This new digital music platform at Carnegie Library will spotlight Pittsburgh music

It’s a collaboration with a Pittsburgh company.

An example of what the platform will look like based on Seattle's MUSICat iteration.

An example of what the platform will look like based on Seattle's MUSICat iteration.

Courtesy of MUSICat
Rossilynne Culgan

Updated Feb. 5, 2019: STACKS, the Pittsburgh version of MUSICat, is slated to launch on Friday, Feb. 15 with albums from 40 Pittsburgh musicians. Submissions will be open twice a year and each time around 30 albums will be selected. Look for the next submission period in the spring, said Toby Greenwalt, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s director of digital strategy and technology integration.

Updated Sept. 20, 2018: Local musicians are now invited to submit their work here for a chance to be part of STACKS, the Pittsburgh version of MUSICat. Submissions are being accepted here until until Oct. 8.

In a program that’s kind of like Spotify for libraries (but better), Carnegie Library is teaming up with a start-up’s Pittsburgh office to spotlight the work of local musicians by making their music available for free download.

The library is working with the company Rabble, which has offices in Pittsburgh’s Allentown neighborhood at Work Hard Pittsburgh and in Madison, Wis., to launch an iteration of Rabble’s platform called MUSICat, said Toby Greenwalt, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s director of digital strategy and technology integration.

It works like this, Rabble CEO and Co-Founder Kelly Hiser explained: Libraries collect submissions from musicians, jury those submissions, invite the musicians they’d like to include from a wide variety of genres, and pay the musicians a one-time fee to share for their work.

Libraries license the albums directly from the musicians, who are paid up-front. Each library sets the value of the honorarium — “it’s a material amount, but we tend to assume artists and the library are mutually supporting the collection and their communities,” Hiser added.

MUSICat sites have already launched in cities including Nashville, Seattle, and Edmonton — each site with its own city-specific branding — since Rabble began in 2014.

By this summer, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh plans to open a call for submissions for local artists who would like to have their work considered for the collection. A team of curators, made up of library staff and members of the community, will review the submissions, preparing for a November launch, Greenwalt said.

Once the collection is live, anybody will be able to stream the tracks for free online, while those with a library card can download the music.

For Hiser, a musician and Brookline resident who visits her neighborhood library weekly with her toddler, the project is deeply important to her as a way to make local music more accessible to the public, and she said musicians have responded favorably.

“Generally musicians appreciate the honorarium the libraries are giving them since the library is paying them for their work,” she said. “We hear a lot of things like, ‘I’m really proud to be a part of this collection.’ Libraries are really seen as respected, legit curators of the local art scene, and I think musicians really recognize that.”

As libraries evolve in a digital world, the platform helps libraries engage with the community and “bridge the digital divide,” Hiser said.

Libraries used to purchase locally produced CDs for their collections, but as the use of CDs has faded, libraries can use that money to spend on a digital MUSICat collection. Some libraries rely on financial support from their foundation or ‘friends of’ organization to fund the collection for the first year, then roll it into their collection budget when they see its success, she said.

“Libraries in the U.S. and Canada and across the world and really reimagining themselves as vibrant community hubs,” she said. “I think MUSICat is being a part of even more community engagement.”

Plus, it helps the library in its goal to support Pittsburgh’s creative community, Greenwalt said, which it currently does by offering resources, such as electronic music equipment and workshops about business tips for freelancers.

“The library’s always been a step along the way for people to build out their creative urges, and we want to be able to showcase that, so hopefully it goes to inspire other folks to create,” Greenwalt said. “How can we use MUSICat to showcase all of the work that musicians are doing here in Pittsburgh? … The overall goal is to help our users advance their creative modes of expression.”