Photo courtesy of the band
Whoa Thunder is just one local act participating in Listen Up STL.
St. Louis has a thriving music scene, yet few musicians within it get all the attention they want or deserve. Even in an age when anyone can post music online, it can still be incredibly difficult to attract listeners.
The St. Louis County Library is addressing this problem with its new Listen Up STL program — challenging the stereotype of libraries as stuffy or quiet even as it provides a new outlet for music fans to discover local artists.
Open to all musicians based in St. Louis, Listen Up STL invites local acts to submit albums of original music for library cardholders to browse and stream. The library will accept all genres of music; it has already garnered more than 90 submissions of rap, rock, jazz, classical, Christian music and more.
Kristen Sorth, director of the St. Louis County Library, explains that local musicians can gain a wider audience of listeners through this program, as anyone with a library card can stream music online or through the library app. With roughly 355,000 patrons, the St. Louis County Library represents an audience waiting to be tapped.
And with touring musicians presented alongside groups or individuals just starting out, Listen Up will give an equal chance for exposure for all.
“We have some that are musicians that definitely play around town,” says Sorth, “and some individuals or groups that are not well-known in St. Louis, which is what we wanted. We wanted to be a place where local musicians can put their music out so people could find them and build a bigger audience.”
Whoa Thunder, winner of the 2016 RFT Music Award for best indie-pop band, is one of the local acts participating. Guitarist/vocalist Brian McClelland is excited about the project.
“I'm a big believer in making local music available in places where people who wouldn't normally have access, or even a desire, really, to seek out stuff being made in their own backyards,” he says. “Will having my music available on this new service help accomplish that? It certainly couldn't hurt. I'm excited about any new program or service that helps people to start discovering local artists.”
Melinda Cooper, guitarist/vocalist for Town Cars (and an occasional RFT contributor), agrees. Her band is also involved.
“Making local music available for streaming through the library not only helps artists here, it helps out our venues as well,” she says. “When you expand your music's availability you not only have a better chance of selling your records, you also have a better possibility of getting bodies into clubs to see a show.”
Indeed, along with simply streaming the music, Sorth says that the library will link to bands’ Facebook pages and concert calendars “so that people can actually go and see them if they like what they hear on the library’s website.” In a sense, the Listen Up program can act as another publicity opportunity for local bands, although no money will change hands.
The goal, Sorth says, is to build an ever-increasing collection of local music for patrons to explore. The music that bands submit, says Sorth, “stays up for two years, and then it will come down. But we will add over the course of the years.” Since the library will call for submissions two times per year after its inauguration this winter, the collection will grow as the next set of submitted albums merge with the past albums.
This program represents an extension of the County Library’s efforts to offer new opportunities for the St. Louis community. A similar program in place for independent book publishing, SELF-e, allows local writers to submit their e-books to the library, which then chooses some submissions and puts them online for all participating Missouri library patrons to read. Though the writers are not paid for their submissions, there is no fee for them to submit, and if chosen they receive a wider reading audience.
Unlike SELF-e, Listen Up STL will post all eligible music for patron streaming. Artists have until October 31 to submit their original music.
“We know that St. Louis has so many creative people,” Sorth says. “There’s so much great local music and we’re just really excited to be able to introduce our patrons to that talent, and then give musicians the opportunity to get their music out there.”