Frequently Asked Questions

If you do not find the answer to your question below, please call our customer service line during our office hours at:
1-888-FOLKWAYS or 1-202-633-6450.

What is Smithsonian Folkways?

Folkways Records was founded in 1948 in New York City by Moses Asch and Marian Distler. Under Asch's enthusiastic and dedicated direction, Folkways sought to record and document the entire world of sound. Between 1948 and Asch's death in 1986, Folkways' tiny staff released 2,168 albums. Topics included traditional, ethnic, and contemporary music from around the world; poetry, spoken word, and instructional recordings in numerous languages; and documentary recordings of individuals, communities, current events, and natural sounds.

In 1988 the Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in Washington, D.C., acquired Folkways Records & Service Corp. as well as the label's business papers and files in order to ensure that the sounds and genius of its artists and compilers would continue to be available to future generations.

In the years since 1987, Smithsonian Folkways has continued to expand on Asch's legacy, adding several other record labels to the collections and releasing over 300 new recordings that document and celebrate the sounds of the world around us.

What is a Custom CD?

Most recent Smithsonian Folkways CD releases are available in a standard jewel case with printed liner notes, and can be purchased from retail outlets or directly from Smithsonian Folkways Mail Order via catalog, phone, fax, or our website (folkways.si.edu or 1-888-FOLKWAYS). However, some CDs such as back catalog or archival acquisitions are available as Custom CDs.

A Custom CD is a high-quality CD-R which is produced here at Smithsonian Folkways. A Custom CD is a mixed mode disc (also known as an Enhanced CD/CD Extra/CD Plus). A mixed mode disc contains both audio (for CD audio players) and data (readable on other devices, like PCs). Custom titles are sold with a digital copy of the album's original liner notes (as a .PDF file) on the CD.

Custom CDs are available only through Smithsonian Folkways Mail Order. (Most Custom CDs can also be produced as cassette tapes.) Please allow 2-3 business days for Custom CD orders to ship; custom cassettes take up to 2-3 weeks to process.

How do I access the Free Liner Notes from a Custom CD?

To access your liner notes in .PDF form please follow the instructions below. To access the music, use it like any other audio CD. To access the liner notes, you need the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader (available at Adobe.com). Place the disc in your computer’s CD drive and follow the instructions below:

WINDOWS (XP/VISTA/7/8)
Right-click on the “Computer” icon (or “My Computer” icon) which you can find either on your desktop or in the Start Menu, and select “Open”. A new window will open with drives and devices listed by type. Locate the group “Devices with Removable Storage”. Right-click on the drive that you placed the disc in (usually “D:” or “E:”), and select “Open”. Right-click on the .PDF file named with the catalog number that appears (e.g., FW07208.pdf), and either open with Adobe Acrobat, print, or save.

MAC OS 10.x
Depending on your settings, iTunes may automatically open the CD when inserted into the CD drive. Two CD icons will appear on the desktop when inserting the CD. Right-click or Control-click on the disc that has the catalog number as the disc name (e.g., FW07208.pdf), and select “Open”. A new window will appear with one .PDF file; these are the liner notes. Right-click or Control-click on the .PDF file and select “Open With” and choose either “Preview” or “Adobe Reader”. You may now print or save the document to your computer in either of these applications.

How do I access the Free Liner Notes from any album?

You can also access Free Liner Notes from ANY Smithsonian Folkways Album simply by going to folkways.si.edu. Use the search box on the left to search by artist, album, or catalog number. Click on the album cover image to visit the album detail page. Scroll down the page and click “Download Liner Notes PDF.” The liner notes will open in a separate window or different tab (depending on your settings), allowing you to print or save them.

Does Folkways still make LPs and/or cassettes?

We have a limited number of LPs that are currently for sale on the web site here. All custom made recordings are also available on cassettes. Many commercial titles are available on cassette, but new releases are not. Please also contact customer service at 1-888-FOLKWAYS or SmithsonianFolkways@si.edu with any inquiries.

Can I digitally download tracks from your catalog?

Albums and tracks are available for purchase and download on this website and also from other digital music stores, including iTunes, eMusic, Amazon.com, Rhapsody, Napster, and Classical.com.

Purchasing a track does not automatically deliver it to your hard drive. Within 7 days of making your purchase, you may download your purchases by logging in to Download Manager using the email address you used at checkout. If you no longer have access to the download link, please contact us via email at SmithsonianFolkways@si.edu. For more information regarding downloading, including a download tutorial, please visit our Download Support page.

Since some of our tracks are of considerable length, download prices vary by length of track:

  • up to 5 minutes — $.99
  • at least 5 but less than 15 minutes — $1.49
  • 15 or over minutes — $3.49

Do you have print catalogues? How can I get one?

Yes. Our 2007/2008 Smithsonian Folkways Catalogue is available upon request. A catalogue of our archival holdings is available as a PDF file. Visit here.

Where do I send checks? To whom should they be made out?

Please make out all checks to Smithsonian Folkways. Specify your shipping address, quantity of order, catalog number of items and format (cassette/CD). All checks should be sent to:

Smithsonian Folkways
PO Box 37012, MRC 520, CG 2001
Washington, DC, 20013-7012

Do you ship to P.O. Boxes?

While our shipments are routinely are handled by FedEx, requiring a physical street address for delivery, we can also ship to P.O. Boxes via first class mail. If a package requires overnight or expedited shipping, FedEx will be used.

What are your shipping rates?

Orders within the U.S. ship via Federal Express or 1st class mail. Rates are calculated at time of order depending on destination and weight.

Do you ship internationally? What are the rates?

International orders are shipped via United States Postal Service International or FedEx International Economy. You may choose your preferred method during checkout. Please pay by credit card (Mastercard / Visa / Discover/ American Express). Credit cards will be charged for actual shipping costs plus a (U.S.) $1.50 handling fee. Other shipping options are available on request.

How soon will I get my order? (Domestic and international)

Orders usually ship within 2-3 business days. We also offer overnight deliver for an additional fee, calculated at the time of checkout.

What is your returns and exchange policy?

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings does not accept exchanges or returns on any of its items. In the rare instance you receive a defective item or an item different than the one you ordered, we will gladly replace it free of charge. Please return all defective and mis-shipped items and please include a return address and the original invoice number with the item(s).

Are there benefits for Smithsonian Members?

Smithsonian Members receive a 10% discount on all Folkways recordings. To learn more about becoming a Smithsonian Member, please click here.

Do you offer discounts for retail shops, educational organizations, or distributors?

Yes, we do offer promotional discounts. We offer Free FedEx Ground Shipping for all CD, DVD, and merchandise orders over $150 shipped within the Continental US. (Unfortunately, PO Boxes and international orders are excluded.) We also offer discounts for wholesale distribution—to set up a retail or distribution account, click here. If you are a library, visit here for more information on opportunities to partner with Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

Do you have gift certificates?

We currently offer gift certificates in denominations of $10, $25, $50, $75 and $100. To purchase, please visit the Gift Certificate page on our website or call us at: 1-888-folkways or 202-633-6450.

Do you have a store? What museums carry your products?

Smithsonian Folkways is a direct mail order business; however, retailers throughout the country carry Smithsonian Folkways products. The Smithsonian museum shops in Washington, D.C. and New York also carry a number of our recordings.

Our recordings are also available for download online from our website and online retailers such as iTunes, eMusic, Amazon.com, and Classical.com.

What is the Smithsonian Collection of Recordings?

The Smithsonian Books and Recordings division, which carried many popular titles such as the SI Collection of Classic Jazz, Big Band Box Set, and Folk Music Box Set, ceased operations in 1998.

Do you carry the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz, Big Band Box Set, or Folk Music Box?

At the present time Smithsonian Folkways does not offer these titles. The newly revised edition of the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz, titled JAZZ: The Smithsonian Anthology, was released in March, 2011. Click here for more information.

Why does Smithsonian Folkways include controversial recordings in its publicly available collection?

Like books available in libraries, recordings of topical songs or other items may be uncomfortable to listen to, but are part of the historical record and worthy of study. It is up to individual scholars and members of the public to determine their own interests and make their own evaluations of materials. It is the Smithsonian's policy to offer the same access to all of our collections, even to those that some, even many people, might find objectionable for one reason or another.

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings collects record labels and traditional music archive collections documenting cultural expression. A contractual agreement is made with all donors to our archival audio collection, and Smithsonian agrees to maintain public availability of previously published materials. There are approximately 70,000 audio recordings in our collection, which resides in the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections.

How do I find out about the Smithsonian, museum hours, etc.?

Please visit the Smithsonian Institution's website at www.si.edu.

What is the Smithsonian Folklife Festival?

Each summer, the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the division within which Smithsonian Folkways operates, presents a major, multi-week free festival celebrating traditional culture on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. For information on the Festival, its history, and its schedule for the coming year, visit www.folklife.si.edu.

What are your office hours?

Questions and orders can be taken over the phone during our normal office hours of Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. EST (with the exception of federal holidays) by calling us toll free at 1-888-FOLKWAYS or 1-202-633-6450. However, you can place an order 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on www.folkways.si.edu

Can I visit Smithsonian Folkways and the Ralph Rinzler Archives?

The Smithsonian Folkways offices, collections, and archives are not located within a Smithsonian museum. The general public may purchase recordings in-person at the office, open from 9am-5pm and located at 600 Maryland Avenue SW, Suite 2001 (2nd Floor), Washington DC, 20024. Please allow at least 30 additional minutes for custom CD orders. The Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, which houses the Smithsonian Folkways collection of recordings (including Folkways Records, Paredon, Cook, Dyer-Bennet, Fast Folk, Monitor, M.O.R.E. and other recordings), is open to the public for research purposes via appointment. Please click here for more information on visiting the archives.

Do you sign new artists?

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings does not "sign new artists," in that it does not seek exclusive contracts to record singular artists, support their touring activities, promote their careers, and so forth, as do most commercial record labels. Most of our recordings are connected to our nonprofit mission and consequently to broader aims of making our existing audio collections more accessible, collaborating on larger efforts such as the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and addressing the specific need to offer greater visibility to musical traditions that might be underrepresented in the marketplace. Folkways specializes in traditional and roots music, and most, if not all, of the small number of new artists whose recordings we publish each year are identified through Smithsonian fieldwork and research projects.

While Folkways appreciates artists thinking of us, we have neither the staff or the facilities to review unsolicited sample CDs or tapes, and discourage their submission.

Why do you charge for recordings? Isn't the Smithsonian a public institution?

The non-profit Smithsonian Folkways Recordings label is funded from sales of recordings and the occasional grant from a foundation, corporation or individual. We use neither taxpayer nor Smithsonian Trust funds for our label's business operations.

With the acquisition of the Folkways and other record labels' master recordings and related materials, the Smithsonian took on the job of accounting and paying royalties to many persons and organizations around the globe, since much of the material is protected by copyright under U.S. law. We are proud of our fair royalty system, which supports artists (and heirs) in their communities and sustains the dynamic creative practices that foster cultural diversity.

The costs of running an operation like ours are significant, since many of our publications are chosen for how well they further our non-profit mission rather than commercial appeal. Please support Smithsonian Folkways by purchasing our recordings or making a tax-deductible donation.

How can I support Smithsonian Folkways Recordings?

We are based in the U.S. national museum, but rely mainly on revenues, grants, private donations, and good will to survive and to carry out our non-profit mission. Please continue to buy our recordings, as sales revenues support our ongoing work. For information on making a financial contribution or volunteering your assistance, please visit here.

I want to use part of a Smithsonian Folkways recording in my own published project (such as a compilation CD, film, or website).

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings owns and controls the rights to virtually all the master recordings in its collection. Smithsonian Institution does not control rights to the music compositions themselves, which are typically administered by music publishers. For permission to use our sound recordings, see our information on Licensing Requests.

How does Smithsonian Folkways compensate artists?

Artists are compensated at an established royalty rate. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, which established a royalty reform policy when it acquired Folkways Records in the late 1980s, pays royalties at rates that are, in most cases, more favorable than the royalty-reform rates that major labels instituted.

What if I think I am due royalties?

With more than 35,000 recordings on 3000 albums dating back more than a half-century, locating artists and heirs is a challenge. If you are a Folkways artist, or rightful heir, and you are not already receiving semiannual royalties from Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, please contact Cecille Chen, ChenCe@si.edu .

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings
600 Maryland Ave., SW, Suite 2001
Washington, DC 20024 USA
Phone: 1-888-FOLKWAYS or
1-202-633-6450
Fax: 202-633-6477
Email: SmithsonianFolkways@si.edu