Music Resources Available on the Web

This is the second of two guest posts about using music in your courses by W&M Arts Librarian Kathleen DeLaurenti.

In my last post, I gave an introduction to streaming music resources available through the W&M campus libraries. Today, I’m going to give an introduction to some resources you can use beyond the library. If the collections that we have available through our streaming services or in the library aren’t meeting your course needs, these Web resources might be just what you need!

Online Music Beyond Pandora

Here's a Spotify window -- note the large ad on the right-hand side.  Ads also appear in the form of audio ads in between songs.

Here’s a Spotify window — note the large ad on the right-hand side. Ads also appear in the form of audio ads in between songs.

You might be familiar with Pandora or last.fm, services that will take suggestions from you and translate them into customized radio stations. However, there are some new services on the scene that let you customize your content.

Spotfiy is relatively new to the U.S. scene after launching in Sweden in 2006. When you sign up, you get six months of unlimited free listening. After that, free accounts are limited to 2.5 hours week with advertisements. To get rid of ads, it is a $4.99 monthly subscription fee. Listening on mobile devices and access to higher bit rates for playback are available with higher-level premium subscriptions.

Some concerns with using Spotify are ads on free content, the necessity of a download on your computer, collection stability (artists can pull their catalog at any time), and the lack of ability to add any notes or commentary to your playlists. However, the catalog is really large, spanning millions of tracks, so it may be a great alternative to get access to the content that your students need. I’ve found the application download to be a fairly significant hurdle for me, so Spotify isn’t a service that I’ve spent a lot of time with.

Grooveshark is a direct competitor with Spotify that allows users to make and share playlists all through their Web interface. Like Spotify, mobile access comes with a subscription, but unlike Spotify, no downloads are required.

The Swem Music Library has been using Grooveshark during finals to share playlists made by staff members. You can even embed playlists like this:

Kathleen Finals Party Mix by WM Music Library on Grooveshark

The catalog is really great for popular music, but it can be a little difficult to navigate for classical. Much of the metadata comes from users, so sometimes you’ll see multiple entries for albums, tracks, and performers. Ads can also be a concern as they are on the rise, but making content available to students without requiring them to even have a log in might make it appealing.

Revitalize Public Domain Music project from the Free Music Archive.

Revitalize Public Domain Music is one of the cool projects the Free Music Archive is working on.

Two other great resources for the adventurous looking for underground, avant, or outsider music and art are the Free Music Archive, a project managed by radio station WFMU to offer free access to new music and UbuWeb, a non-commercial website devoted to collecting and curating out of print music, art, video, and texts largely focusing on the twentieth century curated and published by poet Ken Goldsmith.

Music Licensing Issues for Libraries

Stability is an issue with any of these platforms — one question that I hear often is, “Why can’t the library just buy the mp3 from iTunes or Amazon?” Unfortunately, licensing agreements restrict how those music files can be used, so libraries aren’t permitted to purchase them and make them available for access and unfortunately more and more content isn’t being released in physical formats.

D.J. Hoek, Head of the Northwestern University Library, wrote about this issue in a “2009 issue of American Libraries” <http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/features/07272009/download-dilemma > He cites a now infamous case for music librarians of recordings made by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel that cannot be purchased by libraries. So what can we do? If you’re part of a film or music project that is being released digitally, work with the publishing body to ensure that it will be made available to libraries.

When you see digital-only releases through labels, Kickstarter, or artists’ web sites, ask them if they are willing to make that content available to libraries. I’ll often have discussions on Twitter with artists or record labels that are making digital content available to ask them about libraries — many of them didn’t even think about their digital licenses and are happy to have discussions about how we can continue to collect, preserve, and provide access to important parts of our cultural heritage.

Questions? Contact Kathleen DeLaurenti, Arts Librarian.