The Hennepin County Library is getting into the music business, and the key words are “Minnesota artists.”
On Wednesday, the library system for Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs launches a new online program called MnSpin, featuring a curated selection of music by 53 Minnesota acts whose albums can be streamed or downloaded from the website.
The first batch of MnSpin artists ranges from veteran acts Tina & the B-Sides, Michael Monroe and the Belfast Cowboys, to newcomers Tufawon, Strange Relations and the Lowland Lakers, with a worldly cross-section that also includes Mexican-rooted mariachi singer Emilio Gadea, part-Jamaican reggae band Dred I Dread and Chinese pipa player and composer Gao Hong.
Modeled after similar library programs in music-centric cities such as Nashville and Seattle, MnSpin cuts out all the hassle of checking out CDs to bring home to burn onto your computer. Instead, the music is offered instantaneously over the internet.
Also, the musicians are getting paid by MnSpin, an increasingly rare occurrence in the digitized music world. Each act received a flat licensing fee of $200 for use of one album, and all are featured on the library site alongside a short biography, photo, video and/or link to the artists’ own websites.
“It’s just another way to expose people in your hometown to what it is you do,” said singer/songwriter Dan Israel, whose 2015 album “Dan” was picked for the collection.
“It may seem like just a drop in the bucket,” Israel added, “but I think if more of our big organizations like [the Hennepin County Library] did this sort of thing for musicians here it would really be a positive thing for everyone.”
Around 325 acts submitted applications over the summer and were considered by a panel of curators. The panel included some library staffers as well as gospel/R&B singer J.D. Steele, classical soprano singer Maria Jette and the Cedar Cultural Center’s program and artistic director, Jessica Rau.
In addition to weighing the quality of the music, curators also looked at the artists’ involvement in the local music scene.
“We wanted to make sure these are acts people can go see perform, too,” said Johannah Genett, division manager for Hennepin County Library, who was quick to point out that CDs are still very popular items at library checkout counters.
“But more and more artists aren’t actually releasing their music on CD, so we hope this will be a way for our patrons to discover them,” Genett said.
Minneapolis rapper Tufawon, aka Rafael Gonzalez, said his involvement in MnSpin will likely offer as much in pride as it does in income or exposure.
“The libraries do a wonderful service educating the community,” Gonzalez said. “I’m hoping this will help me become a part of that tradition.”