Today’s feature comes to you from a new official member of the Library as Incubator Project team! Bryan Voell is the Local Arts Librarian for the Johnson County Library in Johnson County, Kansas, and we’re thrilled he’ll be joining us as a regular contributing writer on a variety of arts and library topics. Today he talks about one of his own projects at Johnson County Library. Enjoy! ~ Laura

by Bryan Voell

Listen Local is Johnson County (KS) Library’s new blog dedicated to promoting the diverse musical creativity in and around the Johnson County community. By spotlighting original music that may not be not commercially available by local composers and songwriters of all ages we are providing digital access to music that may not otherwise be heard. We aim to raise awareness of the artists who live and create in our community.

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The idea for Listen Local came shortly after I started my current position as Local Arts Librarian with the Johnson County Library in 2013. This idea was fueled by the amazing programs, activities and initiatives that have long been part of Johnson County Library’s modus operandi. As I began to share this idea with others, I felt I was onto something and was encouraged to further explore the possibilities.

Encouraged by the recent digital local music projects like the Denver, Iowa City and Madison Public Libraries, I wanted to take some initial steps toward reaching out to our local music communities in new and different ways. How do we build relationships with these artists, help promote the work they’re doing, and make it all worthwhile for them and for our Library? The only way to answer these questions was to start asking. We approached a few local artists and got positive responses. Then more questions emerged: How do we tie the artist features to our catalog? What are the legal ramifications of such a project? How do we sustain interest in this project on the artist and listener ends?

Ultimately, it comes down to one overarching goal: to regularly feature the creativity of local songwriters and composers in the Johnson County/Kansas City metro area. Some of the artists featured on Listen Local will be well-known to our community. They perform regularly in and around Johnson County, receive airplay on local radio stations, and may already have dedicated followings. Many more artists, however, may not be as widely known – yet. They may be just starting out in musical careers or ready after a period of long creative gestation to share their music with others.

In the same way that the visual artwork we exhibit enhances the library experience for patrons and provides a showcase for the artists, Listen Local provides an outlet for those creating original music in our community to showcase their work through the Johnson County Library website. The interviews are conducted by me via email and are meant to help illuminate the creative process of composing, recording and performing music.

Listen Local is an intergenerational project. We’re looking for music creators of all ages making all types of music. Currently we have songwriters as young as 15 and 16 and are looking to get contributions from those on the other end of the age spectrum.

One of the challenges is to find ways to recruit artists, something that’s a little easier to do now that the blog is live. We’re reaching out to seniors with an article in Best Times, the local magazine for those 50+. We’ve posted flyers inside music instruction schools and are connecting with area grade and high school band and music directors. In the coming months we will present in-library performances of Listen Local artists as a logical extension of the project.

A great by-product of this project would be to build a community of songwriters and composers between each other as artists and between the audience enjoying the music and discovering new talent.

Questions or want to learn more? Contact Bryan Voell at voellb@jocolibrary.org

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