“We have an opportunity to help document some of the work that’s being created.”
From physical media, to borrowable musical instruments and recording equipment, to workshops and classes, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is constantly deepening and expanding on traditional ideas of what a local library can and should offer.
In that spirit, the organization has ventured into new technological territory, and on Friday, Feb. 15 it launched Stacks, a digital streaming service featuring exclusively Pittsburgh-based artists. As with a platform like Spotify, Stacks brings music directly to your computer or phone. From the comfort of home, listeners can explore an array of local music, hopping from country western elder-statesman Slim Forsythe to wild psych-rockers Come Holy Spirit to arty hip-hop act JunkFoods.
Working in conjunction with technology startup Rabble – which is based in Pittsburgh and in Madison, WI, and has helped launch similar programs in Seattle, Austin., Tx. and elsewhere — the Library staff aimed to create something that could serve library patrons while helping to amplify the Pittsburgh music scene.
“We know that the local music scene is … not a cohesive unit,” says Toby Greenwalt, the Library’s Director of Digital Strategy and Technology Integration. He notes that conversations with musicians, particularly those who use the library’s resources, helped guide some of the early research. “We were thinking of it as a community entity. We have an opportunity to help document some of the work that’s being created and hopefully bridge some of the gaps and show how many styles and creators are being represented here in the city.”
While library usage is certainly not a requirement for inclusion, the Stacks project provides some insight into what happens once patrons leave the building. “Now that we’re getting ready to launch, it’s really given us an opportunity to connect the dots between the instruments we [loan] out, the classes we put on ….and then kind of defining the relationship that we have with new and established artists across [Pittsburgh].”
Unlike many streaming services, Stacks is highly curated. Currently the platform features 40 artist, chosen from 165 applicants. A jury comprised of library staff and people who know and care deeply about the local music scene – including artist/activist Jacquea Mae of 1Hood, Jim Cunningham of WQED-FM, Mary Tremonte aka DJ Mary Mack, and James Armstead Brown, who runs the YMCA Lighthouse Project – determined who would be included this time around.
“We went with people who we know have connections to different subsets of the local music scene,” Greenwalt says. For example, Pittsburgh’s dynamic hip-hop scene is often overlooked, so it was important to have the involvement of someone like Mae, who is immersed in that world.
“We know there are a lot of women and non-binary artists out there making really interesting stuff, so we want to make sure that we have somebody who can speak to that experience,” Greenwalt adds. “We know there are a lot of teens coming up from after-school programs and other sorts of things at the library who are making music, so we want to make sure we have people who have connections to those folks.”
Limited resources also make curation necessary. Unlike, say, Spotify, Stacks artists get paid a one-time stipend of $200. It’s not a huge number but, with Spotify’s rate of $0.0084 per play, it would take more than 23,000 song plays to reach that amount.
If you missed the opportunity to be included, don’t worry: Greenwalt says the Library plans to open submissions twice a year, and will likely put out a call for another round of artists in April.
“Really, I hope it creates a virtuous cycle … for the Library, but primarily for musicians,” Greenwalt says. “We want to create a space where the exposure not only [helps] to cement their role as part of the local music scene, but also hopefully leads them on to better things.”
Learn more at stacks.carnegielibrary.org