Music for the Masses: Jukebox Jury

I‘ve become fixated on the idea of partnering with local musicians, performers, and DJs as subject experts/advisors on the library’s music collection. Think about it. You can have members of a native band, a local rapper, or a DJ explore your music stacks, select their favorite albums from the library’s collection, explain the rationale behind the selections and why this music is important to them, and then publicize the partnership. (The musicians will no doubt do the same, providing you with some pro bono outreach in the process.)

Having local, working musicians recommend albums that library users could and should check out keeps the collection as a vibrant and living thing. It even makes it a tool to help aspiring musicians do their apprenticeship.

At the same time, how great would this be for fans who want to find what makes the artists whose music they enjoy tick. It’s like an investigation into their musical DNA that they can do for free at the library. Your favorite band likes this album. Why don’t you give it a try? You can find it here!

More perspectives

I’m not at all downplaying or denigrating the abilities of library professionals to recommend knowledgeably edgy and/or interesting music to patrons‚ far from it. (I help staff our library’s virtual Music Advisory desk.) Recommending music is such a fascinatingly subjective exercise that this doesn’t at all impinge on a librarian’s turf; it just adds more voices and perspectives for patrons to consider.

This is one of those library partnerships that equally benefits both sides. The musician gets that quasiacademic credibility that working with a library can bestow (to say nothing of the points scored with skeptical family!), while the library will, one hopes, see extra circulations on the strength of the recommendations plus deeper ties with the local creative community and a pool of local knowledge upon which to draw as needed.

It’s also a self-replicating program. Once word spreads that musicians have participated, all sorts of other musically inclined types are going to want to take part, too. They’ll find you, trust me. Musicians can be a competitive (though friendly) bunch.

Theory into practice

My colleague Andrew Coulon and I have tried to turn this theory into practice by inviting a few Florida musicians and DJs on the radio show we host to spin some of their favorites from the library’s collection‚ or those by artists that have profoundly affected their work‚ and then have a conversation about the songs’ significance to them.

Our first and, so far, most successful foray was the interview with hip-hop artist Paten Locke about some of his favorite music. He brought a wonderfully eclectic selection‚ James Brown’s The Payback, Koko Taylor’s Wang Dang Doodle, Run-DMC’s Beats to the Rhyme, Horace Silver’s Song for My Father, and Miles Davis’s All Blues. Locke held forth on each cut with a mix of personal anecdote, encyclopedic musical knowledge, and surrealist humor. He even brought in a new, unreleased song of his own to play on the show!

A few weeks ago, Clark Lunberry, an English professor at the University of North Florida, Jacksonville, was our guest and walked us through the career and music of classical composer John Cage (1912‚ 92) in conjunction with local events to commemorate what would have been Cage’s 100th birthday. Lunberry brought some very judiciously chosen selections to deflate the general notion of Cage as some trickster who sat in front of a piano and didn’t play a note, instead revealing some of Cage’s most lyrical and evocative pieces.

Street cred

But this idea goes beyond mere broadcasting‚ a pretty niche application, admittedly. Feature musicians’ selections in a display, making it an ongoing thing like a record store’s employee picks rack. Record a podcast with the performers asking them to talk about their picks, and put up a page on the library’s website with direct links to the library’s catalog.

It will give your collection a whole new level of street credibility within segments of the community that might not necessarily make regular use of your collections and services. There’s also a huge element of surprise. People always want to know more about their favorite bands, and this gets to the very heart of their music‚ and you can be a direct gateway to the sounds that shaped them!

About Matthew Moyer