Managing and leveraging multiple libraries

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Some of the more recent TV boxes (Apple TV, Amazon, Roku, etc.) offer the ability to search across various networks to find the content you want. That’s a pretty compelling feature because I don’t always know which services carry which shows. Sometimes I just want to watch Top Gear without having to know the licensing deals of broadcast media companies.

How does this relate to music ministry? Well… 

At the end of my post about using ratings in your library, I mentioned integrating libraries… and that sounds kind of fancy and maybe even a bit tech-y. It’s really not. In fact, this simple concept offers tremendous benefits when planning and combing through your music looking for that perfect piece. It’s an obvious solution now in my mind to a problem that had developed slowly over the years of using a music library database.

Here’s the problem, and the reason it prompted such an elegant solution: I was using Excel and had a spreadsheet for my own personal music. I also had a separate spreadsheet for my church’s music. When I wanted to search for a particular thing, I had to open up both files and search them both. What’s worse than that, though, is that the columns in these two files did not match, were different, meant different things according to who had input the data, etc.). If I bought a piece of music for the church and then also bought a personal copy, I had to make sure to enter it in both files.

Church file: Documents/Music Library.xls
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(Putting one of these in my own personal list involved re-typing it, because the columns didn’t exactly match)

I got tired of inputting the piece TWICE and decided to make the columns match so I could at least copy/paste the row from one file to another.  And then… an AH-HA moment. What if the libraries weren’t separate files at all? I could just have a “Library” column that told me which library contained the piece:

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(And I can autofilter by Library to see just the titles that belong to that library. Yes!)

This simple step makes searching across multiple libraries a snap, and leverages the Ratings system in the process. Trust me, it’s really handy. My current database contains the records of my own music, three church music libraries that I have working familiarity with, a few records from friends who have presented music from their own collection to be used for the church, and even a library that consists of titles I don’t own, but heard somewhere and wanted to remember them for possible future use.

My options (specific for me) for column: LIBRARY:

  • Andrew Duncan
  • Fountain City UMC
  • First UMC Oak Ridge
  • Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church
  • Hymnals
  • Noted (Not on hand)

Here’s a result of a real-life search using my database. I want to find a Youth Choir piece for the Christmas/Advent season – Advent being preferable because I want it to use it in early December. I would like to see what I have for SAB choir and piano, and would like to see the results sorted by their Rating:

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Looks like Mark Patterson’s “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree” or Mark Miller’s “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” might be worth investigating. And, you’ll notice that “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” is in the library of First UMC Oak Ridge, so it is a title that has seen some use and might possibly be more familiar. I also know where to go to look at these pieces for the next step of planning.

If you like this idea and want to give it a try, here’s the step-by-step plan:

  1. Make a backup of your existing files just in case something goes wrong. Then…
  2. Create a new, “master” spreadsheet.
  3. Decide what columns you want in your new master spreadsheet, and what those column headers mean as well as their order from left to right
  4. Now go to your existing spreadsheet(s) and add/move/rename columns until they match the layout of the master spreadsheet.
  5. Once everything matches, you can simply copy/paste from your existing spreadsheet(s) into the master spreadsheet. (OR use the Save As function to skip this step and step 2). Repeat as necessary for each spreadsheet.
  6. Enjoy your newly integrated view of your already researched musical options.

This is a small investment of time that pays large dividends – and allows me to be a good steward of my church’s resources.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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Ratings – unleashing the power of your music library

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I mentioned earlier that your music library program can and should be more than just a list of music – it can be an invaluable planning tool as well! One of the best ways to start using your library data in this way is to create a Ratings data point for each of the titles in your library. This allows you to “rank” the music in your library by whatever arbitrary criteria you want to use.

Here’s how I am currently using this concept (sample record from my database):

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(Composer and Arranger are omitted for the purposes of this article)

My rating of this title is 33… so what does that mean?

In my library system, the Rating is a two-digit number, with each number ranging from 1-5. The first number is simply how much I like the piece on a 1-5 scale:

  1. music I would rather toss in the trash than ever hear again
  2. music that I don’t really like but has some other redeeming qualities making it worth saving
  3. perfectly fine but doesn’t particularly stand out
  4. really cool or interesting music
  5. absolutely amazing music

The second number corresponds to how difficult I think the piece is for the target ensemble:

  1. Super easy, sight-readable
  2. Easy, minimal challenges
  3. Average
  4. Moderately challenging
  5. Really challenging

Using this system I can quickly see from my example that this title is something I liked just fine and seems about average in difficulty. Depending on my needs, I could make a quick initial judgment about whether to pull it from my files and play through it, or if I need to find something easier or more engaging.

  • Crunch time! We need a beautiful, powerful anthem with very little rehearsal: I’m looking for titles rated 41, 42, or 51, 52
  • Longer planning – we have an upcoming concert or tour and can spend some time on some great music: probably looking for titles rated 44-45, or even 53-55

I don’t purposefully go looking for titles rated in the 30’s or lower – but it is still helpful to have that rating in place when you are looking at entire libraries of music and you need to address a specific seasonal or scriptural topic or theme. And besides, just because I don’t personally love a composition doesn’t mean there are plenty others who do.

I’ll spend some more time on integrating library databases and ratings in a future post, but I hope that this inspires you to create a ratings system of your own and use that library for ministry.

Soli Deo Gloria.