ARTS & CULTURE
By Pamir Kiciman
North Carolina has a rich musical history and has been the birthplace of greats such as Elizabeth Cotten, Roberta Flack, Thelonious Monk, Nina Simone and John Coltrane. James Taylor was born in Boston, but his childhood from age 3 on was spent in Carrboro.
It is in keeping with this legacy and to widen access to local music that the Chapel Hill Public Library and Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture launched Tracks Music Library in the spring of 2020, funded in its inaugural year by a grant from the State Library of North Carolina.
In the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area and the greater Triangle, live music and music festivals are in such abundance that it can be difficult for artists and the public to discover each other.
Featuring music by local artists exclusively, the Tracks streaming platform is entirely free to use on mobile and desktop. And if you are a library card holder in Chapel Hill, you can download or save your favorites.
The platform is free of commercials and offers an intimate, local alternative to behemoths such as Spotify. The music on the platform is curated by local musicians and other figures deeply involved in the local music scene. The selections feature diverse genres, including Americana, blues, folk, pop, jazz, soul, rock and country, among others.
Tracks Music Library is paired with a live performance series. This year, all concerts will take place in the parking lot on the corner of Rosemary and Columbia Streets in downtown Chapel Hill.
“By hosting the Tracks Music Series downtown, we hope to create a sense of local pride,” said Stephanie Cobert, Director of Marketing for the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership. “We want the community to come out to support local artists and patronize small businesses.”
There are three dates in September. Three local acts will perform in the first event on September 8: Magic Tuber Stringband, an experimental folk duo; VSPRTN, a dance and electronic DJ; and Godric, who is a rapper.
“The library aims to support the local music ecosystem by allowing music lovers to discover new music and by allowing local musicians to discover new audiences,” noted Melissa Bartoletta, Marketing and Communications Coordinator for the Town.
While centered in Chapel Hill, Tracks is open to artists from all over the Triangle. There is an annual open call, according to Bartoletta, when area artists can submit their work. Local musicians can learn about the submission process by visiting the platform’s FAQ page. The next round opens on September 8, 2022, per the website.
Artists are paid for sharing their music with the Tracks collection and are additionally compensated for live performances. “The current honorarium is $200 for an album with a minimum of five tracks,” said Bartoletta.
Tracks also provides access to artist bios, links to their social media and websites, as well as ways to support artists through listener donations.
More than an archive of local music, Tracks Music Library is a living and evolving library. The collection changes with the times, as evidenced by two compilation albums released in December 2020, capping off the platform’s first year.
The first, Tracks Volume I: We Rise As Allies, was inspired by Black Lives Matter protests and the reckoning with systemic racism. The second, Tracks Volume II: Isolation Illumination, was a way to alleviate the forced isolation of the COVID pandemic and give artists an alternate way to share music.
Chapel Hill Public Library is one of several institutions that has developed this kind of platform. It joins other libraries doing so in cities such as Nashville, Austin and Seattle.
The backend software and management of Tracks is made possible through a partnership with Rabble, a startup that created the software called MUSICat. Rabble works with libraries across the nation to provide digital solutions that offer their communities a way to celebrate local music while highlighting current artists.
The open-source software, which is developed together with librarians, supports submissions, licensing, publishing, creating artist pages and all the other details of providing a community streaming service.
Traditionally, libraries have allowed patrons to check out only physical media such as LPs, CDs and even cassettes. One challenge for local musicians is that often they do not produce physical albums—and the music industry has adopted streaming in general.
Another challenge for local artists in any city is receiving honorariums in a timely manner. Rabble’s MUSICat Artist Payments Service streamlines and simplifies this entire process. In fact, Chapel Hill Public Library was the pilot round for this service.
Tracks Music Library has grown from 50 to 100 local musicians and bands in just over two years.
There is a Class of 2022 Sampler that you can listen to here. On the Tracks website, you can enter an artist or band name in the search box to pull up their artist page. Or while listening to an album, just under the album’s title, you can find the artist or band name. Click on it to go to the artist page, which has their bio and social media, website and donation links.
The final two dates for the performance series are September 15 and 22, each concert with three different local acts. All shows are 6-9 pm.
Pamir Kiciman is a writer/poet, artist/artisan, photographer, healer, and meditation teacher. To learn more, visit https://liinks.co/reiki.wordsmith or contact him by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.