Recorded Music:
What Do You Want? Where Do You Get It?
Public Library Association Conference
Charlotte, March 2000

Reviews: General | Reviews: Specific Styles | Reviews: Core and Recommended Lists
Independent Label Suppliers | Verification Tools | Vendors
Professional Organizations

"Library" means a collection of a variety of books or other printed matter, audiovisual materials or other items in which knowledge is recorded; kept in a centralized place; for which a person who has knowledge of the materials, their arrangement, their use and of library skills is responsible; and which are for the use of individuals or groups in meeting their recreational, informational, educational, research or cultural needs.
--Definition of a library, from Indiana state law


Billboard. (ISSN 0006-2510. One Astor Plaza/1515 Broadway/New York, NY 10036. 52 issues/year. $225.) For any library with a general collection of sound recordings. Sales charts and concise reviews of new releases in rock, country, jazz, classical, world music, new age and religious pop constitute the best source for recommended lists of current recordings. An on-line version ( is available at no charge.

National Public Radio. Their daily programs Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Fresh Air often feature music reviews of new releases, frequently on independent labels, and usually choice. Summaries are available at

Barnes & Noble Music. (http:// On-line music store integrates extensive sound clips with reviews from the All-Music Guide (see below). Among web retailers, this one has done the most with selective core lists (see their "Critics Choice" and "Ultimate CD Collection").

Tower Records. ( Music retailer's on-line site with reviews, sound files, bestseller lists, and catalog numbers. A good current-awareness tool for the popular scene.

Village Voice Online. ( Especially see Robert Christgau's approximately monthly column, "Christgau's Consumer Guide," for choice titles in all styles, plus a quarterly jazz and pop section that is the musical equivalent of the Voice Literary Supplement. Includes sound clips, too.


CBA Marketplace.. (ISSN 0006-7563. 2620 Venetucci Blvd./Colorado Springs CO 80906. 12 issues/year. $43) For Christian pop in all styles; written with retailers in mind.

Dirty Linen. (ISSN 1047-4315. P.O. Box 66600/Baltimore MD 21239. 6 issues/year. $20) Broad coverage of folk and world music.

down beat. (ISSN 0012-5768. 180 West Park Ave./Elmhurst, IL 60126. 12 issues/year. $26.00) For jazz, rock, and blues.

Fanfare. (ISSN 0148-9364. P.O. Box 720/Tenafly NJ 07670. 6 issues/year. $34) Exemplary classical music review tool for libraries with large classical collections. Foremost of its strengths: it compares reviewed recordings to other renditions in print, a boon to the library buyer.

Sing Out. (ISSN 0037-5624. 125E. Third St./Bethlehem PA 18015. 4 issues/year. $10) Longtime mainstay of American and English-language folk traditions recently has broadened its coverage to include world music.

Visit a good general bookstore for the most up-to-date titles.

Retrospective: Classical

Hemming, Roy. Discovering Great Music: a New Listener's Guide. New York: Newmarket Press, 1994. 1-557-04210-1. Hemming selects 50 major composers and gives capsule reviews (with recommended renditions) of a half-dozen or so major works of each. Useful features: a guide to 200+ noteworthy performing artists and orchestras; personal name pronunciation guide. Aimed at non-specialized readers who need to know where to begin, it accomplishes its task well.

Svejda, Jim. The Insider's Guide to Classical Recordings: From the Host of the Record Shelf, a Highly Opinionated, Irreverent, and Selective Guide to What's Good and What's Not. Rocklin CA: Prima Publishing, 1999. ISBN 0-761-51711-1. Personal "best-of" list of a broadcaster at the University of Southern California's radio station. Opinionated, well-informed, and a great read. Since 1988, new editions have appeared every two years. Svejda's current picks appear on the Barnes & Noble Music website (above).

Retrospective: Pop

Billboard. (See Reviews: General, above) Beyond its lists of current releases, includes categories ("pop catalog" and "country catalog" charts) that identify best-selling older titles, e.g. Beatles, Metallica, Patsy Cline.

Retrospective: All styles

All-Music Guide. ( The best "best-of" guide to CDs in all styles, selected and annotated by such luminaries as John Storm Roberts and "Blue" Gene Tyranny. Available as an 1100-page book or a million-hits-per-day website, and ceaselessly kept up-to-date.

Compact Disc World. (See General Vendors, below.) Library-oriented vendor produces several core lists, including The Core Collection; The Popular Overview Series: The 60's throught the 90's; The Grammy Award Nominations; and Alternative Modern Rock: The First Generation. An ideal starting point for public libraries of any size.

Music Library Association. A Basic Music Library: Essential Scores and Sound Recordings. Chicago: American Library Association, 1997. ISBN 0-838-93461-7. Quite a few of its listings have slipped out of print, but still useful as a guide to popular artists and classical works.

Music Library Service Company. (See General Vendors, below.) A vendor-produced list that refines and enhances A Basic Music Library, above, by identifying in-print recordings and ranking them for their suitability in small, medium, or large collections.

Current: All styles

Billboard charts (see Reviews, General Periodicals, above) serve well as current purchase recommendations for classical, country, rhythm and blues, jazz, Christian rock, new age, world, rock, heatseekers (a chart for new artists; excellent for alternative styles).

Grammy Award nominees and winners. For complete listings, see the Grammy website ( or Billboard, usually in early March.

AFIM Indie award nominees and winners. Association for Independent Music's annual selection of best independent label releases, certain to enrich any collection. See Billboard for lists, usually in June. Formerly known as the National Association of Independent Record Distributors (NAIRD), AFIM also maintains a website at

Look here when you're in search of depth and variety.

Allegro Imports. (14134 N.E. Airport Way/Portland OR 97230-3443; Large independent-label distributor offers a monthly catalog of new releases, including many imports. Their website was one of the first to incorporate sound clips and cover art, realizing the full potential of the vendor catalog.

Ladyslipper. (P.O. Box 3124-R/Durham NC 27715; The place to go for music by women. Mail-order retailer offers outstanding coverage of worldwide popular styles and some coverage of women as classical composers. Annual catalog, with irregular updates; includes index. Also, a web-based catalog with extensive sound files.

George Romansic (206-282-4820) Northwest regional sales rep for some indispensable independent distributors, notably Stern's (for African and Middle Eastern music), World Music Distribution (European and South American recordings), and City Hall (among whose many strengths are vintage jazz, blues, roots rock, Celtic, and world music, both current and historic).

Roots & Rhythm. (P.O. Box 837/El Cerrito CA 94530; Essential. This mail-order retailer's bimonthly catalogs contain hundreds of brief reviews grouped by genre. Strengths are American roots styles (folk, jazz, country, blues, gospel, rock & roll) and world music. Covers the best independent distributors on the non-classical side: Bayside, City Hall, Harmonia Mundi, and Roundup.

Spring Arbor. (10885 Textile Road/Belleville MI 48111-0179. 1-800-395-7234) Major wholesaler serving Christian book and music stores is the best and only place to go for religious CDs, cassettes, and printed music, especially on independent labels. Annual 200+ page catalog of listings by artist and by title is also the best verification tool in the field.

Tracking down specific information your vendor will require to fill your order.

Compact Disc Connection. ( Retail website with very well-developed search indexes; an on-line "books in print" for recorded music.

Schwann Spectrum. (ISSN 1065-9161. 1280 Santa Ana Court/Woodland CA 95776. 4 issues/year. $49.95) Essential "books in print" tool for jazz and pop audio. Access is by performer's name.

Schwann Opus. (ISSN 1066-2138. 1280 Santa Ana Court/Woodland CA 95776. 4 issues/year. $59.95) "Books in print"-style coverage for classical audio. Access is by composer's name.

Phonolog. (ISSN 0279-6562. 10996 Torreyana Rd/San Diego CA 92121. Looseleaf service, updated weekly. $498) Access by song title and performer as well as by album title makes this a useful print adjunct to Schwann Spectrum.

AltaVista WWW search engine. ( Invaluable for those "I heard it on NPR" requests.

A knowledgeable vendor can be the most timely source.

General Vendors

Baker and Taylor Entertainment. ( The modern era (real-time inventory checking and electronic ordering) comes to the world of sound recordings in a subscription-based website.

Compact Disc World. (P.O. Box 927/S. Plainfield NJ 07080. 800-836-8742.) Experienced vendor, known for producing some excellent core lists for public library collection building (see Core and Recommended Lists, above).

Gary Thal Music. (P.O. Box 164/Lenox Hill Station/New York NY 10021. 212-473-1514) Meticulous, informative, and the best vendor for really hard-to-find independent labels and imports, including Koch, Harmonia Mundi, and Qualiton. Particular strengths are classical, jazz, and world music.

Music Library Service Company. (502 Compton Street/Wilmington NC 28401. 800-849-2323.) Working closely with music librarians, has produced a series of up-to-date core lists (see Core and Recommended Lists, above).

Silo Music. (P.O. Box 429/South Main St./Waterbury VT 05676. 800-342-0295) 250-page annual master catalog, indexed by artist, good for folk, children's. Includes video.

Wayland Audio Visual Enterprises. (210 East 86th St./New York NY 10028. 800-813-1271.) Their catalogs and lists of new releases are among the most discerning sources for the library music buyer. Produces a very comprehensive children's catalog, with over 4,000 hard-to-find titles.

Children's Catalogs

Silo Music, as above. See their annual catalog of in-print audio and video titles for children.

Wayland Audio Visual Enterprises, as above. Produces an annual catalog of children's audio and video. Special sections for ALA Notables, Foreign Languages, Storytelling.


Whether you need an expert or are one, the publications, meetings, and other activities of the Music Library Association are among librarianship's great resources.

Music Library Association. (P.O. Box 487/Canton MA 02021. Membership, $ 65/year) Publications: Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association, and MLA Newsletter. Website: Listserv: MLA-L. Subscribe through Annual meeting: February.

Music Library Association--Regional Chapters. Eleven regional chapters in the U.S. and Canada. All hold annual (at least) meetings, publish newsletters, and maintain listservs.

Music Selection Resources on the WWW. ( Links to verification tools, on-line retailers with reviews and sound files, awards lists, and a selection of classical, jazz, religious, world, film and general music sites.

Questions? Contact:
Anna Seaberg, Music Librarian
King County Library System

Copyright © 1996-2000 Anna E. Seaberg

Last revised March 15, 2000