Q&A with Courtney E. Smith, Music Biz Insider | Music for the Masses

Music biz insider, new music booster, and first-time author Courtney E. Smith is generating a pretty deafening level of buzz (turn it up, mannnnnnnn) with her new book, Record Collecting for Girls: Unleashing Your Inner Music Nerd, One Album at a Time (Xpress Reviews, 8/19/11). She recently spared a moment to sit down with me virtually to discuss writing and the future of record collecting and to give us librarians a passel of hot tips for collection development.

MM: What was your initial inspiration?
I love reading editorial music books. When I realized that no women had written any, I decided to write the book I wanted to read instead of waiting for someone else to do it. Specifically, though, the Beatles or Stones? pickup line in the book was the first thing I was inspired to write about.

Tell me about writing this book. It’s really the first of its kind in that it deals with record collecting geekdom from a feminist perspective.
This book turned out to be an exercise in nerdiness above and beyond what I expected. I was constantly reading other books to inform my opinions (shout out to the L.A. city library system, specifically the Los Feliz and Downtown branches‚ I couldn’t have done it without you). I enjoy getting lost in music history research so much it’s almost absurd.

Did you have a particular audience in mind? What feedback have you gotten from music obsessives?
It’s really difficult to write for a broad audience. I kept specific people in mind as I wrote each essay, and then my lovely editor would tell me if I was too far off for a normal person to follow along.

I went into this book understanding that writing an editorial book about music is taking your life into your hands. Having a strong point of view means you are bound to write something bad about someone’s favorite band, or the opposite, which is equally bad: write something good about a band someone hates. Music is so personal and subjective that those two things can ruin the book for some people.

The tone of your writing is a fascinating mix of memoir and guidebook, kind of like what really good music journalism (or even music curating) is.
One of the things I am trying to express in my tone and with the title is the idea that record collecting as we know it is going to be a thing of the past soon. Pragmatically, that is just where technology is going…. Technology has dictated how we’ve listened to music for the last 100 years. Now, as we venture into a world where everyone has equal and unfettered access to music via services like Spotify, Rdio, Grooveshark, or Rhapsody, music curation will become the new record collecting.

I wanted to be able to hold the attention of music nerds and laypeople. That’s tough to do. There are guide elements here for people who don’t know as much about music, historical elements for anyone who might be interested, and conversational memoir bits for the soft touches like me.

Do you think libraries have a place in nurturing musical interest (and education) for girls and women?
I think libraries have a place curating musical interest and education for women, by taking care to showcase female artists, critics, and commentators. The best way to do that is not only to take care to stock product by females but advertising them with features and recommendations. The male voice, in all those arenas, is still considered universal. The only way to even things up is to give women the room to talk and shine a spotlight when they do.

You made playlists in every chapter.What albums would you recommend for libraries?
Make sure your collections of albums from the 1990s are full, embracing grunge, Brit Pop, classic 1990s movie soundtracks, industrial (like Nine Inch Nails), electronic, riot grrl, new jack R&B, and the cheesy nostalgic stuff like the Spice Girls and the Backstreet Boys. Culturally, we have pushed firmly into full-on 1990s revival. Be ready for it.

What resources can librarians use to stay current on new music?
My favorite tool is Twitter, and I use it like an RSS feed. Make yourself a Twitter list of music websites, record labels, artists, and music writers. Check it as often as you like to see who has something new out and what people think of it.

Author Information
Matthew Moyer, Reference Librarian, Popular Media Department, Jacksonville Public Library, FL, also blogs Music for the Masses at www.libraryjournal.com
About Matthew Moyer