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Bay Beats Invites You to Rock Out at the Library

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a four-person band of youngish white people in colorful shirts pose for a band portrait against a pink background
gloomy june is among the 100 local artists featured on the San Francisco Public Library's new Bay Beats streaming platform. The band will play at the Bay Beats launch party this Saturday, Oct. 28 at Fulton Plaza, outside the Main Library in San Francisco.  (Courtesy San Francisco Public Library)

It’s among the most tired, inaccurate line arts-lovers are used to hearing in the Bay Area: all the musicians are gone.

It is true that it takes a staggering amount of hustle to survive as a working artist here in one of the most expensive regions in the U.S. — which means the folks who are doing it need every ounce of support, appreciation and celebration the community can muster.

That’s part of what staff at the San Francisco Public Library had in mind when they announced Bay Beats, a free, streamable collection of albums from more than 100 local artists, in genres including jazz, soul, hip-hop, classical, indie rock and more. The platform launches Oct. 28 with a daylong party at the main library, including performances by a half-dozen artists whose work was selected to appear in the collection.

It’s a party nearly six months in the making: The SFPL first issued an open call for submissions back in May, announcing that any artist working in the nine-county Bay Area region was eligible. Over the following three months, more than 600 submissions were considered by an all-star panel of jurors, including the library’s own staff archivist, Avengers frontwoman and punk icon Penelope Houston; rapper, graffiti artist and hip-hop historian Dregs One; and Latin-rhythms-by-way-of-San Francisco singer, community activist and rising star La Doña.

a band of five people, most of them in cowboy hats, performs on an outdoor stage at El Rio, a bar in the Mission District of San Francisco
Nashville Honeymoon is one of 100 Bay Area artists who were selected to have their music uploaded to the San Francisco Public Library’s new streaming platform for local music, Bay Beats. (Courtesy of the artist)

“For anyone wondering whether we’ve still got it, I can personally assure you that the music scene in San Francisco and beyond is alive and well,” librarian Brian Weaver, who helped launch the program, said in a statement. “The talent we saw from the submissions round was phenomenal and it was a real challenge to be able to select only 100 albums … We can’t wait for everyone to discover bands and artists they’ve never heard before.”


The word discovery is key here, as the platform doesn’t stand to serve as a meaningful source of income for musicians; each artist selected received a one-time $250 honorarium.

But a free streaming platform hosted by a nonprofit educational space — amplifying local artists and ensuring access to even the community’s lowest-income residents — certainly flips the script laid out by the music industry’s current vulture-like giants. Spotify, for example, pays an average of between $0.003 and $0.005 per stream,  meaning an artist needs between 50,000 and 80,000 streams to even receive $250. Meanwhile Bandcamp, known for the last 15 years as the most artist-friendly site on which to stream and download music, faces a deeply uncertain future following a buyout and mass layoffs at the Oakland-based company.

What the library has effectively done is absorb the cost of the necessary tech partnership; the Bay Beats platform is powered by the software company Rabble, which has also helped libraries in Austin, Seattle, Nashville, New Orleans and Portland set up streaming sites to celebrate their local music scenes. At the SFPL, the music on Bay Beats will be free to all users, but — as if you needed extra incentive to get a library card — it will also be downloadable for cardholders.

The artists performing at Saturday’s launch are a testament to the breadth of the music being made in the Bay: The day will feature 30- to 40-minute sets from children’s artist Alison Faith Levy; honkytonk/“California Country” from Nashville Honeymoon; hip-hop by UnLearn the World; neo-soul from veterans Tori Roze & The Hot Mess; eclectic multilingual tunes by Razteria and moody pop from gloomy june.

So go celebrate the launch, stream some music on Bay Beats, discover your new favorite local artists — and then go to their shows. Buy their records and T-shirts. Send them (respectful) love letters. And maybe, some day, we won’t have to spend time combatting the tired narrative that they don’t exist at all.

The Bay Beats Local Music Collection launch party takes place Saturday, Oct. 28 from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Fulton Plaza at San Francisco’s Main Library, near Civic Center. Free. More info here

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