Local Listening: Library launches free streaming service for Valley-made music

Lauren Fisher

GET DOWN TO THE EC SOUND. The new Sawdust City Sounds website, created by the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, provides streaming access to local music.
GET DOWN TO THE EC SOUND. The new Sawdust City Sounds website, created by the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, provides streaming access to local music.

In January, six volunteers listened to 104 musical tracks recorded by local musicians within the past five years, searching for a round, representative sample of what Eau Claire sounds like in this moment in time. Three months later, they launched the Sawdust City Sounds music streaming project, funded by the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library Fund and organized by the library itself. The site features 23 albums by local artists for free streaming; with plans in the works for it to house up to 50 complete albums at a time for public enjoyment.

Library Director Pamela Westby initiated the project as part of her efforts to increase the library’s focus on local music. As the institution’s music curator, she has been adding Chippewa Valley sounds to the available collection for years, even setting aside a special section for tunes from the community. She helped put together a small collection of music that can be checked out from the library’s roving BookBike, and has organized many live music events in the building.

“We hope Sawdust City Sounds helps to shine the light on the talent of music artists in our region,” Westby said. It certainly did for the team of listeners who reviewed the submissions.

“We wanted to make sure that we weren’t just picking the kind of music that we specifically like to listen to,” said Peter Kaesberg, a local musician and page at the library. “I would say most of it I hadn’t heard before.”

“I was amazed at the diversity,” said Anna Zook, reference librarian and project curator. “We had old country and we had hip-hop and classical.” She was responsible for coordinating much of the submission process, from helping artists enter their works to ensuring they got paid. All selected artists received a $200 honorarium in addition to having their album featured on the website.

Jon Olstadt, who has been performing in the Chippewa Valley since 1989, also helped sort through the submissions.

“Even in this little town, I make way more money playing shows than I do selling my music,” he said. He hopes that the project will help people discover local talent and get them in the doors to performances in the Valley.

“As an artist, it’s in my best interest to pick up a couple hundred bucks for a way to get my music out there, that might be the next person that shows up at one of my shows,” Olstadt said.

Sawdust City Sounds is supposed to be a snapshot of music in the Chippewa Valley in the moment, Zook said. The project will accept submissions twice yearly in order to maintain a catalogue of about 50 albums.  All submissions should have been recorded in the past five years, and have at least seven tracks. Selected works will be available on the platform for about a year.

An official launch event is being organized for this summer, but anyone can stream albums now at sawdustcitysounds.org.