Today it’s my pleasure to welcome a local musician to the Library as Incubator Project! Brendan McCarty and his band, The Periodicals, relied heavily on library materials when they decided to undertake a home recording project. A School of Library & Information Studies graduate and a musician, Brendan’s perspective on libraries and how they can effectively serve artists is really intriguing. Enjoy! ~ Laura

Library as Incubator Project (LAIP): Please introduce yourself, your group, and tell us about how you used libraries for your recent recording project.

Brendan McCarty (BM): I play keyboards in the Madison, WI based band The Periodicals. Recently, we decided to self-record our album, which was a bit daunting since none of us had much experience doing multi-track recording of a full band. Since I’m somewhat technically inclined and own a decent Macbook Pro with a copy of Garageband, I decided to be the “Engineer” of our debut recording. Although there were a lot of tough lessons “learned on the job”, I did get some help in the form of great books on DIY recording from Madison Public Library. Bruce Bartlett’s Practical Recording Techniques and Jeff Strong’s Home Recording for Dummies both were indispensable guides for me while I made my way through the recording process. Even small details, like where to place the microphone for vocals, and how to properly separate the different drum sounds, made a huge difference in the recording quality. Although no one would ever confuse The Periodicals EP with Pet Sounds, I am pleased with the end product of our work, which is available for preview at our Bandcamp page.

The Periodicals, in a photo taken in the Wisconsin Historical Society Reading Room.

The Periodicals, in a photo taken in the Wisconsin Historical Society Reading Room.

LAIP: When it came time to gather resources for your recording project, what prompted the visit to the Madison Public Library? Were you already a library user? Were the materials easy to find?

BM: As a SLIS grad and former public librarian, I have come to appreciate the value of the library as an authoritative resource. Books and other library materials have to go through a selection process- getting published (hopefully by a respected publisher) and selected for a library collection (hopefully by a knowledgeable librarian). I say hopefully because I know there’s always a few things that slip through the cracks, but overall I respect the value of a library’s collection just as much, or perhaps more than, a random internet search. 

I’ve always been a library user. I did my undergrad degree in journalism and found that hitting the stacks for research was always my favorite part of writing, so I chose to go through SLIS to make that more a part of my everyday working life. While I’m not currently a librarian (I do administrative work and project management for American Family Insurance), I still appreciate the value of libraries (see above answer!) and make a point to visit whenever I can. 

Unfortunately, good materials weren’t as easy to find as I had hoped they would be. The entire South Central system only had about 30 books on home music recording, the majority of which were over 10 years old. This is practically ancient for a subject like digital recording, where the technology is constantly getting cheaper, faster, and easier, and practices and procedures are always evolving. Since home recording is only going to get cheaper and more accessible, not to mention more practical as the music industry changes away from the major label/ professional recording studio model, it would make sense for public libraries to offer more resources to musicians and other DIY recorders/ engineers. 

LAIP: From your perspective as a musician (and budding recording engineer!), what do you think libraries could do to reach out to artists and promote their materials to this user group?

BM: For starters, libraries should acknowledge the need for more resources. As I said earlier, I could only find a couple of dozen resources on digital recording at the library. However, a quick search on “woodworking” returned over 1200 results, while looking up “knitting” gave me a list of more than twice that amount. I imagine most other libraries have a similar discrepancy in their collections. While I won’t get into the relative merits of one hobby over another, I think it’s safe to say that home recording is a worthwhile endeavor that deserves more attention in the library. Plus, attracting and retaining a user base of hands-on, technically-inclined, passionate artists and creators would serve libraries well as they strive to be more of a “maker space” than “reader space”. 

As for how to facilitate this relationship, I think a good approach would be through outreach and in-library programming. For outreach, libraries could develop relationships with the local music community by promoting their services at events where they could reach a captive audience. For instance, conduct and facilitate a Q and A panel on recording technology at a local recording studio with local engineers and musicians. Have a librarian host the event and promote library materials throughout. Another good outreach project would be to have the library sponsor a show at a local music venue. Try to attract bands that have a more literary bent to their material (there’s always a few bands around that are history buffs or sci-fi geeks), and work in a co-sponsorship with a local music store. Basically, the outreach part should be looking for any and every possible partnership: local engineers, musicians, music stores, recording studios, even recording technology programs (like Madison’s own Media Institute). 

Moreover, recording is not alchemy or magic, it’s a craft with established practices and procedures, not to mention an interesting history, that would lend itself well to a robust reference and instructional collection at any library. If library selectors were unfamiliar/ uncomfortable with purchasing books on recording technology and instruction, I’m sure that their outreach contacts (local engineers or musicians) would be comfortable making recommendations on behalf of the library’s collection developers. 

LAIP: As an artist, what would your ideal library look or be like? What would it have in it?

BM: The Bubbler Media Lab at MPL is a great example. Not only does the Bubbler have a great collection of resources (including Pro Tools, Garage Band, a mixer and audio interface, and even a vocal booth!), they regularly host instructional sessions on audio engineering. While not every library can afford or accommodate their own media lab, I don’t think it’s impossible to do something similar on a budget. A library could get a Macbook with Garage Band, a basic microphone and audio interface, and either use library staff or partner with a local audio professional (or even just a Garage Band enthusiast!) to lead an instructional session. Prospective users could bring their own laptops, so the only resources the library would need to commit, besides the Macbook and Garage Band setup (which truth be told, at least 1 librarian in almost every library probably already has) would be a room, projector, tables and power strips to plug into. 

Additionally, based on my own anecdote with having trouble finding relevant books, I think libraries could also stand to beef up their nonfiction collections of instructional and historical/ general interest info related to digital and home recording. Audio recording is not alchemy or magic, it’s a craft with established practices and procedures, not to mention an interesting history. Therefore, the subject would lend itself well to a robust reference and instructional collection at any library. If library selectors were unfamiliar/ uncomfortable with purchasing books on recording technology and instruction, I’m sure that their outreach contacts (local engineers or musicians) would be comfortable making recommendations on behalf of the library’s collection developers. 

As I said earlier, home recording is only expanding in popularity, as it gets cheaper, easier, and generally more accessible. Moreover, the corresponding shifts in the music industry that have resulted in “DIY recording” becoming the most popular method of music recording, means that libraries have a ready-made and captive audience looking for more information relating to digital/home/DIY recording.

If libraries expanded their collections and programming, and performed regular outreach to cater to this audience, they would do a service both to themselves and their communities. A large, devoted, techno-savvy new user base would be appreciative of the library’s efforts, and provide a strong testament of the library’s return of investment to the community, as well as give the community a shining example of how a library can stay relevant as it evolves from a book-focused “reader space” to a community-focused “maker space”.

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