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Multnomah County Library Plans To Stream Local Musicians


DVD's, books, and computers live side by side at the Mulnomah County Central Branch Library.

DVD’s, books, and computers live side by side at the Mulnomah County Central Branch Library.

Sage Van Wing/OPB

If you’re a Portland-area musician seeking a new audience, look no further than your local public library.

The Multnomah County Library is now accepting submissions for the Library Music Project, an upcoming music streaming and downloading service that will exclusively spotlight – and compensate – local musicians.

Once the project is online, anyone will be able to stream songs by local artists, and library cardholders will be able to download and keep music from the service.

It’s the library’s latest effort to expand its digital services, at a time when more people use the library online than in person, says library spokesman Shawn Cunningham.

“People often think of the library as a building with books, but it’s much more,” said Cunningham.

The streaming service is similar to another recent Multnomah County Library undertaking called the Library Writers Project, which focused on titles by local self-published authors. Cunningham says those have become some of the most checked out e-books in the library’s catalog. The hope is that the Library Music Project will provide the same type of platform for local musicians.

Solo musicians or groups currently producing original music in the Portland metro area can submit EPs or full-length albums in any musical genre through March 14. Cunningham says that so far, the library has gotten over 270 submissions.  

Portland musician Arietta Ward. 

Portland musician Arietta Ward. 

Jenn Chavez, OPB

One of the people who’ll be reviewing them is local funk and soul vocalist Arietta Ward. She’s the daughter of the late Portland jazz pianist Janice Scroggins, and performs as the front woman of Mz. Etta’s World. Speaking recently on OPB’s “Think Out Loud,” she said that along with the quality of music submissions, she’s “going to be looking for authenticity … I want to make sure that the music is true.” 

The library is offering musicians a $100 honorarium per album accepted. Ward explained that with larger streaming services, which often pay musicians fractions of a cent per stream, emerging artists still building their careers can’t hope to make much money.

“If you get something like that,” she said of the library’s $100 fee, “it can go towards your art, versus waiting 10 years to get the same amount.”

Ward says the library’s free service will also provide access to lower income library patrons who may not be able to afford to buy music or concert tickets.

For the daughter of a jazz musician, an especially appealing aspect of the project to Ward is that it will effectively create an archive of Portland’s modern music scene.  

“Once you’re in there, you’re part of Portland music history,” she said. “You can go to the library now and find Mozart, Beethoven, Duke Ellington — you can find those works because they’re archived.”  

Ward said it’ll also display the diversity of music being produced in a city that’s often pegged as an indie or blues town, but is so much more.

“There’s R&B, there’s funk, there’s Americana, there’s bluegrass, there’s folk, there’s world beat, there’s reggae, there’s a whole bunch of classical, there’s so many different genres here!”

The library expects the music catalog to be up and running in May.

To hear more of “Think Out Loud’s” conversation with Arietta Ward, click the “play” button at the top of the page.

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