Synth Library NYC is increasing access to music technology

Giving under-represented communities affordable access to music production.

For decades, radical musical collectives have been changing the way that music and music making has been made accessible to different communities across the globe. In 2021, things are no different.

Launched in May 2021, the Synth Library NYC, co-founded by Brooklyn-based artists Heidi Sabertooth and Cy X, has been working to provide access to music technology and equipment for people of all experience levels and economic means in NYC.

Functioning as a lending library of synthesizers, recording equipment, modular gear and other electronic musical instruments, the Synth Library NYC is putting the means of production into the hands of those under-represented across different fields in the music industry, aiming to level the playing field and provide affordable access to music technology for all.

“We wanted to start Synth Library NYC to help people have greater access to electronic music instruments and music technology,” says Heidi Sabertooth, speaking on the origins of the Synth Library.

“Both of us are electronic sound artists and producers and we know that one of the main barriers to learning and using new music technology is the expense of making a full commitment to purchase gear, plus the frustration you can feel when trying to learn in isolation.”

Finding your footing as an independent artist is hard at the best of times, but with the advent of COVID-19 and increased isolation, that feeling of independence is heightened. Being able to cut your teeth in an environment with like-minded individuals in a similar situation becomes extremely invaluable, and the Synth Library NYC helps to create such an environment.

In the early stages of the Synth Library NYC’s development, Heidi and Cy worked in consultation with the founders of Fem Synth Library in Los Angeles, who started their project a year ago. With a similar ethos behind their projects, they were able to provide the Synth Library NYC team with invaluable support and guidance.

The importance of community in music should not be understated. In spaces like the Synth Library NYC, people from varying backgrounds who are often not afforded the privilege of access to music production equipment, can feel safe to experiment, learn and connect with people in the scene. The Synth Library NYC is increasing access to music technology.

“Through generous donations of gear from individuals and companies like Novation and Focusrite, we have started a collection of synths, drum machines, recording gear, modular synths and other electronic equipment that is available for Synth Library NYC members to check-out free of charge.”

Functionally, the library’s operation is quite simple. “Interested individuals apply to become a member and members are able to ‘check-out’ a synthesizer and take it home for 3 weeks, just like one would borrow a book from the public library,” explains Cy. “We have all of our items listed on an online shopping cart via our website, so members can browse items before they select.”

The library is open to all, however, they offer priority access booking windows for those who have been traditionally marginalized from the fields of music production, and/or have faced long-standing economic disparity and opportunity inequalities.

“This includes BIPOC and individuals of all marginalized genders (including but not limited to trans women, cis women, trans men, non-binary, intersex, gender nonconforming, two-spirit and questioning folx),” explains Cy.

Power through community

Within the NYC electronic music scene, the Library has a unique position that brings together all members of the community. “We began our soft launch phase in May 2021 with 100 charter members who are helping us test our systems and providing critical feedback to help us shape the project as we prepare to scale it to serve more.” By including the opinions of different communities, the Library becomes better equipped to adequately serve the needs of those who come to them for support.

“Our 100 charter members come from all corners of the NYC electronic music scene – representing a wide span of skill, experience level and genre-focus," says Heidi.

"We’re creating leadership and volunteer positions within the library to ensure that the project is member-driven and reflective of the interests of the community.”

The Library’s efforts continue into partnerships and collaborations with initiatives like Community Bread, a queer-owned livestream and resource platform, and other NYC organisations that provide integral platforms for underrepresented voices in the industry.

“Partnership is a very important aspect to the work we do,” explains Cy. “We have established a one-year residency with Powrplnt, a NYC non-profit providing digital arts education and access, who is donating physical community space for workshops, storage space for the synths and will help incubate the project to ensure successful launch. We also partnered with Community Bread who hosted a Spring 2021 fundraiser to help us launch our first cohort in May, and with Pioneer Works to host a synth library pop-up as part of their 2021 Second Sunday event series. We have many more partnerships in the works as we’re planning the curation of our 2021 educational programming series which will kick off in the fall.”

Even though this community initiative was born in the age of COVID-19, the Synth Library NYC’s necessity existed long before it. “Synth Library NYC was not necessarily designed as a direct response solely to that situation, but rather a general lack of access to technology. Even prior to COVID, independent artists have routinely struggled to afford equipment they need to make their art. Having the ability to try out gear helps artists make more informed purchases when they are in a position to invest in equipment of their own.”

With the NYC underground scene closure and subsequent loss of work and income for independent artists in a markedly uncertain time, the Synth Library NYC has been a support system for those who have fallen on hard times.

“Synth Library NYC is certainly a resource for those who lost income during the pandemic, as it has become harder for some to set aside money to purchase new equipment," says Heidi.

"The library helps provide free access to try out new gear, which helps promote learning and growth for artists, even when financial times are tough.”

Although the Synth Library NYC has seen a successful initial launch, the work for the team is far from over. “We have received over 350 applications in just the first two weeks of our first membership drive, so we hope to be able to fundraise to have enough equipment to serve many more people in the coming months and years.” Being able to support a creative community requires the constant contribution of others. “So far, we have about 75 pieces and we know we need more synths to serve the needs of our large music community in NYC. We also need money to purchase cables and cases to protect the gear. We have had a wonderful outpouring of donations so far, but we still need more to scale our project up.”

Words: Zainab Hassan

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