Anyone familiar with the arts community work the Salt Lake Public Library plays host to must be familiar with HUM, the archive of local music built twice a year by a panel of rotating music-minded local judges. Its main organizers, Jason Rabb and Benjamin Swisher, wanted to expand the local-focused spirit of the program to provide even more opportunity for local artists to find support through the pandemic. What came of that impulse is HUM-TV, a public access TV-style video series that not only gives local musicians a new spotlight, but provides a jolt for local music-lovers, too.
Swisher sets the scene of their pondering over the idea, describing how he and Rabb, in their initial waves of shock around the pandemic, were trying to work out how the library could best serve the music community that they love, and are each involved in as musicians themselves (Rabb plays with it foot, it ears and Swisher works as Sen Wisher). "Does the library need to do something?" Swisher remembers he and Rabb wondering in the face of the massive stall on performing arts. "Are music venues going to be able to do that well enough on their own, or are musicians in the local area just going to be able to figure [things] out on their own? Would we be getting more in the way of them? Or would we be able to do something that actually felt ... supportive, not this sort of second place or lackluster version of performances in general."
The two initially decided to sit back and watch what everyone else was coming up with, and go from there. What they found was what anyone on Instagram or Facebook has probably seen at this point: a lot of live stream performances. "We had some time to observe what was working with live-streams, and there were things that felt like they overstayed their welcome or they were really scattered and all over the place," Swisher says, also noting that this brought to mind ideas about what they weren't seeing among the live stream set, and what else could be happening.
"I know that we were trying to think of different ways for it to feel fun and not trying to replace in-person stuff, but trying to be its own thing that took advantage of what digital stuff could be," Rabb adds.
The winning idea came when Swisher sent Rabb a blast from the past, in the form of a video of David Byrne interviewing PJ Harvey on an old public-access show called Sessions at West 54th. In a new pandemic world saturated with temporal live streams, a more permanence-minded approach, like a TV program, was the media approach Rabb and Swisher were searching for.
"We wanted it to live beyond the present. So [we were] coming to think about it as a TV show rather than this sort of pandemic series of concerts or something like that," Rabb says. "We're thinking of it like a TV show [with] seasons. So we'll have four episodes that will be coming out every Wednesday in October." The reception of the episodes will determine whether those seasons turn into frequent occurrences, or yearly ones.
The HUM-TV series will follow Sessions at West 54th's example, with performance and interview segments, all filmed and recorded with quality, portable library-owned equipment made accessible and loanable to the participants, who are indeed a diverse cast—all of whom walk away with a paycheck. "We didn't want it to just be two white guys just asking questions. We wanted to support people who generally help tell the stories of the music community already. If that's their job—and we knew that they too were affected by the shuttering of venues—maybe in the process of making these, we can also figure out together what making music can look like in the future as we're making it through this," Swisher says.
This upcoming round of episodes features a whole lot of music journalists and possibly a radio host, but the possibilities for future hosts are excitingly endless—venue owners, show bookers, producers, DJs. "I think the guest host part of it is a key element because not only are you spotlighting musicians in the community, but you get a glimpse of local music supporters and they bring their own perspective on the music scene or community," says Rabb.
The first few episodes will debut throughout the month of October, and will feature local electro-pop royal Marqueza interviewed by SLUG Magazine's Bianca Valesquez on Oct. 7, followed by the heartfelt acoustics of Katie Van Sleen interviewed by yours truly on Oct. 14, the psychedelic spiritual guide that is Bly Wallentine interviewed by SLUG's Audrey Lockie airing on Oct. 21, and finally the wildly experimental jazz and hip hop trio Helichrysum interviewed by a TBA individual on Oct. 28.
While covering a lot of genre-ground with each of these performances, all featuring the artists' original songs, there's also a novel chance to get to know the faces behind the SLC music scene. Keep up with HUM-TV and get ready for the launch at hum.slcpl.org.