concerns:
  • Be aware of the lifespan and limitations of digital storage. If your music documentation is stored in your computer or on a hard drive, you might lose the data if the hardware is damaged or lost. Hardware does wear out with time.
  • If you prefer to keep a hardcopy of your song lyrics/sheet music, make sure to keep it in a place where it will be safe for years to come. As said above, it could become valuable if you become famous.

Finding inspiration and learning from preserved music
Part of the reason why the Penang House of Music was established was to serve as a resource for new musicians to be able to access and learn about the music of the past and be inspired.

Augustin says that there is an ongoing process to catalog and digitize the music of our nation’s past. Musicians and researchers can visit in the future to try out traditional instruments, as well as seek staff assistance if specific information is needed. For example, Augustin mentions that a researcher once approached them for information on when metal flutes came to Malaysia.

Augustin is very passionate about preserving the stories of the musicians who came before and were active in our nation’s early years. In order to promote public interest, the Penang House of Music has interactive exhibits such as recording stations and usable traditional instruments. Augmented reality is also used at certain exhibits to bring the music of the past into the modern age. Augustin says that the museum isn’t just about documenting music, but also about educating visitors on the story of Malaysia and Malaysian musicians.
Augustin regrets that so many stories have been lost over the years. The early Malaysian musicians who were active in the years after our nation’s independence did not keep a documentation of their music and creative processes and now it is a challenge for Paul and his team to rediscover and record the past. He urges new musicians to make the effort to preserve their music and learning process. He stresses that what is most important is to capture the emotions and human elements behind the music.

You can find the Penang House of Music website at

Listen to Paul Augustin share his thoughts during CENDANA’s Open Arts Class on Preserving Malaysia’s Music History here.

Many universities also have archives of documented music, which can be sought out for reference or inspiration. You can get in touch with the Universiti Malaya Archive at

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