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About Us

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, and made possible by Distler’s support, Folkways sought to record and document the entire world of sound. Between 1948 and Asch's death in 1986, Folkways' small staff released 2,168 albums. Topics included traditional, 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 1987 the Smithsonian Institution acquired Folkways Records & Service Corp. as well as the label's business papers and files to ensure that the work of its artists and compilers would continue to be available to future generations. Thus, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings was born as the nonprofit record label and recordings archive of the Smithsonian Institution.

In the years since 1987, Smithsonian Folkways has continued to expand on Asch's legacy, adding numerous other record labels and collections and releasing over 500 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 or digipak 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 ( 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.

How do I access the free liner notes from a Custom CD?

Place the disc in your computer’s CD drive and follow the instructions below:


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.


Depending on your settings, iTunes or your preferred media player 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.

(Please note: To access the liner notes, you need the compatible PDF reader).

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 Click on the magnifying glass icon at the top right of the page to search by artist, album, or catalog number. Click on the album cover image to visit the album detail page. On the righthand side of the page (or scrolling down if on your phone), click “Download Liner Notes.” 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?

Yes, you can shop all our vinyl products here.

When are you going to re-issue [insert album here] on vinyl?

We do our best to satisfy as many vinyl re-issue requests as we can, but as with all record labels, there are only so many recordings that one organization can release or re-issue in any given period. Our curatorial team makes decisions on what to re-issue based on numerous factors including demand, intent of the recorded artist or producer, cultural and historical significance, quality, condition, and availability of assets in our archive, and more.

Can I digitally download tracks from your catalog?

Yes, our album releases and tracks are available for purchase and immediate download. Our downloads include two options: MP3 at 256k and FLAC which is lossless (CD quality). Album downloads include all available liner notes and artwork as well. We package our album downloads into folders that are saved in ZIP format. Though ZIP files can technically be downloaded to portable devices we recommend albums be downloaded to a desktop computer prior to usage.

To purchase a download just add those items to your cart and checkout. Your downloads are available once your purchase is complete with links available in your web browser and via email as well.

Please contact us via email at if you encounter issues with your download purchase.

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

Yes. Our 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 (CD/LP). 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 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 Fed-Ex or US Postal Service Ground Advantage. 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 sell wholesale to retail shops and distributors?

We do! To set up a retail or distribution account, click here.

Do you sell directly to Libraries?

We do! 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 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 any of the Smithsonian museum shops carry your products?

Yes! Many of the Smithsonian museum shops in Washington, D.C. and New York carry a selection of our recordings.

Do you have a store I can visit?

Smithsonian Folkways does not have a retail storefront. We encourage you to visit the many other brick and mortar retail stores that carry our recordings, you can find them all over the USA and the world! Our recordings are also available for download and streaming online from online retailers such as Amazon, Bandcamp, and iTunes. And of course, you can also find all our offerings and purchase with confidence through our secure web shop.

What is the Smithsonian Collection of Recordings?

The Smithsonian Press operated the Smithsonian Collection of Recordings label from the 1970s to 1990, which carried many popular titles such as the Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz, Big Band Box Set, and Folk Music Box Set. It ceased operations in 1990.

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 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

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

What are your days and hours of operation?

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 (except 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

Can I visit Smithsonian Folkways and the Ralph Rinzler Archives?

Smithsonian Folkways does not have a retail storefront to visit. 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 only. 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, as do most commercial record labels. Most of our newly released recordings aim to fulfill our nonprofit mission and consequently to broader efforts of making our existing audio collections more accessible, collaborating on larger initiatives 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. If you have a project that you think is a good fit for us, please consider visiting our proposals page to find out more about the submission process. Please note that we only consider a small fraction of proposals submitted.

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

The non-profit Smithsonian Folkways Recordings label and archive is funded from sales of recordings, grants, and donations from individuals, foundations, and corporations, including gifts made by becoming a Friend of Folkways. We receive nominal support from taxpayer and Smithsonian general trust funds for our operations. Money generated from these sources goes directly back into efforts to carry out our mission, including the intricate process of paying royalties to the performers and music creators (or heirs) featured on our recordings, which helps sustain the dynamic creative practices that foster cultural diversity.

How can I support the non-profit mission of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings?

Thank you for considering one or more of the following ways, your support makes a difference! click through the links for more information:

  1. Buy our recordings
  2. Become a Friend of Folkways
  3. Make a one-time financial contribution, no matter how large or small
  4. Donate stocks, bonds, or other securities
  5. Institute a bequest, charitable gift annuity, or charitable trust
  6. Establish an endowment
  7. Gift copyrights to sound recordings or compositions
  8. Volunteer
I want to use all or part of a Smithsonian Folkways recording in my own 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. In general, the Smithsonian Institution does not control rights to the music compositions themselves which are typically administered by outside music publishers. For permission to use one or more of our sound recordings please use our licensing request page.

How does Smithsonian Folkways compensate artists?

Since the 1990s, Smithsonian Folkways has supported the livelihoods of thousands of artists and communities who have created the music in our catalog by directly paying them royalties based on the terms of our recording contracts. Since the early days, royalties have been paid from sales of physical products (cassettes, CDs, and LPs) and licensing. When we started selling digital downloads in the mid-2000s, we started paying digital royalties as well. Today, our catalog is streamed on all the major music services, and income collected from streaming goes toward paying out digital royalties. Additionally, we pay mechanical royalties to songwriters and publishers for their musical compositions which are performed by the artists on our recordings.

What if I think I am due royalties?

With over 60,000 recordings in our catalog, staying in touch with all our artists can be challenging. Due to the passage of time, we have lost contact with many artists, some of whom may have passed away. Smithsonian Folkways staff endeavor to identify and, where possible, contact and compensate the heirs of deceased musicians. Every reasonable measure has been taken to enter into royalty agreements with the musicians’ heirs that we could contact, and any omissions are inadvertent. If you are a featured artist on a recording in our catalog, or a featured artist's heir, and you are not already receiving royalties from Smithsonian Folkways, please contact our royalties department at or call (202) 633-6463.

What is your policy for moderating comments on the Smithsonian Folkways website or social media pages? Why was my comment removed?

We support the rights of free speech and principles of civil discourse. Content must not be posted that is unrelated to the Smithsonian mission, including content which is partisan or political, personal, contains personal attacks, is abusive, threatening, unlawful, harassing, discriminatory, libelous, obscene, false, or pornographic, infringes on the privacy or other rights of any third party, or otherwise falls within the prohibited categories set forth in law or other Smithsonian policies.

Friends of Folkways FAQ
Why should I become a Friend of Folkways?

Smithsonian Folkways is one of the few non-profit labels in operation today. To maintain our curatorial independence and retain our ability to continue to release non-commercial music, we depend on extra support from those who know and love us best. We do not receive operational support from the US federal government and are primarily funded by record sales to fans. If we are to remain a label of the people, we need you to become a Friend of Folkways.

What are the benefits to becoming a Friend of Folkways?

As a supporting contributor you will enjoy exclusive access to stream the collection directly on our website. In addition, we are working on adding many streaming features, including personal playlists, favoriting tracks and albums, and more.

Can I become a Friend of Folkways if I live outside of the US?

Smithsonian Folkways accepts monthly donations from individuals anywhere in the world as a part of Friends of Folkways. Streaming capabilities are unavailable outside the United States at this time. In order to access the streaming benefit of Friends of Folkways you must be located in the US.

Is my contribution to be a Friend of Folkways tax-deductible?

The full amount of your contribution is tax deductible! We will send you a gift acknowledgement letter by email each January that summarizes your total giving from the previous year. Under U.S. tax regulations, the value of streaming access to the Smithsonian Folkways collection is considered insubstantial, therefore the fair market value of streaming access will not be included in your gift acknowledgement letter. Friends of Folkways participants should consult their professional tax advisors for further information.

Why can’t I pay using PayPal?

Unfortunately, at this time, our system does not allow us this option.

Can I purchase the membership as a gift?

Unfortunately, at this time, our system does not allow us this option.

How do I access the available collection via streaming?

A desktop computer or mobile phone with an Internet connection and an up to date web browser are all that is required. JavaScript must be enabled to access streaming. In addition some browser plugins or extensions may conflict with the streaming feature and affect functionality.

To access the streaming features:

  1. Log into your Smithsonian Folkways account.
  2. Navigate to you the release page of the album you wish to listen to. There are a number of ways to navigate. Suggested methods including using the search bar at the top of our page, or using the “browse” bar with the dropdown menus for Genre, Geography, Artist, and Label. Click on the album that you want to listen to to load the selection’s release page.
  3. On the top right of every available release will be a "Play Album" button. Clicking on this will start the player. Alternatively you can scroll down to the “Track Listing” section of the release page and click on the triangle-shaped "play" buttons to the left of each track.
  4. A player will appear at the bottom of your screen. You may move forward, backward, or pause the recording by using the button and slider. While listening you can continue to browse the site with the sound uninterrupted.

Why can’t I stream certain tracks or albums?

While the majority of our catalog is available to stream, there are a number of tracks or albums that are not available due to rights issues. If you are not able to stream and need to listen to a recording, it’s possible that the recording is available for purchase in a CD format.

When will my card be charged?

Your account will be charged monthly on the date of your order, and on your anniversary date of your original date your first contribution was made.

How do I update my billing and account information?

To update your account information, including contact and payment details, sign in to your My Account page. For a more detailed explanation on how to update your payment method click here.

Can I increase my monthly contribution?

Yes, and we encourage you to do so! Remember that your contribution as a Friend of Folkways is tax deductible. To increase your contribution, please visit the My Subscriptions page of your account.

How do I cancel my participation in Friends of Folkways?

If at any time you wish to discontinue your monthly contributions, you may log in to your account and navigate to the My Subscriptions page. You may also contact the Smithsonian Folkways customer service department at or (202) 633-6450. You do not need to notify your bank or credit card company. If you cancel your contribution before your next monthly payment is charged, you will retain streaming access until the date of your sign-up anniversary in the following month.