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5 Steps to building and managing a digital music library

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Dust off those CDs, cassette tapes and albums sitting on the shelf. It’s time to go digital! Having a digital music library will make finding the right music for your church’s ministries more efficient, and it will keep your church’s music assets safe and secure.

Whether your church’s music collection is large or small, these five tips will help you organize your digital music collection so you will be ready for any church service or event.

1. Gather what you have and decide what’s worth keeping. 
Weed out any music that doesn’t fit church doctrine, hasn’t been used in the past five years, is damaged or is overrepresented (i.e., too much children’s music for the demographics of the congregation). Don’t be shy about ditching. Your primary goal is to make planning for worship and other activities more efficient. This won’t happen without a good housecleaning.

If you will be storing your library on a remote server, the music should be automatically backed up, so you don’t need to keep the CDs (check to make sure your service automatically backs up the files). If your library is stored on a hard drive or local server only, you might want to keep the CDs at a secure location offsite for backup in case the church computers are damaged.

2. Digitize what can be converted and put music that can’t be on a wish list. 
If you are using music from CDs, these can easily be converted to digital files using a standard computer with a disc drive. Most computers come with a standard program such as Windows Media Player that takes files from CDs and stores them on your hard disk as a Windows Media Audio (WMA), MP3 or WAV file. Digitizing song files can be time-consuming and repetitive, so ask for volunteer help or engage an intern if needed. A member of the youth group or high school Sunday school class might be a great choice for this project. Songs on tape or vinyl usually aren’t worth converting. Devices exist that can do this, but the quality suffers greatly. Put these tunes on a wish list and plan to add digital versions later.

3. Organize files by how they will be used
Talk to your worship committee, praise team or music director to determine the best way to organize the files – by topic, composer or alphabetical by title. If your software program allows, you also may be able to organize your music multiple  ways. After the files are organized, determine a central location for storage and decide how people will access them. Some computer-service programs, such as Dropbox, can be used for storage and allow team members simultaneously to access the same files, create new “boxes” for planning (such as a music folder for each worship service) and access files via multiple devices.

4. Add to your collection. 
Replace music on your wish list and add new songs through free-but-limited download offerings such as Freegal. Freegal offers free music files through public libraries. Check to see if your library offers this service. For a fee, you can use legal music download sites such as iTunes. In addition, shared music sites such as Jamendo and Opsound  have downloadable music available under a Creative Commons license. If you want to download PDF files of sheet music, try this by-topic list offered by the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship.

5. Limit access to the library with password protection. 
This is important for two reasons. First, if you want to maintain the efficiency afforded by a digital music collection, adding to the library should be done purposefully. You don’t want everyone to be able to add to the library. Otherwise, you’ll be weeding constantly. Second, password protection prevents both theft of song files and the addition of files you don’t want, such as corrupted or infected files and files with inappropriate content.