No Excuses: Record at Your Local Library

Kodi Vonn

“It was the spot.”

—Chance the Rapper, on Chicago’s downtown library

As an artist, you have to pay for a lot just to create. Guitars, amps, strings, mixing boards, microphones, cables, laptops, software… The list goes on and on.

You’ve got to make music to even have a chance of success, you need time and money (and a lot of it most of the time) to make music, so you’ll need a job to pay for it but then you’re cutting into your free time to make music. It’s a vicious loop of a catch-22.

But there comes a savior.

In most major cities, public libraries house recording studios open to the public by appointment. This means in the time it takes you to register for a library card, you could be making music with professional equipment.

Chance the Rapper’s first mixtape, #10Day, was recorded in the Harold Washington Library Center’s YOUmedia program in downtown Chicago—which also hosted artists like Kanye West. Chance name-drops the place that fostered so much of his early musical creations in the track “Acid Rain” from his critically acclaimed second mixtape: “And I’m still Mr. YOUmedia.”

The Rapper credits his local library with providing him a place to be inspired, create and collaborate with fellow artists.

“I met damn near all the producers on #10Day through this library. It was the spot.”

Chance the Rapper at Chicago’s YOUmedia Lab

Libraries like the Orlando Public Library in Florida offer two sound booths and an audio production studio with room for twelve. You can book three, 4-hour sessions a week. So let’s look at how you can make that work for you.

The common assumption is that it takes about two weeks to mix an album. That’s approximately $2500. Most artists don’t have that kind of money to drop at once, or that kind of time to put in at a studio. If you’ve got school, work or a family, showing up for eight hours a day at a studio however many miles from you is not reasonable or even possible.

For $0, you can mix your album in a library in a little under a month of dedicated studio time. Now you’re saving money you can use in other parts of your music career, like merchandise or travel expenses for performances. Also, you’re committed to half the time per day and hopefully working under that ticking clock pushes you to get in there and create  something worth listening to—instead of fooling around, drinking and wasting time as some studio users do.

But because you’re not paying for it you can take whatever amount of time feels right for you at the public  library. If you’re the type who likes to relax and take it slow, you’re not wasting a penny by using the library’s recording studio.

Freedom from a monetary commitment is truly a liberating experience for the creative mind. No stress, no deadlines, just pure genesis.

Libraries in cities like Tampa, Brooklyn, San Francisco and Chicago maintain recording studios.

The potential benefit of these free spaces for music-making cannot be exaggerated enough. For artists looking to just get out there and make something already, this is your time and place to do it.


A Short List of Libraries with Recording Studios

  1. Orlando Public Library – Melrose Center
  2. Brooklyn Public Library
  3. John F. Germany Library
  4. SouthShore Regional Library
  5. San Francisco
  6. Chicago – Harold Washington Library Center

There are a few different types of record deals and before you put your John Hancock on a contract, you need to know the basics. These videos give a summary of label deals and the pros and cons that go with them.