Looking for the next top musician? Check the library.
Not too long ago, the New York City-based band All My Friends Are Stars was strapped for cash, recording its songs in a bathroom and performing them in subway stations.
That was then. Now, the group is touring the world, has recorded its first album and created its own music festival in Sweden.
The four-person band, made up of rapper and producer Americk Lewis, guitarist and singer Nicholas Sosin, vocalist Naiika Sings and bongo player Tony Mazz, credits an innovative program at the Brooklyn Public Library for its recent success.
Deep within the Central Branch’s Info Commons is an amateur recording studio, which opened in 2013. It was the only one open to the general public in the New York City library system until February of last year when the Tremont Library in the Bronx opened a mini studio.
Without money for a professional recording studio, the band was able to record their first album at the library, which has since opened them up to new opportunities.
“Most musicians don’t have money or they struggle with money,” Lewis said. “To have a place that’s nice and safe to record at is extremely valuable to any artist. When I go to Scandinavia — a lot of those countries — they have public places like schools and libraries where you can actually do public recordings in, but here in the states it’s not so common.
“It’s really shocking that we do have a place and, out of the whole New York City, that’s the only one that I know of that you can record music in. That means it’s very valuable, it’s a very precious gem.”
Since being afforded the opportunity at the library, the group has gone on to perform at the American Folk Art Museum, MoMA and Lincoln Center, as well as at a festival in Italy.
The band blends genres, creating a mixture of inspirational hip-hop, soul and pop.
The communal aspect of the library fed directly into the group’s creative process. They brought guests into the studio to listen to their music, to give comments and even to provide samples for their songs.
“We wouldn’t be where we are now because we wouldn’t have the confidence,” Lewis said. “Our album would not have come out as well as it did come out. Because I recorded the music in the library, I made sure that while we were recording, we went out into the public square of the library and spoke to local people and residents there and bring them into the studio to listen to the music. I always kept getting good feedback.”
Not only have they performed at events and festivals across the world, not to mention some of New York’s finest cultural institutions, but they’ll be hosting their fifth annual music festival in Gothenburg, Sweden, this August.
This story isn’t the only instance of a burgeoning artist finding success through a city’s public library system.
Chancelor Jonathan Bennett, aka Chance the Rapper, was also afforded a similar opportunity. He is known worldwide for his smooth lyrics and emotional, heart-felt songs, sharing tracks with the likes of Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz. But a perhaps lesser-known fact about the artist is where he got his start rapping: in the Chicago Public Library.
Along with other aspiring rappers, producers and musicians, he had access to a free recording studio at one of the public libraries, and eventually found fame.
Sosin, the guitarist and singer, praised the Brooklyn Public Library’s progressive thinking and said more institutions should offer free amenities to up-and-coming artists.
“As long as you’re a New York City resident, this was available to you,” he said. “That’s such a beautiful thing to offer to anybody in the city because it allows equal access for anybody to go and express themselves. That’s what’s needed in this society, the tools to be able to express ourselves to be creative.”
Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.
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