This month Money on the Left is joined by the folks behind the MUSICat project, an online music streaming service for public libraries designed to share heterogenous local music with local community members. We speak with Preston Austin and Kelly Hiser from Rabble, the company behind MUSICat, as well as with Racquel (“Rocky”) Mann, who coordinates the MUSICat service with Edmontonians as Digital Initiatives Librarian for Edmonton Public Library.
Launched by the Madison Public Library in 2014, MUSICat has since been adopted by public libraries, including in Pittsburgh, Nashville, Fort Worth, New Orleans, Edmonton and elsewhere. Artists who share music via MUSICat are paid for their work with library funding and are granted other substantial forms of support through the library system.
MUSICat serves as an inspirational model for mobilizing public institutions and forms that can provision communities in diverse and locally sensitive ways. Exploring what we at Money on the Left have called a hermeneutics of provision, we affirm public libraries’ critical function as creative stewards and producers of regional public cultures.
Special thanks to Edmonton artist Jill van Stanton for the album art used in our episode graphic. Thanks also to the Edmonton musicians, whose work is spread liberally throughout this episode. Featured tunes include: Shout Out Out Out Out, “Never the Same Way Twice”; Souljah Fyah, “8 Days of Summer”; Farhad Khosravi, “Escape”; Denim Daddies, “Roadrunner”; and The Tsunami Brothers, “Stink Bug.”
Visit our Patreon page here: https://www.patreon.com/MoLsuperstructure
The following was transcribed by Mercedes Ohlen and has been lightly edited for clarity.
William Saas: Rocky Mann and Preston Austin, welcome to Money on the Left.
Rocky Mann: Thank you.
Preston Austin: Good to be here.
Rocky Mann: Great to be here.
William Saas: We’ve invited you on the show today to talk about your MUSICat project, which as we understand it, is an online music streaming service for public libraries. Which is an unconventional way for collecting, curating, and distributing music. Could you start off our conversation by telling us a little bit about yourselves and how you came to the MUSICat project and what the MUSICat project has become and where it might be going?
Preston Austin: Sure, I’ll start. I’m the co-founder of Rabble, a company that actually writes the MUSICat software. So I work as a web technology guy in Madison, Wisconsin and my history includes a lot of working with both higher ed and mid-tier media production for the web. So producing audio-video things that work on webpages, especially back when putting audio and video on a webpage was difficult and involved all sorts of plugins and browsers, we didn’t know how to do things. So I had a background in that tech and built a framework for doing things on web pages that was called “media landscape.”
And that mostly had to do with actual stuff like what we’re doing today recording meetings, or presentations to classrooms and producing multimedia from it. That led to me working in a startup that had to do with publishing music for people to consume music collections. And while I was working on that, word got around that I was the music guy for web pages for one of them in Madison, and a music librarian from Madison Public Library approached me and they wanted us to work on a project called the “Yahara Music Library.”
And I said, “no, it was a cool idea. But I’m really, really busy.” But it remained a cool idea. And so over a period of about a year, I ended up talking to a guy, Hank, the music librarian from Madison. And eventually we said, “let’s do this” and built a prototype. This was based on Iowa City’s earlier music collection online. We built a prototype, and that became the Harlem music library. And that project involved a business partner who will be on the program later, Kelly Heiser, and that all formed a foundation. And we said, this is interesting. Libraries, in general, are going to be interested in this, this is not a one-off product, do you want to start a company to build a platform to make this thing practical? That platform is what became MUSICat.
And that company has Rabble as the first library partner, and it was really formative. And working with us on that platform was Edmonton, thus the connection with Rocky.
Scott Ferguson: Can you give us a sense of the years here? When did these initial experiments take place? And when did you found the company?
Preston Austin: I’m terrible at this sort of thing. But, I think the initial conversations were happening in 2013, possibly as far back as late 2012. And I think we founded the company in 2014. It’s possible it was legally formed in 2015 as an entity. It was originally in a partnership with a startup that I was in at that time, but we purchased their interest in it. I exited that venture and became full-time focused on Rabble shortly thereafter. Within a few years, we were a completely independent venture. And so currently, Rabble is a company that’s closely held and slowly works with libraries. We have no external investors and we’re not a grantee of any foundation or anything like that.
Scott Ferguson: Rocky, you want to tell us about your background?
Rocky Mann: Sure. I came to the project in 2016 as part of getting this new position with Edmonton Public Library, the Digital Public Spaces librarian. Prior to that, my background was in music. Before moving to Edmonton, I was pretty heavily involved in the music scene in Victoria on Vancouver Island. I was doing, you could call it “participatory video” or “participatory media,” community-based research with the UBC Okanagan with Indigenous communities on Vancouver Island and all over BC.
The concept of collaboratively built infrastructure online and how to share, distribute, and ensure authority and authenticity with communities when sharing content has always been something I’ve been very interested in and in working on. I started in this role in 2016, which was one year after we launched our collection with MUSICat. But this project with Edmonton Public Library started as part of an internship in 2013 with my predecessor, Alex Carruthers.
She was looking at: what’s the digital public space? What are other libraries doing? And she came up with a really great trend-spotting report. And through community discussions and things like that, we identified that of all the different types of digital public spaces, people wanted something about music. We’re generally thought of as a blue-collar working-class city compared to Calgary–I don’t know if you should put this on!–Calgary is the Texas of Alberta and Edmonton’s the Austin.
Scott Ferguson: That’s helpful.
Rocky Mann: We love our arts. Edmonton loves their arts: theater, music, the community is quite tight-knit. She embarked to do an environmental scan of what technology is out there. And from that process, she chose to work with Rabble because it was really important not to work with something that was proprietary. The fact that it was open source, the fact that it was community-based and collaborative, and we can work together to build it.
Because things change, having that type of relationship was–from what I’ve read from her reports and in talking with her– a key factor. When I was onboarded, I remember the introduction from her and my supervisor, “oh, we’re gonna work with this tiny startup and there’s some challenges, but it’s really great.” I’ve loved every moment of it. And then in 2014, I think our initial feedback–and I wasn’t there yet– was from an “unconference” called YEG, which is our airport code. YEG Band Camp, where we brought in musicians, artists, nonprofits, all the businesses and people who are really active in our music community to talk about what they would like to see in a platform and initiative. So there’s the technology side and then how it branches out in real life. That fed into our early discussions with Rabble: What should this thing look like? What’s our community saying?
Scott Ferguson: That’s so fascinating for a number of reasons. I’m a media studies scholar, among other things. And very often, media studies scholars want to understand social and cultural change in terms of tech as disruptors. What I hear you saying is that, of course tech is playing a big role, but that actually culture and a culture of participation and aesthetic construction is side by side with tech. Could you speak a little bit more about that?
Rocky Mann: Sure. Coming from my background through Indigenous research methodology and the concepts of OCAP, which is ownership, control, access, and possession. Personally, those are really important. And my other portfolio is building an Indigenous digital public space. Similar in the way that we’re working to build it for indigenous content here, but I really see the music community and artists.
The industry has a historical background that is quite exploitative in many regards. You could really describe artists, upcoming artists, or generally that group, as vulnerable in that sense. So the need to share, the need to be exposed, the need to get your creative works out there often supersedes protecting, ensuring that the standards of who you’re working with are ethical, of a high ethical standard. So my background was coming from that previous research background.
And every step along the way Rabble’s values seemed to match my personal ones, and the library’s vision of being community-led, which is one of the appeals, foundational philosophies about how we deliver and develop programs, identify barriers, your community discussions, and then, with our communities, find a way to attend to those and reduce those gaps. So it’s a civic gap, participation in your creative community, in your profession, access to technology, access to being a creator and participating in our civic society.
William Saas: Let’s run with that. You mentioned the history of music as an industry, music publishing as having been, well, straight-up exploitative. MUSICat seems to be coming at music making and publication from a very different direction, which seems like it’s probably informed by critiques of some of the larger streaming platforms. How would you articulate your criticisms of the platforms that exist and have existed around music circulation and publication? And how is MUSICat different?
Preston Austin: Who wants to go first?
Rocky Mann: I think I’ll throw that to you.
Preston Austin: MUSICat’s thesis, Rabble’s thesis with MUSICat is that empowering public institutions to invest in artists and with artists together to invest in collecting is valuable, full stop. I want to start there, that the public investment in artists is a thing unto itself. And if you send an artist a $200 check to license their work into a library collection, on very clear terms that are artist-friendly, and leave them able to continue to use their work the way they want to, where they want to, this is a good thing to have done. Somebody gets 200 bucks, and that respects and supports them.
We wanted to build a way to focus on building value. Communities being able to build value and technology that is not disruptive technology really, it’s supportive technology. And I’m not trying to break up the dynamic of how people listen to music and create some new thing that changes the world and deflates the costs and disintermediate people, etc, etc. That gets a little frustrating. So we didn’t build it to compete with streaming services or to replace them or even really to contemplate them. We built it to complement them, we really built it with the idea in mind that it is its own thing. Public spaces for music, a concept that I wasn’t calling it then and had a different notion of before the work with Edmonton. But I really liked Alex Carruthers’ work and Kelly contributed to that. That was a good conceptualization, and we absorbed that value or more of those values.
What we did is we said, let’s focus on this question of power, local control, local power, artists as real participants in the process, the library as a convener. What is appropriate within that in terms of technology? And what we did was, instead of building a leanback music experience that tries to create an adhesive listening, okay, you’re in there, and now you’re stuck to it. And you’re playing that playlist for a long, long, long time. And we’re trying to get everybody in the world’s music available to every listener in the world, and everybody’s going to pay eight bucks a month or something like that–I just picked that number out of the ether.
And instead of creating that all to all process, which critically in its incentive structure means that whomever is collecting that money and paying for that streaming is trying to minimize the amount of those monthly revenues that go to the creation because they’re trying to get all the music in the world to all the listeners in the world and they want them listening all the time. So this structure is fundamentally minimizing the return to artists. We designed on the other side of it, we designed on maximizing the public’s ability to invest in their artists.
And those artists’ ability to invest in their public via the collecting and the community formed around it. And it’s all via invitations, everything is understood upfront, the relationships are personal, the fact that the relationships happen in this public and safe space is important.
So what’s my criticism of the streaming universe, which I think is what you’re actually asking me to do? It creates a world within which the technical intermediary or the licensing intermediary who licenses art from artists and licenses it to either listeners or downstream services, where those intermediaries’ motivation is to take a piece of that pie. And it does so in a way that really abstracts music into a commodity to be listened to that is valued primarily in terms of listening, and then it turns everything else in the musical community into something around that commodified listening.
Here we’re saying “no, no, no.” The process of collective involvement in building this collection, building with the library, that these are all part of it. And we actually want the technology to be more part of it, we’re not as open as we want to be. We’re open-source to our library customers, but there’s not a distribution. And getting to that ethos of everyone being able to invest with everyone else around these local nuclei is what we want to do, in terms of the experience created, these collections, we call it “lean forward”, it’s a terminology that I’m not sure if I made it up or picked it up from somebody, but I haven’t been able to track it down. But you have “lean back” listening experiences, you hit a play button and music comes out forever.
MUSICat and the library collections are leaning forward. It is a collection. It’s more like being in a listening room and being able to look at titles and pick one off the wall and play it on a fancy old-fashioned turntable there and interact with information about the artists, use it as a jumping off place to find their other material online. So we’re not trying to solve the problem of, how on earth would I get music into my ears right now? We’re trying to solve the problem of how would I become a participant in starting as a listener, but possibly in other ways, my local community, my local music community, and were can I make the technical supportive choice in doing that, where can I do that knowing that there aren’t money grabbing assholes, let’s say, in the middle.
All of that said, it’s a long project, I think we’re about halfway there. So in the aggregate right now, of all the money that libraries spend on artists’ licensing direct to artists, plus Rabble MUSICat fees, money that comes to develop the software platform, we’re not on a very large base of libraries yet. And so the cost of maintaining the software platform is still quite high. When we started, we were probably getting actually two thirds of the funding, there were almost no libraries, and most of the money was going into developing software.
We’re now at a point where maybe 55% or something in aggregate of the money is going directly to local artists from their local public library if you look at that combined budget. There’s other budgets.That doesn’t include internal budgets at the library and things like that, we’d like to be in a position where more than 80%, possibly 90% of the total spend, inclusive of platform costs, goes to artists, and that’s getting the technology part of it to where it’s just tech that different vendors can compete to do this sort of thing. And then it’s a fairly straightforward and deflated technical process. We’re a few years away from that goal.
Scott Ferguson: That’s so interesting. So can we talk about how, from an artist point of view, how does submission work? And then from a curatorial point of view, how does the review process work?
Preston Austin: Rocky, do you want to take this from the perspective of governing that process? Because from my perspective, it’s a little bit reductive. I can talk about our publishing chain, there’s the artist’s submission and a jury, but I feel like in terms of what it really means for the community, you speak to it better than I do.
Rocky Mann: So I’d say before the submissions, I think the jury and the curators and the terms of reference are the goals, criteria of the collection, which are word for word, but the criteria of the collection being something that a collection that is representing diversity in terms of demographics, genre, and contexts. And perspective, which really matches our Public Library’s collection policy anyway. It’s really important to have representation on the jury that can also speak to that diversity. The balance between ensuring that you have a quality collection, that is of value to be in for an artist. So you don’t accept everything because you need it to maintain a certain standard, but also something that captures all of our niche existences in our community.
So, for example, when the initial jury came on, it wasn’t a call out to who was invited… members of the jury were nominated, basically, through discussions with the community. Who does the community respect, celebrate? Who does the community think can make really rich decisions on what music is important here and important to represent? So then we would invite those people that were named to those discussions, then what happens is, as submissions go through the years, and through holding open calls, each time we assessed the collection. What’s missing? What are the gaps, what do we have a lot of and what do we not have a lot of and why?
For example, Edmonton has a very, very active and large indigenous population, and we weren’t seeing music from that community in the submissions. And there wasn’t really representation in our curators group. So reaching out actively to that community to find somebody who would be interested and also a really good fit. And then for the subsequent round, that curator or jury member, I know two different terms are used. We’ve always used jury, but we’re considering going to curator for our refresh in 2023. I’ll stick to the jury for the purposes of this discussion. I do really like “curator”, but there’s something about “jury” that’s exciting during this admissions process.
Scott Ferguson: I had no idea when I was using that word, “curatorial”, that I was walking into a minefield of semantic complications.
Preston Austin: It’s a nightmare, where we’re at right now, to the degree that we have an official line on it, the role is curator, which is both a public role and an internal role and the process and the group formed is jurying and the jury with respect to a round of submissions, that’s how…
Scott Ferguson: That makes a lot of sense.
Preston Austin: That’s how I try to clarify it. However, there’s a long history of discussion around this. And so that is far from normalized language across all of MUSICat.
Scott Ferguson: Did you want to keep going?
Rocky Mann: Sure. I’ll save that other rant for later. Then those jury members or those curators are active in their community. So they’re reaching out and they’re connecting with other musicians and artists, and encouraging their submissions or just by being present. I think their presence can encourage groups to submit. So on that end, I think the representation and the participation in the community by each jury member is really significant for what it has an impact on what submissions that we receive.
The submission process, we’ve been through a few practical iterations of it, I think initially, we were going for four times a year. So accepting 100 albums per year. And really quickly… There was one before I came on board, and I think 50 albums were added. There were some big celebration concerts in the city. It was really exciting. And then, after going through that process, I did the next one and realized, well, it takes three months to prep our marketing and communications department to be sending out the message encouraging people, notifying people that the call is open, then it takes a month for that submissions period to be open, then it takes a month or two, depending on the support needed by the jury or lives are busy to select.
And there’s also always like, Oh, this album or this track didn’t upload. So there’s always technical support needed. So another month, maybe a month and a half for the jury to go through the submission, then another month to support artists who have been invited to the collection, and uploading their submission, uploading their album, creating their profiles, and then another month or two, to celebrate the new additions to the collection. So that’s a six-month process. So I think now, our model is once a year, and to have up to that full amount. So 100 albums a year is what our collections budget has been set aside for.
Which I’ll say, too, in the submissions, what I really love about Edmonton Public Library’s model– is they have permanently integrated the budget for new albums through capital city records into our regular collections management and access budget. So it’s not with digital initiatives, my department, which is always exploring new technologies. And some things live for a long time, some things fade out, it’s with our permanent collections budget, just like any other type of collection that we have, physical or digital, which I very much appreciate. So it does give that sense of commitment and sustainability.
With artists’ admissions, too, I do a lot of active work on the ground, we really want it to be inviting. So I’m part of, I don’t know, 20 local music community Facebook groups, I’m going to events, I’m talking to people and making sure that everybody who might be interested is aware, I keep a list of artists who email me through the year with inquiries and I make sure to add them to this list of those who wish to be notified every time something happens just so things don’t get lost in the very overwhelming fear of internet and communications. So it is a very supportive thing.
If a submission isn’t quite working, or I’ll reach out personally to say, “hey, your track, the quality isn’t so good. Do you have another one?” I would not like to see somebody not be recommended because of a technical barrier, for example.
Scott Ferguson: Is the basic unit of submission an album? That’s what I thought I heard you saying or can a band submit a song or a few tracks?
Preston Austin: Let me speak to what’s possible first, and then the library-ality maybe. So the submit form, the initial process entry point into the technical layer of publishing is a short form and it gathers very basic metadata. And metadata is going to come up later probably in the conversation because it’s so important. But we gather very basic metadata; the album title, or the work in question, the artist’s name separately from the act, so the name of the individual versus the act, which are often not the same, some very basic high-level genre information.
And then the library administering the collection has control of additional meta information that they might want and ensure and process. And what that includes is how many tracks that are going to collect. So they could collect just one or they could collect many if they want to make many tracks available. And that does vary across collections. So some libraries, for example, they only collect albums, they have minimums and how many tracks they want. And they want to see three tracks presented to the jury so that they can make a judgment across that. So that’s like a very high investment, both for the submitting artist and for the jury in terms of how much is involved there.
We try to remember all that later, so that nobody ever has to redo any of that data entry, or uploading. But they can also ask other questions. So if they just want to ask a question of the artists they can, and two questions that have become standardized, and I think these actually didn’t both come from Edmonton, but I can’t remember right now where they came from the two questions that have become standardized are basically where have you been playing out? And then how would you describe your connection to the musical community? And so they were these two long-form questions in the submission that are basically like, tell us why you are connected locally. So that’s the technical layer of the process. And that produces a package that you get many, many, many pending submissions that the jury can work with.
Scott Ferguson: That’s so fascinating. I was thinking about comparing that process to what used to be the process of getting verified on Twitter. Which is like, show us your numbers, show us your raw numbers … this is totally different: write us some, give us some language about how you’re connected to the community. It’s so different.
Preston Austin: Sorry, go ahead.
Rocky Mann: I was just gonna say, it’s really important not to restrict what it means to be part of a music community. So our criteria we asked for, I think we have a field for a postal code, but it’s a greater Edmonton region. So it can be you either are born here, produce your album here, or have significant activity within the community here. So we want it to be local, it must be local somehow. But there is always room for that gray area for that one-off or that person who is really important, or that group that is really important to this community, based on their description, so we don’t want it to be a hard line of territory or region.
William Saas: Rocky, when you were talking about the process for soliciting submissions, it sounds to me a lot like canvassing, political canvassing. And the community organizing that you’re doing resembles workplace organizing. A couple of questions. One is: did your background that you were describing before, coming to the Edmonton Public Library, seem to entail some of that organizing work? How did that inform your approach to the submission process? Was it a one-to-one? What’s different about it? And then also, as you’re doing this work, I wonder how often local political community issues come into the conversation? And do you see potential within this territorial juried process, the community music community building that you’re doing there? Is it just inevitably also a political project?
Rocky Mann: It’s interesting the words you select. I would say that it’s more outreach. There is an organization part. But the public library, Edmonton Public Library, first and foremost, is really about outreach. So before this role at EPL, I was a community librarian. Basically, my job is to drive around, look at what’s there, and talk to people. So I might drive by a building and see a sign. Some group or organization that I’ve never heard of that might not even have a website or be in the phonebook. And I’ll try to connect to see what, what they’re up to.
And the question of, what are you up to? What are your goals? What are your visions? And how can the library support you? So what are the barriers to doing what you want to do in this community and for yourself? And then from those, from that “discovery interview” to use traditional library terms, we try to find ways the library can support. Versus I would say, and I think the platform supports this as well, because it’s collaboratively developed, this community based feedback. We bring that to Preston and Glen, and try to see it technically applied in that in a technical way, how can that technology support that need?
So we take what they’re saying… This is opposite, I think, of a corporate model where a business says “we’ve built this amazing thing. Now, you should probably want to use it and this is how you can use it.” That, to me, is very like if you build it, they will come where the focus is on the company or the product versus the process. My background is really, process is just as important as product. When I’m reaching out during the submissions process. I’m trying to build a relationship. Everything is about relationships.
Everything is about trust. I think Capital City Records and the MUSICat platform is the foundation of a safe place for sharing creative works, not just for the artists, but also there’s a gap of access for our Edmontonians, for example, and the world to access local content. A lot of this stuff may exist elsewhere on Bandcamp, or SoundCloud, or other things, but to be part of this collection, that is recognized by the library that is seen as this something that has value in that sense. There’s almost that, for lack of a better word, there’s an authority there, people trust the library, people know that there is very, very strong values, ethics process behind selection, and a historical commitment to intellectual freedom and things like that in a way that, there’s a lot of hot debate around those subjects as well.
And there will never be a clear answer. But the library is the appropriate place for those decisions to be made, as I’ve discussed before. So how do I recruit, how does that all work into it? Relationships are of the utmost importance, whether it’s an individual or group, making people aware of what’s available, but in that talking to people to learn what they need, and then feeding that into creating something available. So it’s ground up that way. And that’s powerful. It’s wonderful, I can reach out to an artist I maybe connected with once and it’s always a pleasant interaction.
I see them in my community on the ground, I really see the technology in the platform as the foundation for that. It’s the foundation for education, artists’ education, artists’ awareness, organizing around it, connecting people in real life on the ground, building those communities between artists and the rest of Edmonton and celebrating the culture and identity here, which in turn, those strong communities helps for that mutual support. That identity of what we are historically and now is really important to this global divide in places. I know it’s so strong between political views, you talked a lot about politics.
The politics that are thereI hope that this project can help curb that socio-economic gap between access to equitable distribution sharing and representation through the technology and the initiative. But it’s also about taking the politics out in a way that’s about–it’s first and foremost, the people and their works, and the perspective that might encompass politics, but it’s never neutral. But we strive for equity. Long-winded answer.
William Saas: Solidarity maybe?
Rocky Mann: Solidarity and strengthening community access, it excites me so much. And I know the biggest needs because I constantly get feedback. I’ll tell you how the artists really influenced two parts of the submissions process and how we do things, but I constantly get feedback and ask for feedback. What do they need now? What is of interest? So music business industry education, embedding metadata, we could get into that, too.
There’s so many overwhelming aspects to participating in these creative new industries that really important things like having proper metadata to protect your creative works is something I don’t think most artists know how to do or really are informed about. And so there’s that and even in our honorariums, I would say originally, I got some feedback being like, “hey, I’m an experimental artist and my album is two tracks and 40 minutes long.”
But we have tiers for honorariums. You asked before, can people submit one song or is it albums? It’s not just one track. We don’t have submissions for if you have a single, although I was just asked about this, and maybe that needs to change because singles are a very important thing these days. Maybe that’s a future discussion. But it is an EP, so originally, it was three tracks as an EP and above six tracks is an album and 12 or 10 plus gets the highest honorarium because we do want to attribute work somebody who’s invested in an album-length work, we want to compensate them for that contribution for maybe for an EP length or something. But we were doing by number of tracks, and that really wasn’t equitable.
So, upon that comment, I further reached out. I did a survey of all 300 artists. Tell me about your work. Tell me about what you consider. So now it’s an either or. So if you’re out and I based it on LP length, so a 7 inch how many minutes of music can that hold? 10 inch how many minutes of that and an LP–12 inch–how many minutes? And everybody agreed, that seems fair. So now the honorariums are based on either this amount of minutes, or this many tracks, because a punk or country album, which might have 12 short songs, but still be 15 minutes long.
Like my album is a full album, but it’s not as long as other genres. So out of all my creation trends, genres, and these works was all through those conversations, and then they result in our submissions process. And how we compensate. Two rants.
Scott Ferguson: Can you discuss a specific example of how artist participation changed the tech?
Preston Austin: Sure. There’s really a bunch. I’m trying to think of some that are odd and core to it. My mind is still on this question of album lengths right now. So which has ended up by the way being a constant area of work? So we’ve revisited again and again and again and again and again. So I think a key area where artist feedback changed the tech that I want to talk about in terms of responsiveness and the fact that this is a public platform and stuff like that. We’re in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, or not, depending on who you ask. But if you’re asking me, it’s still going on.
And at the beginning of that, we had a situation where everybody whose work was not considered a societal priority, and whose work depended on getting a bunch of people in little venues and rooms together just went away, all over the place. And so, we saw this situation where people who wait tables and artists who play in the venues where people who wait tables, and artists who play in small venues and cities and venues themselves, and we’re all just saying, “oh, we used to do things, and now we sit around at home, and this is ruining us. What should we do about that?”
There was push-back in a lot of spaces that were non-commercial, to say, “okay, how can we support each other?” So our libraries, we’re hearing from artists, a little bit of, “hey, basically can we do more to link out to places where we can generate revenue?” And so our reaction to that was twofold at Rabble… actually threefold, we did three things. One, we put up a product, which actually I need to take down on the webpage because we can’t afford it anymore. But we put up the product which we said, okay, for the duration of the pandemic, if you will support your local artists, if you have a budget for artists, we will bring up your MUSICat collection rate. And we actually still have one, I’m not going to say who because I don’t like to reveal who’s paying and who has not.
But we have a city that actually does not pay anything for MUSICat for a major urban market because they wanted to support their artists. And we said “fine, we won’t charge you anything, get a budget worked out when you can when there’s money.” That was one thing we did. Another thing we did though, and this is changing platform in reaction to artists, we added the ability for participating libraries who want to do it to offer their artists the ability to put up links to peer-to-peer payment platforms as part of the artists page that did not exist as a feature. And we just straightforwardly said, if people want to be able to jump off to give the artists money, we’re going to make that an aspect of the artist page.
So somebody in Rocky’s role can turn a feature like that on or off and an artist can opt into it. And if they want to put in links to things like CashApp, or Venmo, or Paypal or whatnot, we recognize those and offer those links on the page. And that was just one of the ways people are supporting each other during this pandemic, artists in particular are being hit hard by these, small local artists are being hit harder than artists in general, we’re just going to do this. So that’s a durable change to the technology that was just completely in response to that. And then the final thing we did is for two or three months as a company, we put down all of our work at MUSICat completely.
We built a separate platform for people to simply give money to local servers at restaurants. So we just built something called tipyourserver.org. We built it around a simple spreadsheet driven product that somebody named Emil Wimmer had built, which was cool, we thought that’s awesome. Let’s build a way for people to just give money to people during this pandemic, who were working at restaurants who they normally tip. I don’t think by the way that there should be a tipped minimum wage, I don’t think anybody should be paid in tips. I think that that’s all crazy. But that’s the reality of the world. And we knew there were social relationships there that would support people. So we built tipyourserver.org, which basically leveraged the same approach. Let people say what restaurant they worked for in what city and then jump off to a Venmo, or CashApp or whatever. And we don’t track things in a way that would allow me to know who does what. We’re very anti-surveillance.
But we did do a little bit of basic logging of how much that got used. And we did some analysis of some of that use from users. Basically, these platforms helped early in the pandemic move, tens of thousands of dollars a week at the scale of a city like Madison into the hands of people who needed the money to buy groceries. So these are reactions in technology. I’ve gone a little afield maybe from when we’ve started. But I think it’s an important aspect of where we’re at and how we’re trying to react to library values. We work with libraries. When the pandemic came, libraries dropped everything in order to become local support institutions for their communities, because they have a public mission. And so they do what’s important if they can, they don’t… this gets to Rocky’s point. They’re not trying to sell their product, they’re trying to react to their community needs. We have to do that, too. So that’s what we tried to do in that case.
Scott Ferguson: So we had a question that I think the language was spin “spin off projects.” But I almost feel like that question is wrongheaded. Because from your answers, it’s clear that the tech and the community and creating values and it’s all related, and everything spills into everything. This is as much about streaming local music as it is about local outreach as it is about supporting people during a pandemic who are restaurant workers.
But I guess maybe to ask this question in a slightly different way. Clearly, this is a project that goes beyond just a streaming service. Rocky referenced a concert that had happened. What kinds of other projects that are music based, have spilled out of this music streaming project?
Rocky Mann: A lot, so many. I guess I’ll start. Concerts were always part of the goal. And also part of that community building aspect. We started with concerts, every open round we’d have a concert and then there was this thing we were seeing that Capital City Record artists were really excited to be in Capital City Records together and wanted to put on their own Capital City Records events.
Which is usually they’re hosted by the library or a partnership with an organization or, or venue or something. So that was really cool to see.
William Saas: When you say “in Capital City Records,” do you have a physical space in addition to the catalog?
Rocky Mann: We do. We have a theater and a stage in our downtown library. I think our initial concerts were held in the park beside one of our other libraries, but also in other local venues. It’s really important to be supportive. Those music venues. And those local businesses aside from nonprofits and organizations are the heart of our music community. And especially during the pandemic that was really tough on our venues, who are the most… they’re really actually our pubs and our bars, who put on live music are really trying to be identified as culture hubs versus pubs or bars for funding and other reasons for their contributions.
So we like to work with those groups, those businesses as well. Concerts can happen anywhere. We started partnering with festivals to have a Capital City Record stage where if you showed your library card, which is free, you could have free access to the Capital City Record stage, because a barrier to participating in local culture is access to music, festivals and events. All our events are free. We don’t charge for anything when it comes to the community accessing Capital City Records work or events. So concerts were one. And they really spread the gamut of what kinds of events are shared.
Sometimes we just support another group if they want to use Capital City Records artists, so we’ll recommend and we’ll make that relationship connection for them as well. The second thing was a podcast with our local radio station here, CKOA Songs of the Week, which was so cool, because it was starting to connect other local celebrities with the collections. So they come and pick their favorite artists or track, and there’d be a five minute mini-podcast about why they love it. We’ve had the mayor on there. It could be anyone. So that was really great. We had two seasons of the podcast. So it was a partnership.
The technology when Rabble created the playlist, so getting other record stores or local music enthusiasts to also share their picks and playlists just like in other aspects of the library. We have people give book lists and things like that. So that was really important, Matt has been really great for little projects. Then, there’s the Posters Archive Collection, that was a side project or not a side that was always built in. It’s something that I really hope to have the resources to expand.
I love that as a piece to the site. So I know in Alex’s notes from that original report and transcending that it’s not… There’s the contemporary music collection, which is the submissions process, but it was really important that the platform also celebrate Edmonton local music history, as well. So it’s not just what are the albums in the last five years or that a part of submission? It’s what’s the history that feeds into what makes the community today. So the Gig Posters Archive is part of that.
Then we had a group of protest, the community group called Legends of Edmonton Music Scene Society, who have probably spent thousands of hours passionately collecting information and media about Edmonton music life. So it started off from the Shoebox Radio Show where Pete The Rocker was interviewing local legends. It’s quite amazing. He’s very passionate about it. These legends are here right now and he wants to celebrate them and make sure that they have a name and he will cry.
He has a lot of emotion talking about it because it is important. It’s important to those artists themselves, their families, and the community. It’s been a long… It’s an intensive process, but immediately Rabble said, “okay, let’s build a showcase.” We need something on there that can offer the opportunity for libraries to build other types of collections. There’s five categories, musicians, bands, venues, media (media is really important for a thriving music community). Who are those players in media who have really boosted artists in the past? And what are their stories? Builders. So who’s the music community builder that’s a category in the Legends of Edmonton Music Scene Society collection.
We’re trying to support a volunteer-run group to build a really beautiful collection, celebrating Edmonton music history, with old archive radio shows and other things. That’s another not side project, but that has come from those relationships and that has also fed into new aspects of the technology and platform. And there’s music videos, the video feature that Rabble implemented, we were getting requests to showcase music videos or other projects in the community, there was one called Northern Sessions or the Dead Venues Documentary that was all about our historical venues. So I think originally, we made a separate page that was linked in to MUSICat.
But then they built it right in. So now it’s part of the product. It’s part of the platform, which is awesome. And now it’s being used in so many different ways by all the libraries who use MUSICat. So I love going on to all the different libraries that are using the platform and seeing what they’re doing with these features and what their other projects are. Because the ways that you can use the technology are endless. There’s so many ways you can represent the community. Aside from the album and submissions collection, then one of the more excited ones was… I think we’re maybe the first public library to press a vinyl compilation.
So we’ve been building as makerspaces. And making becomes part of a lot of public library services, as it’s seen as another type of literacy and route for civic participation. We built living recording studios, we’ve had them for a long time. And when our downtown library was going into renovations and revitalizing it, we really set up and so we were doing fundraising. It was part of a fundraiser for these new recording studios that are complete and in full use. Very beautiful. But also it was from one of our members on the City Council at the time, who was very passionate about the arts community and he said let’s press a record and I said “well, that’s my idea, too.”
Councilor Scott McKeen was really wonderful on that. So he just rallied, helped us rally a bunch of players. We had somebody who was an expert in working with visual artists to help us with the artwork. Long story short, Edmonton Arts Council also came on board to fund it. We had a separate jury onboard of very… they didn’t have to be in Edmonton, we had Cadence Weapon from Edmonton, but like a huge mentor and celebrated artists here in Canada, on the jury, so we had a separate jury, we invited artists to really submit tracks previously unreleased in physical format, because again, we didn’t want to limit the ability for artists to be sharing through this long year, wait a whole year for this album to be pressed before they could continue on with their business. So that was awesome.
We worked with the radio station to curate the record once the submissions were selected. Everything was local, we had a local press here, press the vinyl. The artwork was from a muralist from Edmonton. So that was a really exciting project, you can see the artwork from behind me.
William Saas: I’ve been admiring most of the entire show, our conversations… that’s awesome.
Rocky Mann: There’s… she calls them easter eggs that are inside jokes and the music community you can find in the artwork. But I’ll say that through that process, the feedback from that project was, it’s so expensive, some artists, there was such a range of people present on there like Juno Award winners, and people who maybe recorded that track in the basement, who would never be able to access or afford to have at that time, their music pressed on wax. So it was just really exciting.
And a challenge to make a compilation across genres. We have the north side because Edmonton is split by a river and there’s a joke of like the north side of the south side. So all of it really celebrates the city. So we’ve pressed a record, we’re hoping to do a volume two. We’ve also had projects during the pandemic through Capital City Records for virtual concerts. So we were holding interactive people on Valentine’s Day and other concerts and streaming them in hospital wards and long-term care facilities where the artist would share messages from between loved ones. So we were making connections between those artists and different kinds of community groups.
Which led to another realization that not everybody can attend a physical concert I have to say a positive thing came out, the platform and these spin off quote “spin-off” projects that come out of it help us realize other barriers that music lovers and music makers face in connecting their art with local art and culture. And that was one. So we’re continuing to do those even if live venues are open again.
William Saas: How long have you been doing the MUSICat project? That sounds like 10 years.
Rocky Mann: That’s how I started in 2016. Oh, and we started a physical collection of CDs, which is interesting.
William Saas: Amazing.
Rocky Mann: So hoping to represent physical works from the digital collection, alongside local authors and things like that. But, 7… 6 years. And now we’re partnering with the Juno Award. So I’m hoping that can become a thing, too. We’re talking about a song… a music expert, or musician residents like the local poet laureate. So that’s very new. I don’t know where that will go.
But it’s something that the education artists education and support through the initiative, all founded through the platform and the technology that is the base for all of these other things. It opens up so many opportunities to bring people together. And I think that’s why we determined a digital public space, is because this technology is so deeply entwined into all the ways that we can connect and support artists and Edmontonians. That was a long rant, but there is so much.
Scott Ferguson: Beautiful, it was so beautiful. This is all just so glorious. I think it’s wonderful. Maybe we can have a bit of a meta-conversation about what else we want to get on record. So we’re holding maybe some of the technical discussion for when Kelly arrived. Do we want to do some of that? Preston?
Preston Austin: I’m absolutely happy to. Kelly started this project as the representative. She was doing a public humanities fellowship during her PhD in musicology at University of Wisconsin Madison, she went to work at the library during that and built in the way that a super high-end intern can do moving freely in an institution built the foundations of a few things. One of them was everything internal to make possible the collaboration. So we’re one week into that process of working with her and I go talk to one of my business partners, and I’m like, “wow, like this Kelly Heiser person, holy shit. Is she good at absolutely everything?” So she’s getting her PhD in musicology.
But she’ll be like, “well, how does the tech work on this?” Then two days later, she comes back, and she’s gone and read StackOverflow, or whatever. It’s not magic work. But she just puts in the work and brings it back and is unafraid to try things. And so I think we were probably less than a month into this collaboration with Madison, when I was like there’s gotta be a way I can work with Kelly in the future on something. I don’t want this to end with this fellowship. And so that’s a little bit of a history of how they came to be Rabble. And I think actually, when she first invited us, when we first said to her, “hey, do you want to start a company or something like that?”
I actually think that is much like with the art music library project. I mean, I’m pretty sure the answer was no. And I was like, well, I won’t bother. But then opportunity opened up. So as a musicologist and as a scholar and as a participant from the library side, initially, she brought an abundance of theory to this. A thoughtfulness around sound, we can talk for two hours about sound. What is sound? Kelly and I used to go on at great length about how annoying it is to deal with people in technology who are obsessed with fidelity, with linearity, with the reproduction of objectively perfect sound. What the hell does that even mean? I’m not going to do that on your program.
Scott Ferguson: Oh, please.
Preston Austin: Not without Kelly. I have somebody who actually knows what they’re talking about and conversation. Otherwise, I’ll go too far out of land of some bullshit exposition on a topic. So anyway, there’s no aspect of the history of building Rabble MUSICat that I’m not also a party to. It’s just worth understanding that she founded this company, and I worked for her during the period of time prior to and the first few years of Rocky’s work in Edmonton and the establishment of the core values and all of this. There’s never a point at which that’s not under Kelly’s leadership. And I just think that’s important. And there’s Kelly!
Scott Ferguson: There’s Kelly!
Preston Austin: I have invoked her into the conversation. I was singing your phrases here.
Kelly Hiser: I know I missed you. It’s been way too long.
Rocky Mann: Preston just said that you just miss the good five minutes…
William Saas: It was as though his job was to introduce you before giving an amazing talk. So you’re up.
Scott Ferguson: No pressure.
Preston Austin: No pressure, Kelly. I’m pretty sure that I just said that you can do anything at all.
Scott Ferguson: We’ve taken quite the tour, all around MUSICat. But we’d like you to talk a little bit about the initial challenges with the technology and what the design process was about, especially initially, and then Preston has suggested that because of your musicology background, you have some things to say about music theory or music fidelity or non-fidelity.
William Saas: What is sound?
Scott Ferguson: What is sound? You take this, however, wherever you want to take it.
Kelly Hiser: In terms of thinking about sound from a more philosophical standpoint, I have always had this stance that being an audiophile is more about status than any real quality in music. So I was always… just make it work, I don’t care. As long as it… once you get to a certain point, people will say they can tell the difference between different levels of fidelity. But in most cases, that’s just not how people are actually using music in their lives.
And it just ultimately, that’s not what these collections were about at all to me. They are more about building community demonstrating the value of music in a community. And I don’t think the value of that music is in any way tied up with some technological fidelity to sound quality.
Preston Austin: Agreed. That said, the sound quality is perfect. I can speak a little bit to some of this, too. So one of the things that was a question basically, is what formats are accepted. And so what we targeted was making it basically anything. And we encourage these days artists to upload WAV for 4.1 kilohertz 16-bit so that they have a baseline standard that is equivalent to what was used to offer CDs. When you run into all the problems and talk about dynamic range, and loudness, and compressing everything into the upper end of that, artists are going to do what artists are going to do. But if they have mastered tracks in WAV, we’ll use them. But there are other people who are doing their entire workflow in mp3 tools, and they want to upload an mp3 and we’re not going to be like, “oh, it’s 120 kilobit mp3 that you made five years before the first collection was done, and we’re not going to take it because that’s not master quality or whatever.” F that.
Kelly Hiser: That’s a good point, too, because those differences are very much tied up in genre and race. Fidelity to some audio quality can be a white male status symbol. And a lot of the time when folks are creating stuff in mp3, it’s Black musicians who are working in their local hip hop scene. So another reason to really question audio quality as a marker of value or goodness.
Rocky Mann: I’ll agree and I’ll just say even when on that vinyl record, even on wax, which is “oh gosh, you must have spent $10,000 to get a master to sound good enough for a pressing,” we had such a range of file types, compression, quality. They all sound great somewhere like basement recordings and submitted on mp3. And they sound equally good on wax as they do on the platform. So that to just follow up on what Kelly said.
Kelly Hiser: Rocky, I’m sorry, I have to take a tangent. I have that print of the vinyl hanging in the entryway of my house downstairs. It’s framed. The exact same thing is right underneath me before.
William Saas: Are copies still available? Now I feel like I want in. Can people outside of Edmonton get a hold of it?
Rocky Mann: You can just email me after. We can mail one.
William Saas: Well, I was gonna say, we could also put it in the show notes and invite listeners, if that’s something that you have copies to sell. Awesome. I’m definitely intrigued.
Preston Austin: I need to get in on that as well. So we were going to make our poster that you sent us as a gift for Mark Bracken, who was one of the interface developers who was instrumental in your first submission round. Mark Bracken killed himself to make it possible for Edmonton to get through the jury process. We were literally writing every interface a couple of days. And Kelly was presiding over that process.
And I was making sure that the servers worked. And Mark, we were going to frame your poster, put a little plaque on it, a little brass plaque. And so it was a framing shop when the pandemic hit. And between one thing and another, it has been lost to the world of framing. So if I can get another poster, that would be great. I want to but I still want to give Mark that gift if I can.
Rocky Mann: No we can get that. I’d have to say that’s another example. We wanted to do this thing, we needed a different type of submission process, we needed the technology to work differently than the regular round. And again, something was created that could support what we need to do.
Kelly Hiser: And that goes to that question about what was the design process like? Preston says I can do anything. I had zero tech, or UX, or product management experience when I came into the role. And really what I did instinctively, and what was Preston’s philosophy as well from the beginning, was we just worked incredibly closely with our library partners, so that the design process was really working with them and not for them.
We talk a lot about designing with, not for and that was really what we did. We had librarians in our GitHub repo actually in the code with us checking things out and testing stuff as we went. And it was… there were no mocks, there were no requirements, it was very messy and chaotic. It was a chaotic collaboration among a couple of really talented developers who put in a lot of backbreaking hours for us, which I have sworn I will never ask another developer to do again, if at all possible, because it was not fun for him.
But he cared about the work and believed in it. And we all did. So I can’t speak to there being some actual process, it was very much more just let’s have some meetings and put some basic requirements together and have Mark go off and build a thing and just keep that circle going.
Rocky Mann: And then I’ll show it to you. So that’s the thing, it opens and then it was even on color, which was a whole thing.
Scott Ferguson: That’s awesome.
William Saas: Blue vinyl.
Rocky Mann: It’s so pretty.
Kelly Hiser: It’s really pretty. It’s really good, too. It’s such a good album.
William Saas: So Rocky, I imagine in the context of Edmonton, the pitch to artists is pretty easy now, after you’ve done this work for over six years and built this community out. I’m wondering, for newer or aspiring libraries who would like to join the network and become part of and have MUSICat. What does the early pitch look like? How do you get artists involved? Is it the honorarium? Is that what you lead with? Or do you lead with the mission of MUSICat and the mission of the platform and the sense of community? You have all of that in Edmonton. And I think that it would be implied in your approach, or at least you could point to it. But in places where that’s not established yet what does the pitch look like to artists to join the network?
Rocky Mann: To artists… Because there’s a pitch to artists, there’s a pitch to libraries. And there’s a pitch internally to continue. So I’d say to artists, the honorarium is part of what I call this is a safe space of integrity. This is so aside from just sharing music, there’s so much more to part of it. It’s supporting their career, their civic participation, as we say. So all these aspects to be in this archive collection to have… Preston and I were talking last night about the Marc Record, what it means.
What it means to have a historical authority that applies to your work, so it’ll be discoverable. And as a snapshot of a place in time, and a culture in time, historically is so important. It’s very different than the… I will say it here, but in a sense, it’s part of a community question. It’s something that we talk a lot with the university and there are researchers there and how can we make this something of value into the future to long beyond, which gets into other interesting conversations about forms of technology, how people might want to be not identified the same way, all through history all through time, moving forward, but the value for artists, one, what I call a safe space, that means a lot, it means a supportive space, that means something that strives for an ethical standard.
Strives from a different agenda, it comes from a different agenda, that they know that we might not always be fluid will be changing. A $200 honorarium is a lot for some people. And maybe for other people, it isn’t so much. If we could pay more we’d love to, but that being paid something to share your work, instead of having to pay or having to have something cut out of your work. Just the idea of that is really meaningful. Then there’s the opportunities on the ground, and not opportunities in the way, if you join us, a corporate mentality, something that’s trying to sell a product might communicate, there’s so much opportunity if you join our organization, or our business or our thing, it’s not like that, it’s let’s connect you.
There’s other people who have similar interests as you and there’s other knowledge out there in our local community that is exciting. So, that’s the piece. I have a whole paper right or document right here, we come back all the time with quotes from artists and for example, say the Denim Daddies, who are a local country group, I’ve written letters of support for grants they’re applying for. I help with some of those quality files, I’ll help share knowledge. And then if I know another artist, then I’ll connect them to that artist who might have that knowledge to share.
So that’s part of it. I think it’s the community and being attached to the library, for all the value the library has in society is what’s meaningful. So they say, “the Denim Daddies are excited to be part of this unique project that connects Edmonton talented artists with the library community. It gives the public access to local musicians whom they may not have heard, and gives them an accessible way of discovering artists from Edmonton. DCR is writing an ongoing history of Edmonton’s ever growing and always talented community.” So I think in that quote, it’s the greater importance in place of a public library including accessibility, not just for artists, but for music lovers and for those who need to connect to local culture.
Scott Ferguson: So to close us out, I wanted to explore with you all, a federal policy proposal that we at Money on the Left are very much advocate for, is the Federal Job Guarantee. This would essentially guarantee everyone who is willing and able a public service job to participate in their community, whether it’s in the arts or working in any number of communal senses, and one of the reasons we’re so inspired by your project, is that it seems you’re already doing the work that we imagine would be done across scales, and would be guaranteed by federal spending through a Job Guarantee.
So we were wondering if you feel like your experience in doing what you do… Well, we’re sure that you have things to teach us who are advocates for the Job Guarantee. But what might a Job Guarantee program of public service employment mean to you all and what you do?
Preston Austin: I can speak a little bit to this, or maybe a lot, but I don’t have time. So I assume when you’re talking about looking at this as a federal policy proposal that you’re basically talking about Sandy Darity and Derek Hamilton’s version of this concept.
Scott Ferguson: There are multiple versions of it. And we are in solidarity with…
Preston Austin: Okay, sure, fair enough. So that’s the recent discourse that I’m familiar with. So one of the things I want to say is that, if we’re going to use an Employment Guarantee as a way of creating economic security and economic justice, one of the questions I have is where does being an artist stand in public employment? Is it a public value that can be funded from a public budget? And I think that building a skeleton towards that, with material payments and relationships between public entities that act as a qualifying enterprise for eligibility, and that build the relationships along which funds can flow, I think is important.
And I think that while it is not… it prefigures something very thinly. But I also don’t want to overstate what’s happening here, like getting a single $200 check from your Public Library is where a $300 check is great, respectful and material. And that’s what we want it to be respectful and material, straightforward, artist friendly terms upfront, no bullshit. But we don’t want to pretend that this is lots and lots of money. Not right now. However, we do want it to actually become lots and lots of money.
So we’re trying to validate direct public funding of artists’ work. And I think that connecting the throughline from there to direct public funding of lots of people’s endeavors in a Job Guarantee program is not that hard to draw. So I’d like to see that become $200 a month for the duration of work on the collection. And I’d like to see it become more than that. I’d like there to see fellowships within this where artists are really a city’s artists and residents are one of a collection of and then that group gets expanded over time.
This is really, really important. And again our philosophy is not, “hey, let’s find a valuable work.” Our philosophy is “let’s invest in the valuable activity of people producing art and working with very local public institutions to collect and celebrate and share that.” So that’s what I’d like to see funded, I don’t want to construct an increased purchase of your work, I’m not particularly interested in metering or something like that. Instead, it’s increased support for the activity of those who produce these valued local works. I’ll stop there.
Kelly Hiser: I can hop in, too, and just say that I think when you’re imagining other possibilities than the ones we live in, it’s great to have big theoretical frameworks. But it’s also crucial to have real work happening within the cracks of the system. And I think that’s what we’ve been able to do really successfully. I think we heard a lot of doubt about how you can do this with the way copyright is and the way libraries are constructed. And we just pushed and we’re able to create a model that’s been replicable in a lot of different kinds of communities.
I agree with Preston, we don’t want to pretend that we’re revolutionizing the world, but at the same same time, this is a radically different prospect than the commercial music industry. And it’s one crack in the fortress.
Rocky Mann: What really hits home for when you said validate direct public funding of artists’ work, I can see that happening. I just have never really thought about it that way. For example writers and authors and books are really the traditional content in a public library. So we have a writers-in-residence program, they get paid for a year to be a writer-in-residence. And now, as I mentioned earlier, especially now that we have recording studios and other things, other aspects, and it’s become recognized that this content is also important in cultural content, that the library is a really valid and important piece of our collections.
And how do we represent that? So a music expert, or musician, or songwriter-in-residence is on the table. Same with the fact that a lot of the artists who… that validation piece, I know artists in the collection who’ve been able to get CVC spotlight, national spotlight, funding or have gotten big awards through being through… I think it’s supported, I’m not gonna say directly influenced, but I will say that being part of this collection or that validation by a public, not just institution, because CCR is funded here in Canada by residential taxes.
So basically, that image in public libraries, saying that the community who is paying taxes has determined that this is a value to them. So that money from the pockets of the community is supporting those artists’ work. And being in the collection is indirectly saying to these other ways that an artist can survive and make money and continue to subsist that our civic community has identified that this is of value, and therefore programs are being created that can allow them to maybe make some of a living by what you said… I don’t know… I think the education piece and the whole licensing royalties here is so different than the states.
But to me, that’s a huge part. When artists come in, some are aware, some don’t know how to properly also receive royalties. And we have several complicated CMOs and PROs. But that’s a piece that we can help with. So that can also play into that income to subsist and continue to provide the public service of culture production and connection.
Preston Austin: Real quick, I want to expand on a point that Rocky made if there’s time. So one of the things Rocky mentioned earlier in the conversation was Marc Records. So Marc Records, M-A-R-C Records are basically catalog card digital records. So if you imagine your old school card catalog with a little… So one of the things we do that feels like a dry library world concern is we export Marc Records of the collection was actually a big hassle. It’s hard to do. And libraries have different standards for it. And we thought it was really important. And the reason why is because for a lot of these works locally, it’s the first cyclical existence of the work and possibly the act, the artist as a band that they can point out that goes into durable institutional memory.
And I don’t know quite how to tie this together. But I think that this is one of these things that connects to the value that leads to flows of money as is like existing to institutions, as a record, in a good way… Is really, really important and not trivially accessible and being citable isn’t just an academic concern. It’s a validation for all sorts of things. And collectively, it’s the validation that allows things to be counted.
So for example, Austin Public Library, when they take artists off the collection after the period that they’ve licensed their work for, they’ve ended up using the features that we helped write with Rocky that Legends of Edmonton Music is based on the showcase feature, to keep the artists represented as one of the people who built this collection by making a showcase record for them so they’re no longer an artist page because that’s connected to the published album and that’s not fair after three years.
They keep 300 albums at a time on the collection. But that showcase page again, it’s part of keeping excitability alive and acknowledging contribution and respecting in a way that has more permanence and I think that that’s going to, as this goes forward, play more and more a role both individually and collectively and why it matters to artists.
William Saas: Well, Rocky Mann, Kelly Heiser, Preston Austin, thank you so much for your excellent, amazing, tremendous work on this. I think revolutionary technology MUSICat and thank you so much for joining us on Money on the Left, it’s been really amazing talking to you.
Rocky Mann: Thank you.
Scott Ferguson: We did it! Amazing.
William Saas: That was so fun.
Scott Ferguson: Thank you so much. Wow. So I know Billy has a hard out.
William Saas: Gonna get a hard knock on the door here in a second.
Scott Ferguson: But we want to talk about securing permission for using the art in our art… we also and we were talking to Preston before about this. Rocky if you could potentially secure permission to use some clips from local music.
William Saas: Gotta be The Denim Daddies… gotta be.
Scott Ferguson: And we can splice them in as interludes throughout our conversation if that’s possible and we’ll just be in an email contact with you about that.
William Saas: This is awesome. I hope we can talk more in the future. Bye, guys.
* Thanks to the Money on the Left production team: William Saas (audio editor), Mercedes Ohlen (transcription), & Emily Reynolds of The Buffalo Institute for Contemporary Art (graphic art)