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Libraries (Yes, Libraries!) Are Leading the Crusade for New Music Discovery

In this digitized age, libraries are forming communities and harnessing state-of-the-art technology to promote local bands. Here’s how
The N.E.I.G.H.B.O.R.S. at PorchFest FivePoints May 2022. (Credit: Michael Kilpatrick)

Growing up in Los Angeles in the ‘80s, music discovery was everywhere. Aside from MTV (which actually played videos back then), my local record store knew me by name and would save new releases for me–everything from new romantic to hair metal, Madchester to Britpop–and invite me to gigs. Radio was king back then, a slow spinning of the FM dial and numerous college and commercial stations provided further localized touchpoints for whatever genre my multiple music personality was into at the time. 

And, of course, it was L.A., so someone–Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Autumns–was always playing a gig, in clubs big and small. Communities were built through band T-shirts, bumper stickers, free music zines. Music-based bonds formed leaving indie gigs, raves, and underground acid-house parties. Faces became familiar. We championed local bands and DJs, our devotion pushing them up through the ranks, until they became internationally recognized. We then said we knew them when. 

It’s doubtful anyone I met at that time would have guessed I’d end up as a teacher librarian. And, perhaps more unlikely, that libraries would be on the forefront of local music discovery. In an age where small clubs have dwindled and our digitized culture keeps us plugged in and inside, it’s near impossible to discover new, local, independent musicians. But libraries–one of the last bastions of community connectivity–are taking on this culturally essential task, creating opportunities for independent musicians, and introducing us to the next “big” thing.

Some libraries have taken the “social role of the library,” as delineated by the American Library Association, to the next level. They host their own music-streaming platforms, which feature hand-picked artists curated from local talent. In some cases, these libraries have established record labels and formed micro-scenes around their collection of musicians. 

With the challenges posed to unsigned bands, combined with dwindling club scenes and the younger generation’s affinity for technology, the library, as one of the more tech-forward and free-to-use spaces available, becomes a natural gathering point. With the library’s music-streaming platforms already in place, and communities organically forming, the convergence of the two is a win for local artists and the community.  

Bay Beats launch with Gloomy June. (Credit: Kit Castagne)


The cities offering their own music-streaming platform range from larger ones you’d know and expect–San Francisco, Nashville, Austin, and Seattle–to smaller ones not necessarily thought of in music terms, such as Eau Claire (WI), Davenport (IA), Lawrence (KS), and Kent (MI). The service is provided by the technology company MUSICat and maintained by Rabble. Each city’s library has branded their music service with custom, fun names, like Bay Beats for San Francisco Public Library, Capital City Records for Edmonton Public Library, and Blast Music for Huntsville-Madison County Library.

“Initially, we thought it would be a great way to connect with and support the local music community in a way the library has never done before,” says Brian Weaver, who spearheads Bay Beats at SFPL, which launched fall of 2023. “As the pandemic dragged on, however, we knew this initiative was more important than ever. Musicians were hard hit as clubs and other entertainment venues closed their doors. If we could help by providing a way to bring in new listeners and fans, that’s what we wanted to do.”

HMCPL’s Blast Music was also jump-started by the pandemic. For many years, the library hosted a successful monthly live concert series featuring local artists, but it paused during lockdown. Championed by HMCPL’s digital services librarian Annie Lee Phillips, beginning in 2021, MUSICat’s community focus and price point proved to be a great way to promote local music. 

EPL’s Capital City Records, which launched in 2015, has created its own ecosystem with concerts, workshops, and collaborative events. The library’s Makerspaces provide free access to creative software, recording and film studios, and vinyl and laser cutters. Says EPL’s digital initiative/digital public spaces librarian Raquel Mann, “Through these events and services, we have become a hub for artists to learn new skills, showcase their work, and meet others to collaborate with and learn from. It is possible for an artist to create and record an album, publish it, and create all their related merch and materials via these services and spaces.”

“Libraries are such an integral part of creating community and equitable access to creative works,” says Edmonton-based singer/songwriter Lindsey Walker. “Many times when I am sharing news about music or shows, it can only reach as far as social media and traditional media. A lot of people don’t necessarily connect that way. Having CCR run through EPL, the audience being built is more diverse and, in my opinion, more supportive of local arts. I have been able to create a community surrounding my music that is hyper-local, yet beyond borders.”

Treetop at Camp to Amp Festival May 2023. (Credit: Annie Phillips/HMCPL)


The focus genres reflect the city’s musical sweet spots and are chosen based on the people’s listening preferences. Even as the collections grow, the artists are easy to find. Additionally, their music gets added to the library’s catalog, making it searchable in the library system. Plus, they receive an honorarium upfront, which, in many cases, is far more than what they would earn from DSPs.

The artists are chosen by a panel that includes library staff and members of the community who have music expertise: musicians, DJs, record store clerks, talent bookers, music instructors, radio personalities, and music journalists, to name a few This streamlines the selection process—and elevates those chosen.

“Even if you’re somebody that goes out all the time, you’re not going to know all the artists in your city,” says MUSICat’s Preston Austin. “Everybody that comes to any of the collections finds artists they’ve never heard that they like. Being associated with the collection that has been selected by a community jury, that’s valuable for the artist.”

Capital City Records’ the Denim Daddies can attest to this. “It feels like the bands that participated in the program are some of the most talked-about in the city,” they say. “The Riversides [vinyl] compilation took a handful of artists and was able to penetrate the wall that often separates local bands from the average music listener. The pedestal that the participating bands were put on gives the average listener a certification that they are worthy of your time and fanship. It 100% boosted the status of each participating group’s name within Edmonton.”

Lana White at Camp to Amp Festival May 2022. (Credit: Annie Phillips/HMCPL)


The library puts the full weight of its resources behind the music-streaming platform and its artists. The platform is featured on the library’s homepage. There are curated playlists of the artists that are regularly updated. There are artist spotlights, in addition to information about each artist, just a click away. The library also pushes heavy social media promotion and advertising tapping into its established channels. Capital City Records has a partner-hosted podcast that spotlights its artists. Blast artists are featured on the weekly local music show on the area’s NPR affiliate, WLRH, who also run PSAs promoting the program.

And of course, when the artists play live shows, the library is right there to support. Bay Beats hosted a street party outside its main branch for its launch. Local festivals and events in Edmonton (Purple City Music Festival, Kaleido) and Huntsville (PorchFest*FivePoints, MidCity Camp to Amp Festival) have hosted stages with CCR and Blast artists, respectively. There have been concert series in partnership with local businesses such as Sounds from the Valley featuring CCR artists and Originally Huntsville and Winter BLAST with Blast artists.

Nathaniel Sutton, one of CCR’s artists, says, “Every artist on the Capital City Records roster is unique. There are many artists that I’ve become familiar with since joining the community. It’s also a great resource when it comes to the possibility of collaborating and connecting with other musicians in the area.”

Sutton hosts a radio show on CJSR 88.5FM, featuring a different record label each week, where he spotlighted Capital City Records. Radio stations have been supportive in a lot of cities, including Alabama A&M’s WJAB, which has promoted Blast through interviews. Bay Beats’ launch was covered extensively in the Bay Area media.

“My experience with the program has been really positive,” says hip-hop artist Arlo Maverick. “Courtesy of the EPL’s Capital City Records initiative, I was introduced to new fans who weren’t familiar with the local hip-hop scene, but would use the public library as a means to discover new artists. The program has also provided me with performance opportunities, one of which lead to a cover story with one of our entertainment weeklies. This was huge, and it really helped raise my profile.”

Of course, it’s at live events where the artists make a tangible connection with their community. Bay Beats’ launch party last October took place in the afternoon. With San Francisco’s scenic City Hall as its backdrop, there were food trucks offering local delicacies and a book mobile giving away free brand-new books. Six of the artists on Bay Beats performed, including California country band Nashville Honeymoon, the alt-Latin artist Razteria, and hip-hop educator/performer UnLearn the World. Besides the city’s local music lovers, families with young children were in attendance, partially drawn to the event by kid-oriented musician Alison Faith Levy, who has performed inside SFPL a few times and cultivated a family-friendly following. 

Bay Area journalist/DJ Tamara Palmer is a juror for Bay Beats and DJed in between performances at the Bay Beats Launch Party. She had this takeaway: “At a time when some of our Bay Area music publications have gone under, Bay Beats is giving a real boost to the local music scene. [The event] had a lot of heart.”