HOLLYWOOD, CA—In January 2011, Iron Mountain Digital Studios will begin building out the 14th floor of its Hollywood film and sound vault to create seven audio suites and an automated digital content repository, or DCR. The division may only account for a very small part of Iron Mountain’s global business, but it has perhaps the highest visibility due to its work in storing, digitizing, restoring and making available assets of some notable public figures and entertainment celebrities.
Indeed, in January, the public will see some of Iron Mountain’s most recent work when “Access to a Legacy” goes live. A multimillion-dollar project to digitize the archives of the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, it represents the first pre-digital age presidential library to be made available online, with the first phase—coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s inauguration— including some 1,200 audio recordings and phone conversations in the mass of information.
Jeffrey Anthony, VP, film and sound archives, reveals that most of the major record labels and film studios make use of the repository, some even staffing their own vaults at the Hollywood facility. “We’re really an extension of the individual vaults,” he says. The Iron Mountain vaults range in size from the archives of individual entertainers through label archives—Capitol, for instance, stores about 350,000 tapes—to automated silo-like robots that house millions of cataloged tapes in a variety of formats. In many cases, those archives are duplicated for added security and stored in Iron Mountain vaults in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Claus Trelby, general manager, Iron Mountain Digital Studios, originally founded Xepa Digital Studios within the underground vault near Pittsburgh along with Edwin Outwater, who now handles strategic planning for the film and sound archives. These days, says Trelby, the emphasis is on the migration of data. Organizations will often send hard drives for storage, but, he notes, “It is the worst archival format out there, period. A lot of times we’ll dump it to a data tape and put the hard drive up with the data tape next to it, so when the hard drive crashes, we can recall the data.”
But, he cautions, “When you put a data tape on the shelf, you have to remember in three to five years to come back and migrate it to the latest and greatest format.” The planned new DCR will include an automated robotic process, transparent to clients, to ensure that archive formats are always up to date.
Integrity is also critical, notes Trelby, especially for film clients: “How do you make sure you don’t drop a frame 10 years from now?”
Building out the new studios may sound daunting but Trelby reports that, for a current project, he put together a dozen audio suites in London in less than four weeks. Iron Mountain is handling about two-thirds of that project, which involves the archiving of 25,000 items and for which Abbey Road, Metropolis and other U.K. studios were enlisted to assist.
Safe storage is critical for entertainment assets, to be sure, but the ability to easily access them and make use of the latest technology to monetize the content is even more important, observes Anthony. “Who would have thought, 10 years ago, about ringtones, and five years ago about Guitar Hero and Rock Band? And you can’t monetize the archive until you digitize it.”
Iron Mountain decided to acquire Xepa Digital Studios after it became apparent that clients were taking tapes out of the facility to digitize them, breaking the company’s secure chain of custody, and not infrequently would return damaged or, occasionally, not at all. “Now, the master goes from shelf to studio and back to shelf and never leaves the facility,” observes Anthony. And while migration is the company’s core business, Trelby and his staff will handle other services for clients, for example, performing three or four Guitar Hero mixes for clients every week.
The digitization and migration of archives is a growing business, says Anthony, especially in this economic climate, where record labels are looking for new ways to raise revenue. “We’re one of the few bright spots in the engineering industry where everybody is downsizing and outsourcing and laying people off; we’re doing the exact opposite.”
Some content holders are only now beginning to realize what assets they have in their vaults, and are trying to figure out how to market and monetize them. A number of labels have started with their bigger artists, and next will likely take advantage of the “long tail” to also digitize material by second-tier acts.
“Will we ever see a day when every single song is digitized?” Anthony says. “I don’t think so, but with a couple of the big labels, they haven’t even started. You’re talking about millions of songs that have not been digitized. There’s gold in them there archives!”