MNspin makes Minnesota music widely available through the power of the library

By Jill Riley | The current one

Host Jill Reilly interviews MNspin’s Ehsan Alam and Jeff Radford on The Current. This interview has been edited for time and clarity.

We know that Minnesota has a long history of great music and this state has produced some pretty big names who were at one time, let’s not forget, the best and then went on to become international stars. Yes, there’s Bob Dylan and Prince and Soul Asylum. And Lizo, who – she wasn’t born here – but spent the beginning of her career right here in Minnesota.

Every year, every scene, every region of the state of Minnesota continues to be fertile ground for great music. And we know that here at The Current; that’s why we say, “Great music lives here.” But there are so many different ways to connect with the Minnesota music community; communities within the Minnesota music scene connect with each other and with music fans in a variety of ways: there’s old-school radio, the Internet, and in-person events at various locations around the state.

But what about the library? I know you’re thinking books, right? But you can think much bigger and much more when it comes to the library, because I have something to tell you here, which is a combination of the Internet, the library and the music scene. There is an ongoing project and collection of Minnesota music from the Hennepin County Library called MNspin. I contacted two librarians and MNspin coordinators, Ehsan Alam and Jeff Radford. Listen to our interview in the audio player above and read a transcript below.

Public service media are independent, community-supported media for the public good.

When it comes to MNspin. I wonder if you could start by telling us what that is.

Jeff Radford: MNspin is a streaming and download service brought to you by Hennepin County Library, paid for by Friends of the Library. What’s really cool about what we do is that we’re an all-Minnesota streaming service, so we reach out to artists all over Minnesota, we ask them to pitch to our curation team, that music is judged by that team . And if the artists are accepted, we pay them $200 for a two-year contract and they retain all rights.

I wonder if you could tell me about the type of curatorial team. How does this part fit in?

Ehsan Alam: Well, we’re bringing in a lot of experts from all over the Minnesota music community. We usually have community curators, and then we usually have a few personal curators from our organization as well. And each song is listened to and scored by two curators, and they score it, and we have to triangulate that at the end. We try to score around 100 at the end.

Jeff Radford: When you talk about your curators and you know they’re listening to the music, evaluating the scoring, what are some things you hear about? Is there some sort of checklist of, you know, this is what we want to have as part of a collection? Here are some things we want to make sure we check off the list?

Ehsan Alam: Well, a lot of it is the curator’s judgment because we rely on their expertise. But there are things we are looking for. Minnesota has a really rich music community; we want to represent the established traditions of rock ‘n’ roll, R&B and hip-hop, but we’re also looking for everything that our country produces and we want to give it all an honest look.

How long has MNspin been around? For example, where was this seed sown? When was this seed sown? Where did the idea come from, music in the library?

Jeff Radford: Well, I’ve been a music librarian at the downtown library for about 20 years, so I’ve known a lot of artists over the years. And when streaming came along, we’d talk to these artists and the money they were making compared to CDs was really, you know, falling off the charts; it was sad. We also wanted a way to connect the library to really great music in Minnesota and our patrons to really great music. So we started just thinking about how to do it. We found a provider that actually does what we need: it connects the library to a website where we can upload music. One thing led to another, we formed a team over the years — seven years now! Every year we take it to the next level and now have over 500 albums and over 450 artists on MNspin.

Now, when it comes to musicians submitting music, what are some of the parameters there? What do Minnesota musicians need to know about submitting music?

Ehsan Alam: One of our criteria is that we want them to have been created within the last five years. Other than that, there really aren’t many caveats. So established artists, up-and-comers, unknowns, if you’re just making music in your basement, we won’t turn it down.

Jeff Radford: We prefer songs that are mastered.

Do I have to have a library card to check out the music? Or can I just go to a website and start enjoying?

Ehsan Alam: You do not need a library card. You know, you can be anywhere in the world and broadcast this.

Jeff Radford: One caveat though: you need, if you want to download, a download card.

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