Introducing... Free Library of Philadelphia Spotify

By Adam F. RSS Tue, July 2, 2013

Today the Free Library unveils a new resource for listeners.  Please welcome Free Library Spotify to our community of electronic resources.  If you haven’t already registered for Spotify accounts you will need to do so in order to enjoy our experiments with the platform.  If you do have an account you will be able to stream our curated playlists instantly from blog posts such as this, or follow us from your own Spotify Client.

Librarians at the Free Library already use Spotify as part of the decision making process about which CDs to purchase for our fellow Philadelphians, as well as to answer certain kinds of musical questions.  We’ve decided to pull back the curtain on some of these processes to bring you behind the scenes, and thus reveal some of this magic with a hat tip to the art and the spirit of the Mix Tape.  Our first playlist, is culled from highlights from our most recent bulk purchase in May 2013:

Internet streaming of music is not without its discontents, however. David Lowery from Cracker has received some sympathetic press coverage for drawing attention to the abysmally low royalty rates streaming services pay artists.  His blog post on the Trichordist titled "My Song Got Played on Pandora 1 Million Times and All I got was $16.89, Less Than What I Make from a Single T-Shirt Sale!" includes a scan of his own royalty payouts from various services (Exhibit A). It's well worth a closer look.  

The economies of making music have always been complicated and not always fair to artists.  A somewhat random census of musicians' roles across time includes servants of the church and state, proto-modern show biz entrepreneurs, imigrant factory workers feminist anarcho-utopians, and “radio friendly unit shifters”, among other releations to the means of artistic production in between.   In today's chaotic post-modern landscape, we challenge you to try to untangle the Future of Music's infographic mapping the royalties landscape that musicians work within now (Exhibit B).

Are you concerned about all this? Our advice to you, avid listener, is to use streaming the way we do: as a discovery tool.  After all, the ads, which pay the meager royalties in "free" streaming services can make long listening sessions as frustrating as sitting through a series of car commercials on modern ad-driven commercial radio.  Do note that Free Library does offer at least one excellent ad-free service exclusively for library card holders

With the discoveries that you will make in the playlists we will assemble over time, you are certain to find breadcrumbs to lead you down musical paths you might not have wandered along alone.  If the above playlist doesn’t lead you to new CDs in our collection that you can take home and hold in your hands, maybe the occasional themed playlist like this one highlighting some snippets of the recent past in our local music scene will lead you to a concert, or a local record store instead.

[Thanks Jamie W.]

Patrons still smarting from our decision to drop Freegal in this age of austerity should know that the Free Library is still committed to providing a deep back catalog as well as fresh new releases on CD.  Patrons who want music on the go on their phones, mp3 players, or iPods, as well as at home on their computers will need to take matters into their own hands, but you don’t need to look far beyond your neighborhood branch to learn how to make it happen.

With our traditions of communal sharing and privacy protection, Libraries do represent one of the largest and safest institutional repositories of "free music" in the form of our CD collections.   This medium still represents the easiest way to join “Generation Ripped” on your own terms but hip nonetheless to all the risks.  Don’t forget that, barring a future post-capitalist participatory gift economy, music can never be truly free.  Though the public library may be the next best thing.  Please patronize your local concert scene, and don’t be afraid to buy the merch directly from the working musician. 

Have a question for Free Library staff? Please submit it to our Ask a Librarian page and receive a response within two business days.

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fantastic idea! thanks for your excellent music choices.
joel - west philly
Tuesday, July 2, 2013

As always Adam, some education along with our information. We really do have to figure out better ways to support artists with the death of independant retail outlets that handsell. The library can take up that role to some extent.
rebekah - center city
Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hail Philadelphia Free Library: I work in the AV dept of Knox County Public Library in Knoxville, TN. We are considering using Spotify to promote the music collection. I see that you've been doing that for a while. Is it worth the effort? What have you seen to be the benefits? Are there copyright concerns or barriers that you had to overcome? I'd appreciate your insights and assessment. Thanks. Chris Barrett KCPL Sights & Sounds 865-206-7911
Chris Barrett - tn
Friday, August 29, 2014

Hello Chris in TN, The easiest question to answer is the Copyright question. Spotify is paying artists (even if not as abundantly as they could). You don't even need to make a "Fair Use" claim. Embedding legal content is, well, legal and all the rights holders derive tangible benefits from the activity. Because we've been using Spotify anyway to do everything from collection development to answering reference questions, it was no great effort to just make a "corporate" account and share our activity publicly. We do have some followers. It's also been useful for doing creative types of "listeners advisory". We've constructed themed playlists to enliven such topics as tax assistance: And when working with teenagers on listening clubs, its been a useful tool for that sort of programming: Finally, in a big system like ours, we hope we're also giving our colleagues a sense of what were collecting, what's new, what patrons are likely to be thinking or asking about. That at least has been the logic of doing highlights playlists: Don't let any of this limit you! We think there are a lot of creative directions in which to go.
Adam F. - Free Library of Philadelphia
Friday, August 29, 2014