Small Fixes 4: Promote the Madison Public Library’s Media Lab

July 07, 2014 @ 1:00 am
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small fixes

The people who'd most benefit from the Media Lab's free resources tend not to know about it.

Welcome back to Small Fixes, an occasional series that proposes small but meaningful things the City of Madison and other organizations can do to strengthen arts and music in Madison. This time we hear from Kelly Hiser, a PhD candidate in music history at the UW-Madison who recently spent a year working with the Bubbler and the Yahara Music Library at the Madison Public Library in a fellowship funded by the Center for the Humanities. Follow @kellyhiser for Kelly's thoughts on the digital humanities, libraries, and the theremin. —Scott Gordon

One of the truisms among academics like me, who study not just music but the social and economic structures behind it, is that making music requires a lot of stuff. Professors especially love to talk about the multitude of resources involved in producing an opera or symphony, but even three-piece rock bands often use enough equipment to fill a van. Recorded music is no exception: It takes a lot of stuff to make, which means that it’s expensive. Yes, your band can grind out an album with nothing but the GarageBand software that came standard on your MacBook—but will it sound any good? And what if you don’t have over a thousand bucks to shell out on a computer? Or don’t know how to use your recording software?

These are real problems for many working musicians in Madison. But, surprisingly enough, a solution already exists in the Media Lab at the Madison Public Library’s central branch, where musicians will find most of the gear needed to create a high-quality recording. Media Lab Coordinator Nate Clark has been expanding the lab’s collection of hardware and software since the renovated central branch opened last September, and it’s now stocked with an impressive array of professional-grade equipment.

For starters, the lab has a sound booth, sound boards, turntables, a slew of microphones, and Pro Tools. The lab has the resources for doing nearly an entire project or just filling in specific pieces, like cameras and Photoshop for professional-looking promotional photos and album covers. Plus, there’s a green screen, your pick of fancy camcorders, and stop motion animation stations for that music video you’ve always wanted to make. Full lists of hardware and software are at the lab’s website.

Even more valuable than the lab’s stuff, though, are its people. Industry professionals regularly volunteer there, teaching everything from video game design to technical recording. During open lab times at least one volunteer is on hand to answer questions and help with projects. You can even book the lab for private one-on-one sessions (although the library prefers for you to let the public sit in on your lessons, so that others can learn alongside you).

In other words, the Madison Public Library houses the equivalent of a small professional recording studio—and it will teach you how to use it. Rob Dz recently used the lab’s equipment and worked with its volunteers to film a music video, create cover art, and record over half of his upcoming album, 'The Good Guy Memoirs.' And Rob didn’t just get a video and an album out of the deal; he learned how to do the technical work himself, from cover art design to recording. He calls the lab a “Godsend.”

The only problem with the Media Lab is that most musicians in Madison don’t seem to know it exists. The musicians I asked about this confirmed my suspicions. In most cases they either hadn’t heard about the lab’s resources or were only vaguely aware of what’s available there.

So, the small fix here is simply better promotion. My guess is that a little bit of this could go a long way. Get a few more working musicians in the lab, using it in earnest, and word will spread. The library already has connections to Madison musicians through the Bubbler and the Yahara Music Library. Both of those entities have solid social media presences. A few tweets or Facebook posts every week or so highlighting specific tools or upcoming classes in the Media Lab would be certain to reach at least some musicians’ eyeballs. The Bubbler has recently been promoting DJ-ing classes for teens in this way. Direct emails to Yahara musicians about recording classes and other music-related events might be even more effective. I also hope to see the Bubbler and Yahara promote the heck out of Rob Dz’s album when it’s released. A recent Isthmus piece on the lab even got some of this work started.

The Madison Public Library is an extremely busy place, and it can be tough to promote everything all the time. But the resources in the Media Lab are so useful, and so underutilized by working musicians, that building a bit of buzz would be well worth the effort. The Media Lab’s equipment and expertise could pay off in big ways for bands and musicians in Madison who can’t afford time in a recording studio, or who want to learn how to do the work on their own. They just need to know that it’s there.

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last updated: June 02, 2016 @ 2:39 pm

Kelly Hiser

Kelly Hiser

Kelly Hiser a is PhD candidate in music history at the UW-Madison who recently spent a year working with the Bubbler and the Yahara Music Library at the Madison Public Library.

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